Would anyone disagree with the following statement: “There is a serious lack of leaders, mentors.”
Having said that, why is that? What do we do or fail to do that, yes that’s right all of us, that has created that situation?
Phil Bell does a lot of youth ministry, he advises: “I have found teens don’t expect me to be their best friend. They don’t expect me to dress their age. I don’t need to act like them to be heard. They don’t want another buddy, they want someone to lead them. If we show them that we genuinely care for them and are willing to invest in their lives, they will give us their time and trust.” [Phil Bell Ministry in a Snapchat World Leadership Journal Fall 2013 p 40]
Everyone, not just youth, want leaders, not poll takers, not popularity contest winners, if they really think about it and look a little deeply, not “Sugar Daddies” either. The church has certainly suffered in that respect, let’s face it, it’s a lot better just to smile at someone and “buddy them”, instead of holding them accountable. As a pastor, dealing with someone who is making offerings to support the church, it’s easier to say “sure, we should worship that way”, instead of saying “no, we need to conduct worship in a God -honoring way,” vs enabling.
What we like, what makes us “happy”, who makes us “happy”, anything to be liked, but respect isn’t a real big concern today, what’s important to us is to avoid the slings and arrows. Pastoral ministry is difficult to navigate in that respect because of the “confessional” there are plenty of things that I just can’t talk about. I could just repeat a confidence or tell people what they want to hear (which I’m beginning to think most people think is the whole point of ministry), this would get me off the hook and I could go undented. It’s not about being “happy”, it’s about joy in the Lord, growing in the Lord. Jesus suffered for us, we are also called to suffer. No one said it would be pleasant, but doing what’s right usually has a price.
The church has been one of the biggest offenders. Too often the church has chosen to be the minister of the people, instead of a minister of Jesus. I have to guard the confessional scrupulously, which is becoming more difficult in terms of not just dealing with people in the parish, relatives, others who may or may not be concerned, but also with the law. The legal system today is becoming more concerned with lawyer-client privilege, then the much more time honored confessional. Time honored in terms of historical precedent and eternity. But to dial back, the point is, people often want what they want, what they need is leadership that is willing to stand up to the slings and arrows and be more concerned with doing what’s right, what’s necessary and not what’s popular.
If what Bell observes is true, then maybe the younger generation is leading us back to the need for honest, accountable, tough leadership and not the sappy kind of “kumbaya”, let’s all get along leadership of the past at least three generations. But let’s be clear about one thing, it’s one thing to disagree, it’s another to be disagreeable. In my younger days I was very active in local politics in what is my home town, Brockton, Ma. Brockton is a small city just outside of Boston. There was certainly a local aspect to the city’s politics, but there was a strong big city/Boston aspect. Without going into a lot of justification, I think I’m accurate in saying that in this environment, there was a “take no prisoners” attitude. It was a a no-holds barred. The rhetoric got heated and to an uninformed observer, they could easily think that it was personal. I could have taken a lot of it personal, but it was really more in terms of the Mafia code, “it’s not personal, it’s business”. Meaning, if we could accomplish our goals easier and not make it personal we would, but we see this as the only way to accomplish our ends. The ends were being elected, afterwards, and even during, there was still mutual respect. Not necessarily “like”, but there was respect. It wouldn’t be unusual to see political opponents verbally pound each other in staged debates or out “shakin’ babies and kissin’ hands” and after hours seen hanging together over beer or a snack.
There simply isn’t that today, it’s a question of “you agree with me, or you don’t like me, it’s personal”. Sorry, but I do have to hang this on the liberal end of the society, “you don’t like abortion, you don’t like divorce, you don’t like homosexuality”, well then you don’t like me, you’re a hateful human being and you are to be confronted and beaten down. Frankly that’s usually the attitude of someone who knows there position is untenable, even just false, a political agenda not based in good faith and integrity. That is they are just being defensive. But let’s face it, who wants to stick there head up in that environment? Who wants to take a leadership position? Who wants to be the one taken to task because they say that yea, Jesus said I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. Not an opinion, or a puff claim, but I am God, I am the only way. Who wants to go to kids who have been way too indoctrinated with the secular world’s view and calmly and authoritatively say “yea, Jesus is God, He is the only way”.
