I’m up to my ears in a new book that I’m writing for Zondervan. It’s going to be called Shrink & I’m trying to make the case for faithfulness and virtue (over and against success & results), as the central leadership pursuits of those involved in ministry of any kind.
As part of my writing I’m using some of Bonhoeffer’s work. One of the things he was sold on was the idea that we should not be in pursuit of principles that will apply in any situation. What matters in every situation is always, “What is the will of God?” What we want as Christian is to have this bag of doctrines and principles that we can follow, that we can apply to any given situation. What we have is a sovereign Lord who is free from any attachment of subjectivity to principles. God is free to act how God wishes. Our job is not to distill the story of God into doctrines, theologies, and principles that we follow. Our job is to follow the will of God.
The will of God should have absolute power over our lives. Perhaps more than any other nemesis, the will of God is often thwarted by an arch-rival named success. This rival is kicking the will of God’s can all over the playground in our contemporary American culture. As I am trying to fight against this I am always amazed at how passionately many Christians will fight against you when you try to take away the idol of success.
There’s the famous story about Bonhoeffer and Bethge who were visiting one of the Confessing Church pastors in Prussia while Hitler’s Blitzkrieg was pulverizing Europe. While they were there news came that France had surrendered to Germany. The whole place erupted in song, giving the Nazi salute. To Bethge’s surprise Bonhoeffer joined in. “Are you crazy,” he whispered to Bethge, “Raise your arm! We’ll have to run risks for many different things, but this silly salute is not one of them!”
It was during that same time period that Bonhoeffer wrote his book Ethics, perhaps his finest work. At one point he is ruminating on the nature of success, and the power that it has over us. Success is the ultimate end for most people – the highest good. Success hold mesmerizing power over our culture, as it did for Germans who could look the other way concerning Hitler’s craziness because he handed them the success they wanted. We will trade our integrity for success, our family, our health. We will trade almost anything for success. Bonhoeffer warns against this. He wrote this in Ethics:
“In a world where success is the measure and justification of all things the figure of Him who was sentenced and crucified remains a stranger and is at best the object of pity. The world will allow itself to be subdued only by success. It is not ideas or opinions which decide, but deeds. Success alone justifies wrongs done… With a frankness and off-handedness which no other earthly power could permit itself, history appeals in its own cause to the dictum that the end justifies the means… The figure of the Crucified invalidates all thought which takes success for its standard.”
God save us from the successful church, and the successful pastor. God give us virtuous leaders, faithful leaders, who pursue the will of God above all else.