Strong and Weak

Jonathan SBy Jonathan Storment

Today I’d like to introduce you to one of the better books that I have read in the past year.  It has changed some of the ways I do ministry, and the ways I approach leadership as a Christian.

I’ve been reviewing this book on my new blog over the past few days, but wanted to write this post on Scot’s blog because I want people to know about this book, and I thought this was the most important point of the entire book.

The book is Strong and Weak by Andy Crouch, and if you are a Jesus follower and care about leadership, I highly recommend this book.  Today I want write a blog for all of us who are under the leadership of others.

Which should be, you know, all of us.

Outside of just a select few people on planet earth (I’m looking at you Kim Jong-Il), we all have leaders who are appointed, assigned, or voted in, to have a position of authority over us.  Those leaders will be called to make hard decisions with information that we do not have, hopefully in the best interest of the greater good.

Every leader, especially good leaders, always have a group of detractors. Sometimes those detractors question the leaders decisions (which I think is healthy and needed), and sometimes they begin to accuse them of character flaws that aren’t there, just because they didn’t agree with a particular decision.

All this leads me to the curious commandment in the New Testament that both Paul and Peter gave in their letters, that Christians should honor our leaders.  Now to be clear, Jesus really redefined honor in his day, and pulled back the curtain on all the vanity that drives us to positions where we might be honored.

The New Testament spends much more time on making sure that we honor “the least of these” than those in places of authority, but these little churches were still commanded to honor those in leadership.  And, considering who those leaders were, that strikes me as a bit disturbing.

Midway through his book, Andy Crouch gives a fascinating anecdote that I have re-told a few dozen times to friends.

Crouch points out that the most classified document in the United States government is the daily Presidential briefing.  Every morning the President starts his day with a summary of all the most pressing threats and dangers that are facing the United States.  This seems like it would make every President, you know, not a morning person.  This is information that comes from all the vast networks of intelligence that America has. This information has been highly vetted and is credible knowledge that the President needs to have to make decisions on how to take action to keep American lives safe.

Crouch points out that only one of these briefings has ever been seen by the public. It was from August 6th 2001 and the only part of the briefing made public was a few sentences that said “Bin Laden determined to strike on U.S. soil.”

But here is the point that Crouch makes with all this. After the President hears about these imminent dangers, he then goes on with his day, doing photo ops, press conferences, interviews, and attending banquets.  All the while, he alone knows what the rest of the world does not. He knows that North Korea has a nuke with our name on it and that Seal team 6 is going in. (side note: movie idea?)

And the President can’t share this information with anyone. Can you imagine the kind of mass panic and chaos that would happen if we all knew intimately what kind of dangers we were facing? Commerce would shut down, the economy would tank, and society would crumble.

Every. Single. Day.

This is what Crouch calls “the Hidden Vulnerability of leadership.” Every leader knows things that the people they are leading do not know.  Good leaders are as transparent as possible with those they are leading, but even the best leaders can’t tell everyone everything.

I get the pushback to this, right now a lot of us are frightened about the upcoming election, and this metaphor might not be very helpful because you’re picturing a certain person with thin skin and access to nuclear weapons.

But I’m not writing this post about that, I’m writing this post especially for churches. We live in a post-Mark Driscoll/Mars Hill era, and the thing we Americans value more than anything else is independence and autonomy.  We have seen the abuses and so we protect ourselves as much as we can from people who abuse authority in our lives.  And in my experience, the way we protect ourselves is by critiquing our leaders, and we rarely honor them.

Okay, so hear me out before you push back too hard.  If I go to a church, and everyone is telling me how wonderful Pastor so and so is, and how they are always amazing and wise and smart and talented, some red flags are going to go off in my head. If the whole church is filled with people who think that their pastor is a direct descendent of Jesus, then there is a good chance that this pastor is leading poorly, maybe with an authoritarian style.

Those churches exist, and those kind of leaders need to read this book too. Here is what Andy says:

“Leadership does not begin with a title or position. It begins the moment you are concerned more about others’ flourishing than you are about your own….Leader, you could say, lose interest in self-help books. They are no longer looking primarily to help themselves but to spend themselves on others.”

Authoritarian leaders aren’t really leading, they are power-mongering an institution.

But I am not going to any of those churches in my particular tribe. What I am more likely to run into are churches that are hyper concerned about that kind of leadership, and so they don’t honor their leaders, they critique them.

I get it.  I started ministry as the guy on the lowest rung of the ladder, I was a college minister in a Mega-Church, and when I was in that position, I was often critical of people in the leadership. They made staffing changes that I disagreed with and sometimes I wasn’t very mature about how I responded. I had all kinds of complaints about the way the leaders were leading.

And then that church made me a leader.

Years later when I became a member of the senior staff at that church, I started to learn the information that was driving those decisions and it all started to make sense.

Since I have been the preacher at Highland, I have come to realize how true this hidden vulnerability is.  The preacher before me once told me that the worst part about leadership is that you know the worst stuff about the best people, and sometimes churches have to make decisions based on information that not everyone knows or needs to know.

Sometimes in leadership you can’t tell people all the reasons for the hard decision that your leadership team had to make. Maybe it would be needlessly embarrassing for someone else, or maybe you need to protect someone’s privacy.

I will talk more about this later in the series, but there is a great significance in Jesus’ final moments alive. They pronounce Him King.  And give him a crown of thorns.

If there is such a thing as a peculiarly Christian way of leadership, it has to look like that.

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than fifty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.