I’m not one of those who gets too caught up “youth being served”. We certainly are responsible to raise our youth to understand duty and integrity. Today that concept is treated as an anachronism, from another era. Today we call our children “buddy” and treat them that way. We are not our children’s buddy, I have friends who I love and respect, but my children are my children. I am going to do things for my children and hold my children responsible in a way that I wouldn’t do with my friends. I want my children to understand they are far more then my buddy, they are my children. That is a relationship that is deeper and more profound then any friendship. We see that in the relationship between God the Father and God the Son. This relationship of trust, love, suffering is the most profound that we can look to. Being a buddy can be a superficial relationship, Father and Son is a relationship that knew the only way to remedy our relationship with God was to make the sacrifice for our sin that could only be made by the Son, Jesus, the only one who could redeem us. Friendships can go very deep, but God, in the relationship of the Trinity, could be the only one who could make such a profound action as the atonement. Our relationship with our heavenly Father goes so much further then friendship, even when that relationship is completely one-way, entirely of God’s making.
No doubt God bears the slings and arrows, He endures, as His Son did on the Cross, the jeers and acrimony of man, really the outright open hostility of man and yet He continues to make a way to forgive us, pay for our sins and save us to life eternal in Him. Shouldn’t we take our cue from Him, the relationship that He maintains with us, His leadership, His responsibility so that we are saved? Can’t we stand up with integrity and courage and do what is right witnessing our faith to Him to those around us? Too often today our leaders, our pastors, even God is our buddy. Then we wonder why we feel the lack of leaders, of mentors, or people who will hold us accountable. Sometimes to be judgmental, but not to be abusive, to hold you accountable out of love, a genuine desire to see you do well, to succeed in life, to grow in Christian maturity. Why would anyone want that job, it’s difficult, it takes a lot of work, judgment, discernment and to do it in a way that is genuinely loving and when it could end up in rejection, animosity and hurt? That’s a high price to pay for what may end up as what we could see as a waste of time, failure on our part.
As I’m writing this, I’m getting an e-mail announcing that “youth are leaving the church in droves”. Hmmmm, wonder why? Is there anything in your church that someone who is kind of floundering around in life, that they would take seriously? What do we do as Christians, as a business person, as someone who has children or who can or should minister to the youth of their congregation? First off, suck it up. Get over your dignity, your pride, take a good hard look at yourself, is your general attitude about you? Or is it about serving God. PRAY – yea I know what a concept, what is God leading you to do? Jesus told us if we love Him we will obey Him. He told us to go and make disciples. He told us that the world would hate us, so do yourself, and everyone else, a big favor upfront and get over yourself. We have our mandate, we have direction and we’ve been warned, sure be careful out there, but get out there.
That doesn’t mean you act in an undignified manner, you don’t get goofy or try to “fit in”. Be yourself, ya, be vulnerable, be loving. Not enabling, not patronizing, but with the attitude toward the other person “hey I care for you, I want to get to know you better, no pressure, no pushiness, not even a sense of urgency, I just want to be there for you as a Christian man or woman.” Don’t expect anything right away, don’t expect to instantly fall together. Look for ways to serve, give advice with their best interests in mind. Let’s face it we all have our way, but what does that person really need. As a Christian “Servant Leadership” is almost cliche, but that’s what we do. We understand there will be mistakes, there will be sin, don’t over react, don’t get impatient, they’re not going to be any perfect then you are, or you were when you were their age, or in their position in the work world, or in the church. It might seem strange, you’re not in it to be a pal, you’re certainly not in it to enable, as much as possible to be Jesus to them, the Mentor/Savior. Jesus loved the unlovable, He loved in that agape, self sacrificing, the “suffering servant”, but He did call sin, sin. That’s what people want today, even though they may not know it and it’s what we all need. Jesus did it for the disciples. The disciples and Paul did it for those they were given to disciple, and we no less are called to serve in the same way. Those around us want it and need it, and we need to serve the Kingdom, “go therefore and make disciples.” “Well done, good and faithful servant.”