Jesus “was despised and rejected by others; a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity,” why wouldn’t you be the very same? He pointedly told his disciples that they would be treated like he was treated if they tried to disrupt the perverse homeostasis of sin and destruction in the world. The prophet Isaiah revealed that the Messiah would be a suffering servant, not a mighty, political King who would save the family business. The Savior will not appear in his glorious might until the end of days — until that time he appears in his glorious weakness, undoing the sin of the world with suffering love. We’re still fighting with Him about this.
It is small wonder we fight Him. Being dishonored like Jesus is the regular experience of anyone who tries to lead sinners into redemption, or just tries to lead anybody into something better. If you are a Christian and don’t hide it, you are too holy. You try to save the neighborhood and you are too pushy. You are a woman leader and you are too womany. You are a man leader and you aren’t man enough. You are a Christian leader and you aren’t spiritual enough or don’t love people well enough. It is no wonder people are scared to lead, even among this circle of hope, where we try to make it plain that the people love their leader into greatness, not vice versa.
To hear some people tell it, leaders get into leadership because they are mostly narcissistic, power-hungry dominators who just want to satisfy their hunger and enjoy being number one. Those people must be out there, but I don’t meet them in our church too often. Most of our leaders respond to a call when others note their obvious gifts. We tell them we need them to use their gifts to help us to live into our ambitious vision. We usually have to talk people into leading. That’s OK, because we don’t need too many leaders, just enough. They are like an enzyme that keeps our digestion going; we’re the stomach receiving the bread of life.
But maybe more so, people might not be clamoring to lead because being a leader in our whole society is very difficult right now. In many ways leaders are despised, at least subconsciously. School teachers will tell you stories about that from their classrooms full of anxious, unruly kids in schools overseen by anxious, demanding, random bosses. Small business owners talk about strangely entitled entry level workers. Listen to the memories of the Occupy movement. The Atlantic Conference of the BIC can’t even find a person who will be their bishop! Everywhere you try to be leader you get nailed by people who are just one way and don’t listen to people, you’re hounded by people who have a self-interested point to push, or you’re surrounded by people who are so anxious and disoriented that they have a tough time being led!
Let’s face it, intelligent people do not always clamor to get into leadership because they are leery of being despised, being isolated and perpetually dealing with conflict. They look around at the world and say, “I don’t know if I have the stuff to deal with that!” Some of us can’t even have a healthy conflict with a toddler, much less have one with a sinful adult! We can’t stand being despised while our child is screaming in time out, much less can we risk experiencing whatever an adult might do to us.
Even if it is hard, whether it is in our families or in our neighborhoods, in the church or in our whole society, we need people who risk going first, who are a trustworthy presence, who take the lead. Some of us need to be a leader all the time, because we have the God-given calling and gifts to do it. You know you are — you are called and people follow. Thank you. We need you. But we only need enough of those people. Most of us just need to be ready when we are called on to supply some leadership and not be afraid to face the inevitable issues of going somewhere everyone needs to go and asking them to follow. In the process, we are going to fear that people will be mad at us, since someone will inevitably be mad — especially if you want to go God’s way, people will oppose you like they opposed your Lord.
That’s the rub; we need to be ready to be despised. Since you know it is hard and it creates conflict to lead, and since people are all-too-ready to tell you to back off, and since it seems impolite, if not illegal, to question anyone’s direction, what would possess you to stick your neck out and get us from here to there? It can be painfully isolating. Leadership often makes you feel like you are not one of the gang, anyway. If you actually cause trouble by leading, someone will despise you.
But it is also very satisfying to rally people to trust God. When you obey his call to step out in trust, it feels like you are really living. And standing up against the forces of evil is a lot better than the enemy running all over your people, that’s for sure. If reading that rang a bell in you, thanks for letting it. You’re probably a cell leader or a team leader. You’re probably leading a healthy family, office or crew. We need more people like you who will be empowered by the Spirit to take their stand for Jesus in a difficult world and build a vibrant, authentic church.
Jesus reveals the secret of how to do that. Being scorned and refusing to compete to be king of the world is the way to eternal life. Humbly doing what needs to be done, going first, taking the direction that needs to be taken and asking people to come along is following Jesus. For some of us, that is a full-time job. For all of us, that is everyday life. Like Paul wrote: God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God. Because boasting before God is what makes us despised in eternity. Gaining the whole world at the loss of our true selves is the greatest loss of all.
If you are leading all the time, follow your Leader; it is the best you can do. Your trust in God is better than any technique you will apply or any power you will exercise. For all of us, in a leadership position or not, we need to stop cooperating with what holds us back. Let’s keep talking ourselves and one another out being despised for the lowliness and anxiety-bucking obedience that makes us appreciated in heaven. Don’t let bad feelings you have about yourself or ill-feelings others seem to have about you make you withdraw and isolate when you are called to go somewhere better and take people with you.
Remember, no matter who despises you, even when you despise yourself, you will never be stolen from the kingdom of grace in which you live. The corruption of your heart is restrained by the influence of the Holy Spirit. The world is passing by under your feet and cannot hold you in its chains. The enemies of God have been bound and cannot permanently harm you. Even if you are despised by yourself and humanity, in Christ you are the beloved of God.