We follow a crucified Saviour. That sounds obvious, but it always needs repeating.
Why is it obvious? Because our buildings, logos, songs, trinkets, and stained glass repeat the lesson all the time. So why does it need repeating? Because for all that repetition, the penny never seems to drop. Not all the way, all the time. Another month goes by and another high-profile pastor slides into disgrace. Undone by an un-crucified sinful habit.
The prize without the price
This is not new. Remember again, Jesus’ triple teaching about his death in Mark:
- Jesus then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him (Mk. 8:31-32). Why the rebuke? Because, presumably, Peter thought that great leaders don’t express their greatness by dying. They lead.
- They left that place and passed through Galilee. Jesus did not want anyone to know where they were, because he was teaching his disciples. He said to them, ‘The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise.’ But they did not understand what he meant and were afraid to ask him about it. They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, he asked them, ‘What were you arguing about on the road?’ But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest. Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, ‘Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.’ He took a little child whom he placed among them. Taking the child in his arms, he said to them, Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.’(Mk 9:30-37) Why the argument? Because, presumably, Jesus had the wrong leadership matrix. If he wasn’t going to lead properly, one of them was going to have to do it for him.
- They were on their way up to Jerusalem, with Jesus leading the way, and the disciples were astonished, while those who followed were afraid. Again he took the Twelve aside and told them what was going to happen to him. ‘We are going up to Jerusalem,’ he said, ‘and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles, who will mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him. Three days later he will rise.’ Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. ‘Teacher,’ they said, ‘we want you to do for us whatever we ask.’ ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ he asked. They replied, ‘Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.’ You don’t know what you are asking,’ Jesus said. ‘Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptised with the baptism I am baptised with?’ ‘We can,’ they answered. Jesus said to them, ‘You will drink the cup I drink and be baptised with the baptism I am baptised with, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared.’ When the ten heard about this, they became indignant with James and John. Jesus called them together and said, ‘You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.’ (Mk 10: 32-45) Why the request? Because, presumably, Jesus’ eccentric leadership style was going to lead to some desirable prizes, and all the disciples wanted some of those. But without the high price-tag. But devastatingly, Jesus moved James and John to the place where they have to sign up for the price, while losing sight of the prize. And why the indignation? Because, presumably, James and John had taken advantage of a leisurely walk to position themselves better with the boss. The others had missed out on a chance to climb the ladder.
Will the penny ever drop?
Christian leaders are offered a variety of here-and-now prizes. An average church offers an average person a chance to speak, without interruption, for up to half an hour, every week, to around fifty adults. To be heard, there’s a microphone. To be understood, there’s a screen. Seriously – can you think of any other opportunity in the planet like that?
That’s before you get to the devastatingly dangerous opportunities given by larger churches, websites and blogs, books and podcasts, conferences and the whole Christian celebrity circuit. There’s a heady mixture of increasing one’s fame at the same time as increasing one’s unaccountability.
And let’s not shove the problem onto the famous ones. I vividly remember standing by a poster advertising an event at which a friend of mine was speaking, and being overwhelmed by envy. It was not a pretty moment, and it showed me that I can worship and be devoured by the idol of fame without being famous. It’s something I still struggle with, and I doubt I’m alone.
It’s tempting to say that we will settle this once-and-for-all, and kill the sin. I’d love to be able to do that, but I don’t think that that’s a realistic picture of how Christians deal with any persistent problem. Instead, we make up our mind to kill it and confess it, over and over again, as often as it takes. It’s there, but it will not, it must not, master us.
There’s a prize of easy fame, with an eternal price-tag.
Or there’s a price-tag of cross-bearing leadership, with an eternal prize.
What are the here-and-now prizes which your current leadership position offers you? What is the price you would be willing to pay for them?
Would you have rebuked Jesus, like Peter did? If not, what do you know that peter didn’t?
Do you argue with Jesus about whether his leadership style would work in your setting?
Do you look at other Christian leaders, and wonder which of you is greater?