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Posts Tagged ‘followers’

I am serving in Christ Reformed Church in Duncannon, PA. We are trying to be intentional about things like becoming a community and belonging to a community. We are reading texts like Genesis and recognizing ourselves as descendants of a promise. The promise of a worldwide family. For centuries followers and disciples have taken this seriously. We are following the same steps and praying the same prayers as these early followers.

We are practicing the promise given to Abraham so long ago and so far away, but we are practicing this promise in this place. What Abraham practiced among the Canaanites, we attempt to practice among the Duncannonites. We break bread together and remember who called us. We walk through the church year with the understanding we are on a journey.

Early in my relationship with this body, I was called to a meeting held in the downstairs of the building. Some referred to this as the dungeon. I was ok with this description. Some of the church’s best stuff has come from out of dungeons. We discussed details during the meeting.  But what I remember most was the way the meeting concluded. John had us join hands and pray the Lord’s Prayer. I felt like part of something big. Like we belonged to a long history of people who have prayed these words in dungeons and church basements.

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The Roman world produced a number of leaders. These leaders would have expected public honor, public reputation, wealth, and they would have been defensive if their reputation was threatened. The Corinthians grew up in this kind of world. They were providing leadership the way that Rome had taught them. When they became leaders in house churches they adopted this leadership model. And it appears they expected the Apostle Paul to demonstrate this kind of leadership. They opposed Paul when he adopted the weird idea that the cross had something to do with leadership.

The following words are influenced by Scot McKnight and any parts that are good are probably his. Let me toss out a statement from McKnight that will likely be protested by some. “The attraction to secular models of leadership in the church today is Corinthian.”

We need reminded that our Leader gave us a strange enactment in the context of leadership. John 13 is probably not the text the Corinthian house church leaders were using when discussing leadership. But Paul may have had it in mind “I did not come with superiority… I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.” Much of the Corinthian correspondence seems to be contrasting Corinthian influenced leadership vs. Cross influenced leadership. Perhaps the New Testament would like us to be less interested in leadership and more interested in followership.

The New Testament does name some leaders and talk about leadership, but the emphasis is always on followers. A stroll down the aisle of the Christian book store may suggest otherwise, but the New Testament does not baptize secular business models or leadership theory into Christian ministry. To counter such ideas the Apostle Paul summarizes thoughts on leadership in Philippians 2, a revolutionary leadership based on the cross.

I am not opposed to leadership theory. I do think there have been a few instances where the church has benefitted from it. I also think it has been given far more influence in the church and particularly pastoral ministry than it deserves. The fact that it has been helpful does not make it Christian. Even the leaders mentioned in the bible are called to be followers. It is time for the church to emphasize what it is to be a follower. Let us work on our followership.

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In Genesis chapter twelve God calls unlikely, aged, childless Abraham and promises future generations who would become a blessing for the world. We may wonder what is up with a God who dreams such impossible plans and makes such impossible promises. Yet Genesis insists that God is serious about such impossible promises.

God’s plan was to form a people to be an instrument to unite humanity with God and with one another. Those of us who have witnessed or experienced some relationships in the church may think it easier for a barren couple to have a baby. Obvious challenges come when walking with others. Brothers and sisters are not exempt from scandal, nor are they exempt from causing problems for us. Sometimes the whole thing can seem overwhelming yet God brings us together to be witnesses. In fact, it is through one another with all our gifts and limitations that God makes Himself known to us. God has assigned a group project.

This becomes important. God did not select Abraham to be a solo agent who would one day hand off to another solo agent. We sometimes act as if we are solo agents and even talk about alone time with God as if it is the goal. In our wiser moments we would be talking about the dangers of attempting to follow alone.

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The Gospel of Mark makes it clear that disciples have been slow to understand who Jesus is and what He is up to.  When we get to chapter 8, they make their biggest step in understanding when Peter says “You are the Christ.”  We do not want to ignore the movement in the text as Jesus immediately begins to bring the cross into the conversation.  Mark says that he taught them plainly that He would suffer, be rejected, be killed, and then rise again.  Peter disagrees with this plan and may be suggesting that there are other ways to build a kingdom.  It is easy for us to point fingers at Peter from where we are.  Yet, the fact is, we are still not comfortable with a cross as part of the plan.

The posture of followers seems to matter in this text.  For example, Jesus turns around to see disciples behind Him.  Jesus then tells Peter to get behind Him (in rather strong language).  Jesus points out the difference between human plans and the plan of God.  For sure, trying to influence Jesus away from the cross does not fit under God’s plan.  Jesus says, “if anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.”  The text leaves no question as to where disciples belong.  Disciples belong behind Jesus.  We are a collection of people in relationship to a crucified Jesus who are following behind Him.

Throughout Mark’s Gospel, there is a breathless effort to keep up with Jesus.  Disciples continue to find it difficult to follow Jesus.  Like Peter in chapter 8, I am reminded that my plan may not be God’s plan.  Instead, I simply must get behind him – and follow.  Whether we are able to catch our breath during our reading or not, one thing is for sure.  We know where we are to be: behind Jesus.  Where Peter belongs, where all disciples belong.  To be anywhere else, to offer Him any advice, is to be in league with Satan.

Leading up to this scene we find a series of questions, “What is this?”  “Who can do that?”  “Why does he do that?”  “Why do his followers do that?”  “Who is this?”  “Where did he learn this?”  But, after chapter eight the narrative changes dramatically.  As if Mark is suggesting that once you discover who Jesus is, then you may begin to understand the role of the cross.  From this point forward, we are reading a dangerous narrative.

It is risky to serve in another Kingdom where others may not take us seriously.  Others still have confidence in the empire that appears to have all the goodies, the power, and the answers.  Yet, we know that this way of life is temporary.  We do not have confidence in the strategies of this world.  Neither our best science nor our best social programs can fix it.  The established systems and the old certainties are no longer certain.  Still, we have a great hope.  We believe that another Kingdom is in play and we are called to utilize the strategies of this Kingdom.  A Kingdom that takes shape in out-of-the-way places, in unexpected ways, and through unexpected people.

We are an unexpected collection of people who will appear strange to the world at large.  We line up behind our King and embrace suffering and rejection.  Our desire to serve may take us on forays, rendezvous, and on reconnaissance into dangerous territory.  There, we participate in work that is good, work that builds the kingdom and glorifies the King.

A Look at the Cross reminds us that no matter how uncomfortable things become, our place is behind Jesus where we join others who follow a crucified King.

A prayer of response by Susan Vigliano,“Lord, with every longing in my heart I want to line up behind you and follow you in the Kingdom of God that has been established through Christ on earth.  I struggle with the selflessness, suffering, and forgiving, but I am willing.  I call upon your power to make me able to follow Christ for the sake of your glory.”

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