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?

October 12, 2009

Sharing the Spotlight, Passing the Torch

Coming Events sampleFor the last five years I’ve been doing a project on the side that represents something I once swore I would never do.    I’ve been publishing a monthly newsletter that lets people know what’s going on that would be of interest to the local Christian community; and with our twin-towns having a population of less than 40,000; there often isn’t much going on at all, and the whole project seems hardly worthwhile.

Years ago, I met a guy — I think his name was Bill Scarborough — who published the Christian Activities Calendar magazine in several cities.   At the time I thought the whole thing was rather pedestrian.   Why not produce a magazine that does outreach, or discusses doctrine, or deals with youth and family issues?

But now I do the same thing.   The newsletter still goes out, but we modified a blog page to get online quickly.    It’s filled with concerts, car washes, bake sales, conferences, church picnics and lots of advertising for our local Christian bookstore.    It would be easy for someone to say I should be using that energy for evangelism, or theological discussion, or examining parenting and marriage issues.

But nested in between the seminars and the fundraisers and the singles events there are often things that are worthy of reaching a greater audience, often put together by people who aren’t connected or established or loaded with the money it often takes to make things happen.

I just finished watching the first two parts of a four-part series on DVD by Andy Stanley called Playing God and it reminds me of the need to use whatever power and influence I may have to help those who have even less.  His example in Part Two was Jesus stripping himself (literally) of his status and position to wash His disciples feet.

When it comes to these new or unknown or untried or unproven ventures I think my goal is obvious:

  1. We need to promote them
  2. We need to elevate them
  3. We need to resource them

To me, if the premise is valid and the doctrinal convictions of the organizers are sound and the spiritual benefit to the participants will be real; then I want to be seen as someone lending support.   Just as the business world has “incubators” for new ventures, so also do we need to incubate local ministry providers who want to serve the communities where we live.

Christian Events headerWe need to celebrate that in this chaotic world, there are individuals who are still willing to get their hands dirty in ministry; still willing to risk failure; still willing to attempt new ministry start-ups.

I don’t want be a skeptic sitting on the sidelines waiting to see if it will happen.   I want to make it happen.

Right now there are people in your town who are starting something or dreaming a dream or are out there in the trenches doing real ministry who need your support.   Whatever power and influence you have, use it to share the spotlight or pass the torch to those who will follow after.   Especially those next-generation projects that are so easily dismissed by the “religious establishment” as non-consequential.

What will you do to help ministries where you live?

If you want to see what our “Coming Events” site looks like you can click here.   If you don’t have one of these in your community, why not start one?

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