Thinking Out Loud

June 27, 2011

When Christian Leadership is Equated with Privilege

Several years ago I had a recurring gig as a guest speaker with a large international Christian organization.  I got to stay in the “Hospitality Suite,” which represented the finest accommodation this organization had to offer, and was literally treated like a king, which only served to make me want to do an exceptional job as a lecturer.  However, throughout each visit, I was acutely aware and increasingly uncomfortable with the fact that my situation was quite distanced from what the students I was teaching were experiencing in the dorms.

In the years that followed, I would see this played out many times, and find myself on both sides of the great divide.  I think because I’d experienced life in the guest suite, I sort of knew what to look for. I knew it was there; I knew how these things work.

For at least the past decade, I have not found myself staying in the hospitality area, or anything close to it.  Add in my wife’s years working with people who are decidedly economically disadvantaged, and I probably now have a low tolerance for exclusivity or elitism. I like my Christian organizations to operate on a level playing field, with liberty and justice for all.

…This week I got to see the inside of a recently opened facility which is dedicated to fostering Christian leadership.  It incorporates a number of architectural features designed for both form and function.  However, I wasn’t actually tracking the issue of who gets to use this particular place, or who doesn’t, until Mrs. W. pointed out that the facility is so very nice that it is unintentionally — at least we hope it is unintentional — sending the message that leadership equates with privilege.

Don’t get me wrong. I celebrate that the people in charge have put together something creative and unique. But then I read this description of where the users of this facility get to stay:

Each of the … units is equipped with a pair of duvet-covered twin beds, a mini-fridge, a coffeemaker, a kettle, a toaster, a microwave, and dishes, so guests can make themselves at home… All rooms have en suite bathrooms, and we provide all bath and bed linens… Rooms all have cozy throws, chess-sets, and rustic … decor… surrounding trees and lake views. The rooms all overlook a communal campfire where guests come together to roast marshmallows, tell stories, sing songs, or just simply unplug.

I recognize that the people who put this together have to compete with other conference facilities.  I recognize that they are committed to excellence. I recognize that they want their guests to have a memorable experience.  I recognize that — oh my goodness — in the dining area there is a four-slice toaster and a 32″ monitor at every table

If their guests are paying their own way for this, that’s fine.  If their guests’ seminar and conference costs are coming out of the regular budgets of Christian parachurch organizations or churches — representing peoples’ tithes and offerings — I have a problem with that.  If the organization’s internal use of the facility is such that it creates a two-tiered dichotomy between the leadership and the peons in the trenches, then I have a major problem with that.

The Bible I own teaches humility; teaches putting others ahead of yourself; teaches servant leadership. 

All other models are somewhat flawed.

~Paul Wilkinson

Image: From an article at Lamar Hernden’s blog, Are You 21st Century Servant Leadership Literate?



  1. Good stuff, Paul

    Comment by Jon Rising — June 27, 2011 @ 10:48 am

  2. Well, I would have to comment that I don’t necessarily think a nice retreat for ministers is a bad thing. There are ways to do it and ways to not do it. For instance, a retreat that has a business model of being low cost for ministers (but requires them to pay for it themselves) is not horrible. Many ministers cant afford to go nice places for such things. However, probably like you, I have very little faith that it will work that way. It is in my experience not something that a lot of Ministers are strong enough to avoid and make sure is on the up and up. In my opinion the over ambitious pastor (some bordering flat out narcism…some way across that border) is a major issue that is hurting churches. Anything that places our pastors on the entitlement plane is to be avoided or tread on very carefully. This is particularly so in the “pastor led” model…or as is more frequent the model that I call the “pastor led masquerading as elder led just to look biblical even though it is just handpicked yes men” model.

    Still it is a difficult line. I want my pastor to be well rested. I want him paid in a way that makes sense in my church and takes care of his family. I want him to be blessed with extra things some times too. I recognize that it might be in my churches best interest to send him off to some pampered retreat for the weekend and us pay for it.

    …but I can’t have a pastor that expects it…or thinks he deserves it…or gets upset when he doesn’t get it and others do. I have served under this type of pastor (i quit after being beat up for a year for not needing him enough). Tough question you bring up though. Not an easy answer.

    Comment by Chris — June 28, 2011 @ 9:47 am

  3. […] the way, paul wilkinson over at “thinking out loud” has a great post along these lines.  take a moment and check it […]

    Pingback by what is “the elephant in the room” is arrogance? « your best life later — June 28, 2011 @ 4:01 pm

  4. Paul: came by way of Randy’s blog. You hit the nail on the head. I am a simple, down-to-earth person who pastors a church is a small central Indiana town that reeks of poverty and drugs and teen pregnancies, child abuse, etc. i believe I would be extremely uncomfortable (after the initial WOW factor) with such plush accommodations. At least I hope I would be. thanks for the challenging post.

    Comment by bill (cycleguy) — June 28, 2011 @ 4:37 pm

  5. Leadership or any form of Christian service is the biggest privilege we will ever experience. It is incomprehensible that the great Creator God would want to use us to achieve His will. However, I agree the privilege is not – should not be – one of setting us apart from those we serve, or of “luxury”. A leader needs quiet time and convenience to prepare, but luxury is not good stewardship.

    Comment by meetingintheclouds — July 1, 2011 @ 5:30 pm

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