Yesterday I met with a man, a devout Catholic, who told me he wasn’t sure what to make of the church anymore. I can’t say that I don’t feel the same. The church and the message of Jesus’ Kingdom are not meant to be separated. But what does a generation make of the institution which taught them the faith, while showing herself to be about the business of anything but?
Too many Evangelicals in my circles rush to defend the church. They will offer a pious-sounding, but vaguely threatening, “I wouldn’t let you talk bad about my bride, and neither will Jesus!” The problem is that Jesus knows his bride is a whore (Hosea 1:2-3), but he married her anyway. He knows that his bride has used people and hurt them deeply—often in his name. He knows the she runs to the arms of other lovers more than his. He loves her all the same.
The second problem with that dismissive attitude is that it fails to recognize that often those who voice their frustration and pain are already Christians! This is not a third party slandering Jesus’ bride. This is the body of his spouse screaming that a bone is broken. Imagine if I fractured my leg and, rather than go to a doctor to have him set the bone, I continually yelled at my leg, “This is my body, don’t you dare say something is seriously wrong with it!” We would have that person committed. Why is it, then, that we are so calloused and dismissive of those who expose the broken and painful places in the body of Jesus?
The third problem is that it leaves these men and women with an impossible choice: leave their own people—the church, their brothers and sisters— or stay and continue to be treated like a problem and not an asset.
We don’t have to look far to recognize that the majority of those who have been leading the church for the last 30-40 years are a generation of King Saul’s. Too many pastors and churches have chosen leaders and pastors based on worldly qualifications (1 Samuel 8:5; 9:1-2), all while plastering a spiritual veneer over them. Lest I remind you of the almost daily revelations of leaders stealing money from the church, abusing children, and assaulting women. Too many pastors take matters into their own hands against the direction of God, only to be praised as “catalytic” by the people and regrettable by God (1 Samuel 15:35).
Saul’s replacement was barely a teenager. On top of that, he wasn’t even well-known or recognized for anything. David was so insignificant that when Samuel came to Jesse’s house, he called all of David’s brothers, leaving David with the livestock. Jesse was no better than Saul or the rest of Israel. They thought in worldly terms. Worse than that, they had no concept of hearing from God. Samuel, initially, shows himself to think similar to Jesse and Saul. He assumes the first-born son would be the new King. But God allows him to move through every son until God insists that Samuel call David in from the field. The last-born, overlooked, sheep babysitter is the one God most desired to be King. And for only one reason: David loved Yahweh.
When was the last time a search committee met with a candidate and only prayed together? No questions, no predictable interviewing nonsense. Just praying together and listening to what God said.
In my experience, and that of my friends, I know of only one instance. The church he leads now has been thriving under his leadership. Before this congregation, he served a small and easily overlooked people outside a major metropolitan area. It’s almost as if God does what he says he will do if only we will be willing to listen to him.
The way forward is simple: we need leaders who listen to God and do what he says. We don’t need pastors who lead like CEO’s or turn their teaching ministry into a brand. We need pastors who follow God and do what he says, it’s that simple.
The sad thing is that it takes courage and faith to listen to God.
Time will tell.
All it took to raise a king like David, was a prophet like Samuel. Samuel himself was the answered prayer of one godly woman. The barren wife of a polygamist, mocked for her infertility, became God’s chosen agent for generational change. Samuel was born during a time in Israel’s history when the chief-most priest was blind. His literal blindness is highlighted to show the nation’s spiritual and emotional blindness. In the dark, somewhere between sunset and sunrise, a young Samuel hears God’s voice. Eli knows enough to teach Samuel to hear, but not enough to hear for himself.
Samuel’s ministry was not without it’s flaws. His own sons were corrupt (1 Samuel 8:2-3). By the time he came to Bethlehem, he learned enough to check with the Lord before assuming he knew best.
The church desperately needs a generation of David’s. Those currently leading have the choice: lead like Samuel and trust God to lead you or lead like Saul and become a leader God regrets (1 Samuel 15:35).