who should lead the church?
If you examine the picture closely, you can see that this portrayal of DaVinci’s Last Supper (photographed by Raoef Mamedov) is made up of people with Down’s Syndrome. This picture brought to mind a conversation from a DMin class on church leadership from over a year ago. It was called “Beyond Hierarchy” and focused on what church leadership could look like in this age of rapidly shifting ideas. One of the Profs had received 100 letters from pastors saying things like, “Something changed about 4 years ago . . . We can’t do things the same anymore . . . We’re done with the show and placing ourselves on the corner and expecting people to come.”
They recognized that we have a hierarchical Christianity within an egalitarian culture. People don’t want to come to church and listen passively anymore. The expressed goal of the class was to explore how to release everyone to be active participants in the Grand Narrative of God. Sounded good. Aha! An action plan! A good old “how-to”.
During the class we were part of a class-wide conference call with an author of one of the many new how-to-do-church books that have been published in the last few years. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that. I’ve read a ton of them, many are really good and insightful about church in this culture.) But then one class member asked him, who should lead the church? Without a second’s hesitation he replied, “the least of these.”
No-one knew what to say to that. We all felt a bit exposed. Surely he was not serious. We wanted new ideas, but in reality most of us are still pretty comfortable with the “sharpest” and most entertaining and informative as leaders. And we like to be counted amongst that special group. And we still too often want someone up front that makes us feel like good Christians and look like we are doing important work. We become very comfortable with the congregational passivity that that leadership structure produces and the resulting insulation from most of the hurt and need of the world (or, quite possibly, down the street.) But the least of these? How does leadership flow through them?
I remember my sweet cousin with Down’s who died in her thirties of a heart condition that is common to the syndrome. She was without guile and ready to love anyone. She would give huge bear hugs and unabashedly assume that you were her best friend upon first meeting. Simple things that would not warrant a second look from most of us made her uncommonly happy. And most of us have heard the stories from the Special Olympics where a whole group of runners will stop and run back to help a fallen friend – and often choose to cross the finish line together. They are each their brother’s keeper. When you think about it, when it comes to Christ-like love perhaps they set the bar too high for the rest of us.
We know that if we made any of them executive pastor, it might kill the institution which needs CEO’s and administrators and winners to make it work and stay afloat. But what do we value? From the least of these we might just learn humility, a sincere lack of self-importance, unconditional love, and sacrificial giving simply because someone had a need. Maybe we’d develop eyes to see God beyond where we have convinced ourselves He works and stays. Maybe we’d really move beyond hierarchy because we’d be in utter awe and wonder of each and every new best friend we meet. Maybe we’d finally see the Reality of God in the rhythms of a footrace gone backwards.
Jurgen Moltmann says that a church without the disabled is a disabled church. I think that’s because without them we really buy into the idea that the best and brightest know something more about doing “ministry” than everyone else. In my ongoing search for real church, that is, our true identity as the Body of the living Christ, our Living Orthodoxy, it seems that the “least of these” truly do know something about the Kingdom of God that the rest of us desperately need to learn. And perhaps, we who have lowered our sites to a comfortable ticket-to-heaven gospel are truly the “disabled” ones.