In North America, we love our heroes. I challenged this in yesterday's post, but I'd like to pursue this a bit more. We idolize the solitary individual who takes a cause upon his or her back and changes the course of history. When Steve Jobs passed a few weeks ago, watching all of the tweets about him was comical to me. No doubt, Jobs has changed the way we work today. We have five apple devises in our household and I need about three more to do my work well (at least I think I do but my budget says otherwise). But the comments about Jobs impact made it sound like he had built Apple all by himself.
It seems that this hero fixation is alive and well in the church. The elevation of the paid minister created spiritual heroes of those called "pastor" and "priest." But this has been taken to an entirely new level with the advent of the mega- and super-mega church. Now the preacher is the hero, even if he has little to do with the day-to-day ministry that occurs in the church. On a more personal level, I remember my first youth pastor in a church of 75 people. He would only let us see his good attributes and he had a lot of them. Now come to think about it, the same was true of my youth pastor when I started attending a church of 350. Both of them were excellent athletes. They both could sing, teach, tell great jokes, and talk all day about the good things going on in their lives related to following Jesus. So I guess the hero thing extends beyond the mega church.
This hero paradigm has been imported into the missional vision of the church. Now we have missional heroes. I don't have to name them. We only need to google it and you will quickly find missional superstars. But the reality is that these heroes don't exist, except for in our imagination. Our imagination is so shaped by the myth of the hero that we read about churches or ministries and assume that a hero is at the center of it all. Let me illustrate by pointing out how Mother Teresa is often portrayed. For years, I've heard her quoted, her work among the poor in India praised and her impact set up as an example for others to follow. The picture painted of her is that of a spiritual giant among spiritual giants. But when you read just a little bit of her story, you realize that there's much more. I've never hear much said about the Missionaries of Charity which she founded that includes 610 missions in 123 countries and over 4000 sisters who worked with her. While there is no doubt that Mother Teresa did some incredible things, the faces and names of these others who served with her are unknown. If you look at the history of the church and the churches that are currently making huge impacts upon their communities, its the unseen, unnamed, unspectacular who are making a difference.
When we are talking about developing leaders of missional communities, we need to help them deconstruct any preconceived notions that they must lead according to some kind of spiritual hero imagination, anything that would cause them to expect to carry the weight, make great things happen and have great courage to get the group "right." We don't need leaders to set themselves up at the center of the life of the community. That's the place of Jesus.
Instead, we need to help leaders develop a leadership imagination shaped by the call to live as saints. This is the perspective that Thomas Aquinas promoted as an ethical alternative to that of Aristotle. A saint is one who does not live at the center of the story. Their actions are often invisible. They live out of faith and seek to produce fruit even in their weaknesses and failures instead of trying to live up to some external idea of success. And often the life they live is characterized by sacrifice. Samuel Wells states, "A hero fears failure, flees mistakes, and knows no repentance: the saint knows that light only comes through cracks, that beauty is as much (if not more) about restoration as about creation." (Improvisation, 44)
Leading missional community is not about learning how to be radical nor is about following some kind of predetermined standard of what great leaders do. It's about learning to live out the practices of saints. It's about living into life rhythms that praises our God. At the risk of being overly simplistic, it's about being formed for a life of worship. When we do this, the idea of being a heroic leader crumbles.
For the next post in this series, click here.