In the hearing of all the people he said to the disciples, ‘Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and love to be greeted with respect in the market-places, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honour at banquets. They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.’
For the past several months—perhaps past few years—I’ve been struggling greatly with cynicism towards Christian leaders. Not all Christian leaders, of course, but toward the ones who make themselves visible—not simply because they are visible, although their intentional visibility sometimes is a contributing factor.
I think growing up this passage from Luke 20 was often read as an a critique of Judaism, as if it were monolithic, as if Jesus were not Jewish, as if the earliest Christians weren’t also Jewish, etc. This is clearly a dangerous misinterpretation in and of itself. However, I find it perhaps most troubling of all than so few Christian leaders seem to think these words might also apply to them.
Here’s the honest truth: despite knowing people in ministry I respect, my own time in ministry was also the time when I was the most concerned about others’ approval, the most political (in the sense of compromising here to get something else there), and the most ambitious. Perhaps some of this is unavoidable and not necessarily wrong. I mean, I did need a job after school, so why not try to network? There is nothing evil about that. And I had good intentions, and I think I did a lot of good work.
But there were also times when I loved having the approval of others—particularly other leaders—a little too much. I made my own voice quiet so that I wouldn’t make waves. I didn’t always stand up for what I believed or even for myself. I was wanted to keep my position and so I made sacrifices—sacrifices I sometimes have regretted over the years. While I know this is not specifically what this passage is about, I feel they are all part of the same package. Maybe I didn’t devour any widows’ houses per se, but I was more concerned with my position than with competing loyalties.
These days I’ve lost most of that approval and most of those connections I so desperately craved when I was younger. It is embarrassing how much I miss it, along with the more laudable desire to be included and involved in ministry. And I think having lost that standing makes me more aware of what others go through to keep it. There are great healthy churches and ministry organizations, and I know great people leading them. But with these honorable exceptions aside, I have come to see Christian leadership as a disgusting game:
You say the right things and do the right things and even try to convince yourself that you believe all the right things, and if you not only play by the rules but also intentionally seek out opportunities to “grow your ministry” (i.e. promote your brand as a leader), you will increasingly be surrounded with people who think all the same things, pat each other’s backs, cover up each other’s sins, and generally think of themselves in a class above all of the unenlightened people they are leading. And you’ll know people who know people, and that is really all it takes to be a Christian leader in many circles. A lot of self-delusion and the right people by your side, especially more senior leaders who will vouch for you.
Like I said, rather cynical right now. Perhaps next time I can share a bit about my thoughts towards Christians in academia specifically or towards popular Christian approaches to mentoring! Both, I think, tie in with this post at least a bit.