Monday, February 1, 2016

Christian leaders

Christian leadership carries with it impossible expectations. It has been said that St Paul, if he was applying for a church leadership position today, would not qualify. He had a past that was intellectually solid but decidedly unfriendly toward Christians. He had some kind of speech or hearing impediment, a temper, probably unmarried, and appeared rather broken and battered. He was not your typical candidate for a prestigious Southern Baptist Church pastorate.

Christian leaders are usually placed on a high and visible platform and when they fall, they fall hard and in full public view. What do we look for in our leaders? What do we expect? Whether we know it or not, our expectations derive from an obscure text in an obscure book of the Bible. I refer to Leviticus chapter 21 which describes the qualifications for a priest of Israel.  It's hard to believe they found anyone to take the job. The priest's wife had to be pretty darn near perfect, too. No blemishes! is what the text says. No one who was blind, lame, or of bruised body or limbs. No one who stood out for any physical deformity. No one who had acne or crushed testicles (ouch!).

Jewish and Christian interpreters mostly spiritualized these qualifications for leaders. They became symbols of moral qualities. The blemishes were vices such as pride, ignorance, spiritual laziness or lust. The virtues God was looking for in a priest who shaped Israel's life (and the church's in a Christian sense) were purity and goodness and holiness. That which is from God should be exemplified in his leaders.

Interestingly, Jesus who is our high priest according to Hebrews, was not unblemished in the Levitical sense as he gave his life in the ultimate sacrifice on the cross. He had been beaten, bruised, and broken. He was a fulfillment of the Suffering Servant passage in Isaiah 52-53 who was hardly unblemished either.

Christian leadership needs to be framed more by the Suffering Servant and the Suffering Life of Jesus than a spiritualized reading of Leviticus 21. Rather than seeking unblemished leaders (who don't really exist anyway) the church needs leaders who have or are suffering themselves. Following Jesus, the Christian leader is the "least and last of all" Ephraim Radner writes,"God comes to the deformed, assumes their distinctive agony, whether moral or physical, and drawing them with him to his goal, transforms them." Our holiness is not our holiness but the result of God's coming near to us in the Body of Christ. Hallowed be Thy Name, not our name. We are a kingdom of priests, fallen priests, who bear the marks of Jesus as the marks of holiness.

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