These are difficult days that we lead the church in, at least in some ways. There are moments I tell my wife that I would have never chosen to be a minister at this particular time and place, a time of social upheaval and changing values, a time when the church seems to be in decline in several ways. Yet, when I look to my heroes of the past like Corrie ten Boom during World War II, William Booth in the early days of The Salvation Army, or Saint Francis in his day, when it seems church and society struggle to find its way forward, I realize that now is exactly the time to stay the course, keep the faith, and heed the call.
A Thousand Screaming Voices
We live in a time of tens of thousands of screaming voices seeking to drown each other out. It would seem that the only way to lead then would be to scream louder than everyone else. We’re too busy thinking how to respond that we don’t take time to listen to each other, and true understanding does not come from someone’s opinion being crammed down your throat, but real dialogue. Honestly, as a pastor, I tried to remain very neutral during this last presidential election because I knew 49-51 percent of the people I have taken vows to lead towards Christ could shipwreck on the stumbling block of my opinions, if I wasn’t careful with the souls I have been entrusted with.
Be Gentle Shepherds
We pastors and lay leaders in the church need role models we can follow in how to lead others well in difficult times. Books have been written on Jesus’ leadership, Moses and Peter may seem a more attainable mark. Moses learned longsuffering in the care of Israel in the wilderness, Peter, after Jesus’ admonishment to “Feed my sheep” instructs us:
Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them–not because you must, but because you are willing.
Saint Francis followed in these steps and led in times of change resonant with our own. In the Rule of Saint Francis, Chapter IV: The Life of Chastity for the Sake of the Kingdom, Francis instructs:
Let the sisters and brothers be gentle, peaceful and unassuming, mild and humble, speaking respectfully to all in accord with their vocation. Wherever they are, or wherever they go throughout the world they should not be quarrelsome, contentious, or judgmental towards others. Rather, it should be obvious that they are “joyful, good-humored,” and happy “in the Lord” as they ought to be (cf Ph 4:4). And in greeting others, let them say, “The Lord give you peace.”
Francis Leads In Difficult Times
What could be more counter to our culture than this? Gentle? Peaceful? Mild? Humble? Speaking respectfully to all? Not quarrelsome, contentious or judgmental? It is with this attitude and adherence to scripture that Saint Francis, in 1219 during the 5th Crusade, gambled his life, was beaten and arrested in hopes of meeting and preaching to Al-Kamil, the Sultan of Egypt. Francis’ disposition was such that the Sultan and Francis spent several days discussing faith and peace, then Francis was allowed to return to Assisi with gifts from the Sultan, because of the respect his approach had established.
Many would say that the church today misses the mark on what Francis taught, this is their problem with the church. When people see “The Church” today they often see quarrelsome, contentious, and judgmental. Is there a better way?
There may well be times to let our protests be heard, there are times to stand when laws seem unjust, or against the law of God. We will not always agree with each other on all topics, or politics, Francis and the Sultan obviously did not. But are we seeking harmony and peace as much as possible? Paul instructs the early church in Romans chapter 12 to:
Live in harmony (verse 16)…If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. (verse 18)
Can we employ more humbleness, gentleness, and respect in disagreements, and less quarrelsome contention and judgement, so that we might lead people closer to Jesus, and not away? This is a tough cultural challenge for us right now. I believe Francis modeled this well in his day. Francis also said “No man is to be your enemy…” He learned this from Jesus. How can we seek to lead others better according to this example?