Thursday, 7 May 2009

Neither legalism nor laziness: working out responsibility in Christian leadership

It's very difficult to manage responsibility effectively in Christian leadership. Often it seems that Christian leaders are burdened, tired and even joyless. CU leadership is no different. Here are three case studies:

Chloe is frustrating her small group co-leader, Harry. She was apparently at first very enthusiastic about leading the group. However, as time has gone on, Chloe’s productivity has declined. She appears less committed to leading studies, constantly asking Harry to stand in for her, and she’s reluctant to take on any extra responsibilities.

Joshua is very passionate about evangelism and Bible study and was delighted when he was asked to be a CU leader. He’s not very bothered about his course and regularly skips lectures to be involved in CU activities. Nor does he work very hard at his essays – after all, he reasons, God is more bothered by eternal fruit than by activities that don’t have eternal importance. Joshua is a talented sportsman but chooses to sacrifice his place in the university team for the sake of being able to encourage his Christian brothers and sisters.

Ollie has a reputation amongst most of the CU for being something of a hero who has a real desire to serve others. He seems to always be the first to volunteer for anything. As evangelism secretary, Ollie has pioneered a number of new initiatives which have gone well. However, underneath the surface, things are not well. Ollie feels exhausted and finds himself constantly telling others how busy and tired he is. He’s not prayed on his own in weeks, and has slipped behind with university work. Nor is Ollie eating or sleeping well. If he was honest with himself (which he normally isn’t) Ollie measures his worth through his accomplishments in CU.
Ultimately, all of these students need to believe and trust the promises of the gospel and in the character of God in their situations:
  • CU leaders can look lazy for a number of reasons - Chloe may actually be lazy (in which case she needs to discern those things that really are God-given responsibilities), although often seemingly lazy people feel over-burdened by concerns that are not truly responsibilities (therefore leading to perfectionism and procrastination). If the latter were true, Chloe needs to know that God's strength is made perfect in weakness, and let the Spirit do what only he can.
  • Joshua tends towards super-spirituality, with a low view of what it means for Jesus to be his Creator - and therefore has a compartmentalised view of worship. He may look spiritual, but in fact he is with-holding certain parts of his life as areas dedicated to the Lord.
  • Ollie is a legalist. He is probably using his CU accomplishments as a way of making and keeping himself acceptable to God (and other Christians). He needs to rediscover the truths of God's grace: that Jesus is our perfect righteousness and that we need no other. He needs to stop trying to be what he is not, admit what he is - and then realise that he does not need to prove himself to either God or others.


dave bish said...

Ah, the writers joy of being able to observe "However, underneath the surface"Really helpful post thanks Pete.

peterdray said...

Yeah I agree!

Writing a seminar on this stuff for the weekend, found it refreshing and helpful myself too.

Andreas said...

Hi Peter,

hope you are doing fine. Hope to see you sometime in England again. I`m still really thankful for the time in Lancaster CU and Moorlands.

Greetings from GErmany,

Marcus said...

That sounds very realistic to me.

Many Christian leaders are poor at maintaining ourselves spiritually. Here are a few reasons:

1. We have no measurable standards of success and therefore tend to think we will be valued by visible activity and/or numbers. Therefore activity-organisation replaces prayerfulness

2. There are comparatively few boundaries between work and non-work. Two possible consequences: work overflows into everything and we never have any real down time; we start to think of non-work as work or feel burdened by work people-responsibilities during non-work time and therefore justify laziness

3. People don't understand what we do and assume we are doing less than we are. Answer: why should we expect them to understand? They don't do it

4. People assume that those responsible for feeding them spiritually are themselves being fed by someone else. But few people ever inquire. Therefore it is quite easy for Christian leaders to live spiritual lives that are less fed and less observed than anyone else. (And their spouses even more so)

I could go on listing reasons for another half an hour. But the conclusions would be the same:

1. We are much better at meaningful evaluation - and therefore boundaries - when someone else is able to say to us when we have done a good job and done enough. Either a line manager or external accountability. We are poor at establishing when to stop otherwise because the workload is potentially infinite

2. Lack of boundaries inevitably affects seeking God, which inevitably impacts on our receiving grace, which inevitably impacts on our joy in the Lord. If we are unable to put boundaries on our work we should at least put unassailable boundaries on our prayer life. And preferably do it with others.

3. If I can say this, I think that young (male) missions staff are most in danger of establishing bad patterns that last for a whole lifetime of ministry, by making the following mistake: "I want the super ministry, and the way to get it is for my elders to see me being busy and successful. That is the way to credibility." I see this a lot. It is spiritually deadly.

Hope you are seeking Him for his grace today.

peterdray said...

Hi Andi - great to hear from you. How did you find this blog?

Marcus - agree with so much of what you say, as ever. In fact, I was reading a bit of 'Finding Joy' again last night and almost put a post on it. (Will leave that for the time being so we don't make it look too much like an old boys network!). I was wondering though: whilst it might be easier in a UCCF staff context or a local church to implement some of the things you suggest, what might it look like with students in the CU context? (either from a local church or staff worker) I'd be interested to hear your thoughts.

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