Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Leadership Conundrum: Challenging Apathy

This post at SimpleMindedPreacher really struck a chord with me. It has to do with leading people -- pastoring people -- when their self-centeredness is a stumbling block. The blogger writes:
It seems our whole attention as a people has been turned inward, developing rabid narcissism. “Show me the money,” “make it worth my while,” and other such statements seem to represent the majority of personal motivation.

But then there’s the church. Not the place but the people. The ones who are called to be in the world but not of the world. The least of whom, the servant of all, will be the greatest in the kingdom. Yet, I can’t help but notice how much this mentality seems to have crept in to the church. Crept? OK, maybe it’s more or less knocked the doors down. And in my opinion this self-conscious attitude, left unchecked, can be the cancer that kills a church. Yet, I also think this is a tough subject to tackle because if dealt with incorrectly it strays from being righteous exhortation to becoming legalistic condemnation. But it has to be dealt with since this flaw is built into this thing called human nature.

So my question to you guys… How has God directed or showed you how to deal with this, either personally or congregationally. Do you do a series on servanthood or other relating topics that counter this behavior. Or do you go straight after it and call people to repent?

I do not lead a church, but I am trying my hand at leading a community of twenty- and thirty-somethings within a church, and I will confess that at not quite a year into the journey, one of my chief concerns is how to motivate people to care about people other than themselves. (I approached talking about this a little bit with my recent post The Illusion of Compassion.)

I try to temper my anxiety about this by telling myself things like:
a) I am too new to directly press people to stretch their Great Commandment muscles.
b) My goal should be to inspire them to love others as they love themselves, not to guilt trip them into doing so.
c) The community is still growing and is at this point too small for the dynamic of a direct confrontational approach -- e.g., from the stage at Element saying "This is wrong and you should repent" -- to be anything but unhelpful.
d) Rather than push, I should continue to lead the community into maturity, and trust the Holy Spirit to grow people up into the supernatural desire to give up a Saturday morning to go help inner city kids (or what have you).

Yet the concern remains. The basic "style" of my teaching approach is one of honesty and authenticity. I speak bluntly about sin and the need for the Gospel. I try to comfort, not coddle. I am just as likely to give a rhetorical kick in the pants as I am to give a group hug. And through all this, I make a concentrated effort not to beat people up with condemnation (which was the failure of the pre-seeker movement churches who left the grace part out of the gospel), but to remind them why grace is so amazing (which is the failure of the post-seeker movement churches who leave the law/sin part out of the gospel).

This approach, despite my novice abilities and figuring-it-out-as-I-go-along-edness, has born fruit. Our community is growing and we are ministering to a cross section of younger believers who are burnt out on self-help and thirsty for the gospel and real discipleship to Jesus. But while I am bluntly honest about the gospel generally, I am reluctant to be bluntly honest specifically about the areas our community needs growing up in. Still less am I gung-ho about addressing areas needing reform in individual lives. I don't believe I've earned the right to do that yet for those beyond my personal friendship circle. It is generally, to the community, that I'm talking about here. At what point do we approach this concern head on? Don't I risk running people off by moving from talking about "your problem is sin" generally to talking about "your problem, people in the chairs in front of me, is that you are addicted to a narcissistic comfort that is antithetical to the gospel and equates to not loving your neighbor"?

The SimpleMindedPreacher blogger continues:
Do you do a series on servanthood or other relating topics that counter this behavior. Or do you go straight after it and call people to repent? Also, I’m curious to know how many of you out there feel that this is affecting your fellowship and to what degree? It breaks my heart when I see this happen because it’s only other people that it hurts. Needs will get overlooked because it isn’t “my need.” Help is lost because “we’re too busy right now” or it’s too inconvenient. It’s one of those things that I would call a pastoral pet peeve, it drives me absolutely nutty! And yet, because it does bug me so much, I have to be careful about how I approach it because I am a very direct communicator and it could come off pretty harsh.

Yes. I feel this. Mucking up the works, complicating the concern, is personal discernment between "this is what people should really do" and "this is bugging me personally and I am tempted to soapbox about it."

Still . . .

I regularly listen to Mark Driscoll tackle his congregation's failures (lack of financial giving, selfishly critical correspondence sent to church staff, etc) head on. Yet Driscoll has a congregation of thousands. Surely that make-up affects his approach. Surely he wasn't blessedly berating his congregation in the early days of running less than 100.
Or maybe he was.

At what point does a leader have the right, the ability, and the green light to say to his flock, "We have a problem and it is ___________, and God is calling us to repent and go the other direction"?
I know in many churches, the leaders don't do this ever. While in some, the leaders are constantly doing this, hammering their congregants mercilessly with an endless string of alleged failures.
Assuming the right thing to do lay somewhere in between, in the great balance of "truth in love," what advice would you give a pastor, elder, or leader wanting to challenge the sin of apathy directly but not wanting to sabotage the greater good and vision of the community?

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