Swallowing the pill

The church is supposed to be different from the world. We’re supposed to stand out from it. We’re exhorted to be transformed in our thinking. To have the mind of Christ. The Old Testament warns us about a wide variety of ways that can go wrong, as well as giving us plentiful examples of everyday faith lived out in a hostile world. The gospels show us what that looks like in action perfectly in Jesus. Whilst the Epistles flesh that out in specific practical application of doctrine to our lives as Christ’s body. And yet all too often we default to thinking and acting just like the world with a thin veneer of gospel laid over the top. We settle for being one shade different from the hue of the world rather than being radically different.

That is seen in all sorts of ways both personally and corporately. But here’s the one that I’m finding deeply sad at the moment. It’s the way we deal with failures in leadership when there is a humble acceptance of mistakes made and a desire to seek repentance for sin. I’ve been disheartened by hearing story after story of leadership abuse and scandal and failure over the last few years. It’s nothing new, ever since I can remember there have been leaders that have failed, that have drifted away, that have been galactically stupid and sinful. Abuse, tragically, has taken place inside the church and been hidden rather than exposed and dealt with. The victims have been silenced or put under pressure rather than listened to and cared for. That needs dealing with and there needs to be justice regardless of fame, reputation or success in ministry. We must be the holy people we are called to be in reality not pretence.

But there’s a couple of things that concern me deeply, where I worry we’ve swallowed the pills of celebrity and cancel culture and are being more shaped by it than by the gospel. It’s seen in the gloating tone of some publications reporting about a leadership failure even when that leader accepts and listens to challenge and then repents, seeking forgiveness and help to change. Or in an unhealthy skepticism and cynicism about any leader and their expressions of repentance. It concerns me because the church cannot have a cancel culture just as we should not have a celebrity culture.

We need to have a grace filled, mercy saturated, holiness seeking culture, that’s marked by a radical humility. A humility that doesn’t elevate people or their gifting but praises the God who showers gifts on his church abundantly not just in one person but in every member ministry. We need every member ministry multiplying not a one man show. We need a radical shift away from a culture than celebrates the individual as a celebrity whose glow we bask in, and is as excited about the quietly exercised gifts of widow care and compassion as the up front worship leading or preaching. We need a church culture that doesn’t put people on a pedestal isolating them from real friendship and relationship, as if somehow they don’t need it, but commits to the one anothering the epistles tells us everybody needs without exception. And where all are humbly expected to take part in this not be isolated individuals somehow above it all.

The picture of the church in the Bible is a community humble committed to honesty about our struggles with sin and with following Jesus, that constantly points one another to Jesus for forgiveness and transformation as we bring our lives into step with the Spirit. That doesn’t make leaders feel like they can’t be honest or let the brand down. That isn’t about the individual as a nexus of gifting but about equipping and training and growing together to be more like Jesus – who whilst the most spectacularly gifted person ever to walk on the crust of this orb consistently called others to ministry and poured himself out for them so they played their part in God’s purposes.

The culture of heresy spotting, of gloating name calling out from a distance is the result of swallowing those two cultural pills. Celebrity culture that puffs up and isolates and loads pressure on to an individual. And cancel culture that then turns on those who fail or sin with a smug gleeful outing of sins. We need to be transformed in our thinking. That might mean we need to unplug, unsubscribe, unfollow some of those places where that is happening. It may mean we need to step out of the celebrity Christian culture that I think is doing so much harm in our churches. It definitely means we need to commit to our local church, to unknown leaders who are far from perfect but who show they love us as we see them humbly fighting sin in themselves and asking for help from others to do so, praying for us and teaching us week by week, less than spectacularly but always faithfully.

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