I don’t know of one great man of God in Scripture that would get hired by most churches today. He wouldn’t fulfill the profile nor meet the expectations that people have of the professionally religious. Abraham helped himself to the house help when he didn’t see how God was going to fulfill His promise. King David, a "man after God’s own heart,” wouldn’t make the short list because of his murderous and adulterous past. Moses had a temper issue that caused him to kill an Egyptian as well as an apparent speech impediment that would have made him a terrible preacher. John the Baptist was simply too weird. Peter was a loud mouth who wasn’t dependable and Paul, prior to his being transformed by Jesus, was guilty of killing believers and having little patience with people like Mark.
We live in a time and culture that is unfriendly and often hostile toward leaders, and in particular, spiritual leaders. Leaders can’t be perfect enough to avoid the mistrust and antagonism of a hypercritical society. One of the many consequences of this pattern is that leaders find it very difficult to feel the freedom to be human.
There is always someone who will be quick to point out a mistake, a difference with another leader, or a perceived weakness. Leaders find it difficult to be vulnerable, in part, because they don’t feel it is safe. (“If people know what I really feel or think or struggle with, they will in some way reject me or my leadership.”) People say they want their leaders to be transparent and vulnerable, but precious few can really handle that and what it means for them. Very few can extend the grace and safety that allows the professionally religious the freedom to let down their job-security shield so that they can also be followers of Jesus, and therefore, be on the same journey as other followers.
In addition to the personal insecurities of individual leaders, this lack of safety in community compounds the problem and leads leaders to present a whitewashed exterior, while the interior might be full of decay and neglect.
However, if the professionally religious work to move into a new reality of servant leadership, those few who are both led by us and also secure enough to handle our humanness become invaluable in creating places of emotional and spiritual safety. These are places where we don’t have to worry about the security of our jobs–places where we can allow the Holy Spirit to go deeper within our own selves. If there are those who are up for the challenge of creating that kind of leader-friendly environment, you might just find yourselves on the front line of discovering that we may have more to give than we have ever had before--just like Abraham, Moses, David, John the Baptist, Peter, and Paul.
Discuss any of these questions below:
- Why, or how, have expectations of spiritual leaders gotten to the point they have?
- Can you give an example of the dangers of unrealistic expectations of leaders?
- How can we begin to change to biblical (and human) expectations of the professionally religious?
An excerpt from the book Professionally Religious.