Kingdom or Cosmos?

Kingdom or Cosmos?

Thoughts on Church Leadership

As I talk to pastors and other church leaders, I find that many are discouraged. They accepted the responsibility with a sense of hope and purpose but are often overwhelmed by the expectations of the position and the consistent lack of progress those they lead are making in the faith. I have experienced many of those same feelings of frustration. That frustration set me on a course to discover what I was doing wrong. In the process, I came to believe that most of what passes for good church leadership is resting on a faulty foundation. In our book, Church Transfusion, Neil Cole and I address a number of shifts that leaders can make to become more effective at the task we’ve been given, helping people become disciples of Jesus. The first shift we address is the shift from Cosmos to Kingdom. I hope you will find these ideas helpful. I’ll be sharing some of the other shifts in the days ahead.

For years the Christian church has looked to the world for effective leadership methods and structures. The result has been a church that more closely resembles a business than a family. It’s time that church leaders measure their current ways of thinking against the Holy Scriptures. A great place to start is with a look at how the original twelve were challenged by Jesus to think differently about leadership and authority. They were steeped in the leadership ideals of their generation. They had visions of fame and power and wanted to secure their position in what they saw as a coming hierarchy. Their desire to be first is seen clearly in the arguments they had over which one of them was greatest. It’s hard to find fault with their perspective since the world around them operated in such a way as to exalt some and put down others. Power was based on position, with those on top wielding it over those beneath them. Sound familiar? The world hasn’t changed much has it?

This system of order is still an ever-present reality. The Bible calls it the cosmos, the system by which the world operates. All of us, like the disciples, have been immersed in it and often find it difficult to imagine an alternative. The difficulty is that this system came into being through the fall of humankind, is dominated and operated by Satan, and by its very nature is opposed to the rule of God. So here is the problem we must face. When we look to this system for answers to the hows and whys of leading the people of God, we find methods and mind-sets that will never yield the results we hope for.

When Jesus began His public ministry, He came preaching the kingdom of God. He made statements like “the kingdom of God is in your midst” and “the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” He taught His disciples to pray, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” I believe that there is one day coming a literal, physical kingdom in which Jesus will rule as king. I also believe that God’s kingdom exists right now wherever and whenever an individual or group submits to His will. The kingdom of God implies the rule of God. When we pray, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done,” we are first and foremost asking that our hearts, minds, and actions be submitted to the will of God in Christ Jesus. Whenever a believer submits to God, the kingdom of God is present. So now in the world there are two opposing systems, the cosmos and the kingdom. For the church to be what it is meant to be in Christ, it must operate on the principles of the kingdom and not the cosmos.

When the disciples were fighting over which one of them was greatest, Jesus said to them, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them and their great men exercise authority over them. It is not so among you” (Matt. 20: 25). This phrase “not so among you” should be ringing loudly in our ears. Jesus is telling His disciples in no uncertain terms that leadership in His kingdom is not about the top-down exercise of authority or control. Let me say that again. Leadership is not about top-down command and control. It is a travesty that most books on Christian leadership encourage just that, a system of leadership drawn from the wisdom of the cosmos instead of the wisdom of God’s kingdom.

In the kingdom, our task is to connect people to Christ’s authority and leadership, not expect they submit to our own. There is no chain of command in the kingdom— that is a cosmos idea. Authority is not delegated downward in the kingdom; it is distributed outward. Each person is connected to Christ who holds all the authority, and each person is to connect others to that same Lord.  Jesus is the one to whom all authority in heaven and earth has been given. Jesus is with us always and it’s Jesus we must entrust His own people to. In the Kingdom of God, where Christ is ever present and ever working, there is equal access, equal empowerment, and equal status for all His subjects. He is the Head and we are His body. Church leaders should make it their first priority to teach people to hear the voice of Jesus and do what He tells them. Our problem is that we just don’t trust people to make right choices. Why do we trust ourselves to make right choices for them? Is it because we think we know more or because we know Christ is leading us? If it’s because we know He’s leading us, why can’t we trust Him to lead others also?

The truth is this. The Holy Spirit is in each of us and He is more than able to instruct and empower those He indwells. Yes, He does often use one Spirit filled disciple to lead another but we should be very careful about taking authority for ourselves that rightly belongs to our Lord. Approach those you lead with humility and pray that Jesus become as real to them as He is to you. If we continue to operate from a cosmos foundation, we will stunt the growth of those we seek to help. Each of us is “God’s workmanship created in Christ Jesus for good works which He prepared beforehand for us to do.” If we lead from a command and control perspective, we run the risk that our lack of omniscient wisdom will keep someone from the very work they were created to accomplish.

From me to you…

Elections, Taxes, and Personal Responsibility

Elections, Taxes, and Personal Responsibility

Earlier today I heard Dennis Prager make the point that many people vote for the government to help the poor and others in need because they want those folks to get help and they also want to feel good about themselves. When they vote this way, they feel good about themselves because they’ve demonstrated a concern for people in need. The irony he pointed out is that when they do this, they are really voting that someone else (i.e. the government) take care of those in need. When you think about it, it’s the lazy way out. They are voting that someone else do the job and, at the same time, taking credit for the job being done.

Many church goers operate in a similar way. They drop their donation in the plate and go away feeling good about themselves all the while expecting someone else to take their offering and put it to good use. Don’t misunderstand. I’m not down on offerings. Churches have real needs and often do work that is essential in the world. The issue I have is that, for many, once they’ve made their offering, they think their work is done. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The apostle John put it like this. “Whoever has the world’s goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him?”

If God is to love the world through us, then we will have to offer Him all that we are, our money and our selves. “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.”

As Christians, we should commit to personally seizing each opportunity God puts in our path to be agents of His endless love.

From me to you

 

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