“I’m their leader; which way did they go?” I feel like that a lot as a parish priest. Truth is sometimes it’s like herding cats to be the leader of a parish community. It seems everyone has their own agenda or vision of “how things ought to go.” And, rarely, is this motivated by bad intentions or evil motivations. Most folks want what is best, but we so rarely take the time to allow timeless wisdom to inform our ideas of “best.”
Because of this, it seems everyone wants to go in different directions. But the Church is a different kind of community. The Church isn’t a political community, though there is a political element. The Church isn’t a social club, though there are social events that are part of Her life. The Church isn’t even a “religion” because Orthodox Christianity is the cure for religion. No, the Church IS the Body of Jesus still in the earth to continue the visible life of Jesus for the world. But, if the Church is going to avoid all those misconceptions, She is going to need leaders to lead!
Look at our lesson today in Hebrews 13:7-16:
Brethren, remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God; consider the outcome of their lives, and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and for ever. Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings; for it is well that the heart be strengthened by grace, not by foods, which have not benefited their adherents. We have an altar from which those who serve the tent have no right to eat. For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp. So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. Therefore let us go forth to him outside the camp and bear the abuse he endured. For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city which is to come. Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.
Before St. Paul gives us profound and cosmic theology in the latter part of our passage, he tells these Orthodox Christians to “remember your leaders.” You see, you’ll never be able to embrace the depths of the theology of Jesus without guidance and accountability. You just won’t. Ever.
But the leaders have to be ‘memorable,” and that is going to take 3 distinct Ways good leaders lead!
- Leaders who Speak the Word of God to you! Now, be careful here. Too many times, especially nowadays, we mistake the “word of God” for just being the Bible. And that’s ALWAYS too small! No, the Word of God is a Person. You can’t have a relationship with the printed page, and you can never reduce Orthodox Christianity to rationalism. We need awe and wonder if we’re ever going to “know” anything! And that leading to wonder has to come from our leaders. We have to lead people to Jesus; not an ideology, or a set of precepts, but to a Person. And that means we leaders have to be led to Him as well!
- Leaders who Live Well. A natural result of “knowing” the Word (the Person, not just the book) means that I go beyond information to actual and humble direction. A Leader must embody his own struggle to live well. And it is a struggle, everyday. If we leaders leave the mistaken impression that we don’t struggle, don’t confess, don’t repent; how can we ever hope to model this normal Orthodox life to our faithful.
- Leaders who are worth Imitating. The natural progression of Speaking the Word and Living Well is creating a way of life that is safe to follow. Notice, I didn’t say “perfect.” If you expect perfection from your leaders, the only thing you really desire is an excuse to ignore your leaders. The only path that leads to spiritual health and maturity in your life and my life is if we humbly and courageously embrace the wisdom of loving and listening and following godly leaders who love us more than themselves.
Today, we are literally surrounded with good leaders who struggle to lead well. They aren’t perfect. They aren’t without faults and weaknesses, but they are struggling to repent and to love God with their whole hearts. These leaders need us! And if we are faithful to our leaders who are given the terrible responsibility to bring us to Christ and bring Christ to us, we will find the joy of being Orthodox on Purpose!