When a community begins to thirst for the Original Good News, of life without the shame, and moralistic, sin-management from reading the Scriptures with a filter, often the last one to get their thirst slaked is the leader most responsible for the culture of that community.
Those words are written with deep respect and compassion, not smug and flippant superiority. It is easy to take shots at leaders. Because we who are not, have all manner of ammo, largely created by what they risked to initiate, while we take the permission to enjoy it as if we caused it, if it succeeds, and tear it apart if it doesn’t.
A leader, in essence, sets a community on a course, out to sea, with a grand and noble goal awaiting on the other side. Most often, the more charismatic, articulate, dynamic and visionary the leader, the bigger and more impressive, ornate and influential the boat, passengers and crew.
The dream is usually admirable, while the methodology often is not. Polished professionalism and “excellence” replaces the distinctively Christian beauty of committed and often fragile relationships of love, safety and protection. Skilled crew members, hired only for competency, largely unaware and uninterested in the community’s original dreams, are replaced often, by even more highly skilled crew members, once identified and purchasable. And while much is undeniably applaudable on the deck, in the boiler room, there is most often mistrust, isolation, stifling performance standards, power plays and bizarre ugliness, all hidden from the passengers with competency and dazzling program. It creates a toxic and destructive poison of two ship experiences-the public one and the hidden one. Invariably and inevitably the damage will be revealed.
One evening, maybe, the pastor/captain, will wander downstairs to get away from everyone else. And at the extreme bottom and end of the ship, he will spot some standing water, barely noticeable, forming in the recesses of the hull. It becomes obvious to him there is a leak in the boat. A leak that cannot be repaired at sea.
In almost that instant, a choice is made from several options. He can decide to ignore the leak, or temporarily patch it with something to buy some time. Like until he retires. Or, he can begin to check the map for upcoming ports, where he can heroically and magnanimously get off the boat, declaring he is being led in another direction by God. He will help name another captain. There will be a nice party at the dock, with many nice letters and a sports car given to him, applauding his self-denial to pass this ship onto the next generation. Most leaders almost always take one of those two options. For who would choose the honesty of failure over a sports car?
But every now and then, a leader will do something stunningly sacred, beautiful and humble, at the risk of the dream and his career. He will take a deep breath and walk up to his room. He will first talk to his wife. Then, they will go talk to his closest leaders. And together, they will call a meeting on deck. He will confess that he took all of them to sea in a boat that from the start had built-in design flaws, and would eventually sink. He will tell them that he knew it before they left on the journey, but was so enthralled by his fame, status and admiration that he couldn’t admit the design flaws to anyone. He may have even lied to himself that they existed at all. He will tell them of the boat’s condition and the timetable for it’s sinking. Then he will utter these dangerous words: “I think we should turn around and head back to our home port to discover together a more sea-worthy vessel.”
It is the most heroic and terrifying choice a leader can possibly make. Because everyone has bought in to his vision. It is heroic, because no one really needs to know. A season might go by before anyone would be able to name the angst and discomfort they were feeling on board. Its terrifying because the passengers may see all these miles at sea as wasted time. Especially those enamored with appearance, who only got on to be identified with a fancy, impressive ride. They will get off back at port and find another fancier, or hipper boat, where the leaders don’t find or admit to holes in the hull.
When the leader turns that boat around and they start heading back, there will be an ugly, palpable silence throughout the ship, broken only by murmurings and mumblings of discontent and gossip.
But this may be the most sacredly beautiful moment in the history of that community. In this ride back, and what follows, the community is, maybe for the first time, becoming something profoundly and wonderfully real, that will be given to thousands for years to come.
This is what no one may be able to understand or communicate in the moment: God is gathering His angels to watch, saying, “I’d like you to see this. In trust of me, and in love for this community, this leader is putting at risk his reputation, his success, his dreams of greatness. It does not get much better on earth than what you are witnessing. I’m all over this. I love to protect, free and nurture such wonder. I will stand in the middle of this ride home…and the one that heads back out to sea.”
And when they get back to shore, as expected, many get off and slip away, never to be seen again. They will take their money and influence. Everyone gets wet moving from the one boat to the next. And before they set out this next time, they spend much more time developing relationships of trust. And they will form a common conviction that how they love each other on the ride is more important than whatever they thought they were going to impose upon those they will meet when they get where they’re going.
So few pastors, leaders, captains ever risk such beauty. For they feel alone. They fear that if they ever told their staff, their elders, their crew of what they’ve seen in the deck below, that all would be lost. There would be mutiny, they fear. So the leader remains relationally isolated, surrounding himself with competency, strategy and really cool worship service graphics.
What the leader may not know is that the staff, elders and crew are begging for the day when he will risk such authentic vulnerability. For they too can see the leak. In fact, they’ve seen it before the pastor ever did. They just didn’t want to take the risk to tell him or her, fearing their own position on the crew. They are ready to work even more sacrificially for the dream of such authenticity, love and grace that caused them to sign up on this ride with Jesus at the very start. They will not think less of the leader, but infinitely more.
Know this: if grace and the power of new creatures living out of identity in Christ exists anywhere, this scene had to take place before it became reality. No exceptions. There is a powerful man-made current standing against such authentic trust of Christ’s resurrection power.
And when we get Home, to the far shore, I imagine there will be long evenings set aside to display what was happening behind the curtain, as the loving leadership of such humble, heroic ones will be seen by all.
We are at the dawning of a new day on the shore of a giant ocean. Goals of destination and impressive numbers are being subjected to the quality of life on the boat, so that something real and authentic will exist for those on board and at our destination. Our people are hungering and thirsting for a community and faith that matches the humility, love and health of the One who died for it.
But no such community will take lasting shape without leaders. And no leader will risk such a fragile looking bet, if the rest of us are not nearby, close enough to convince him or her that we will stand with them, no matter how many times we have to turn and come back to shore. God is far less interested in what we think we might do once we get to the address of that vision. He is absolutely and totally consumed with what kind of community others will find once we arrive.
This is what we get up for each day. Its almost singularly why we wrote The Cure. So, once the leak is found, or once the leak is even suspected, we, among others more each day, are here, with maps and compasses and even cool drinks with those little umbrellas. You’re not the first on the beach. Call us. We’ve been told you will. For this is God’s Kingdom. And it is time for the Original Good News to thrive.