We are honored to introduce another of our Praxis Gathering partners for this upcoming gathering – Plough. Here they share who they are and their ministry calling.
Plough Publishing House, founded in 1920, and based in Walden, New York, with branches in the United Kingdom and Australia, is an independent publisher of books on faith, society, and the spiritual life. Our titles cover categories such as Christian living, social issues, church history, devotional anthologies, spiritual classics, and parenting and education. We also publish Plough Quarterly, a bold new magazine of stories, ideas, and culture to inspire faith and action, and we serve up fresh views and insights daily online at www.plough.com.
Plough has always aspired to be more than just another publisher – our goal is to help build a worldwide network of writers, readers, and doers who, while belonging to diverse traditions, share a common conviction: that faith has the power to transform every aspect of life.
These words from our founding editor, written in 1920, guide us today:
“The mission is to proclaim living renewal, to summon people to deeds in the spirit of Jesus, to spread the ‘mind of Christ’ (1 Cor. 2:16) in the social distress of the present day, to apply Christianity publicly, and to testify to God’s action in current events. We must get down to the deepest roots of Christianity and demonstrate that they are crucial to solving the urgent problems in contemporary culture…”
Plough is the publishing house of the Bruderhof, an international movement of Christian communities whose members are called to follow Jesus together in the spirit of the Sermon on the Mount and of the first church in Jerusalem, sharing all our talents, income, and possessions (Acts 2 and 4).
Humility Is The Key
The past year has seen something of a crisis in church leadership in America, with numerous leaders losing their positions – and more importantly, the trust of their congregations – due to various improprieties, mostly sexual or financial. As churches strive to rediscover what true leadership is, many policies and solutions have been discussed and proposed.
We need to explore our procedural aspects of leadership but more importantly we need look at the spiritual character of a leader. Humility is a virtue that is so uncontroversial that it may seem boring – nobody hates humility, after all. Yet the fact remains that in churches, just as in society at large, we tend to think of a successful leader first and foremost as someone who is strong, effective, or charismatic; “gifted” rather than humble. When that happens, no amount of talk about “servant leadership” can change the fact that humility is viewed as almost optional: a nice thing for a leader to have, of course, but ultimately just an accessory.
That, however, is not how the New Testament sees it. When Jesus entrusted his church to Peter, he did not give him any rights over the other disciples. Instead he taught:
“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matt 20:25–28, ESV).
Humility is therefore the crucial key to any kind of true leadership in the spirit of Jesus. Without it, no matter how good a congregation’s structures of governance, leadership is just a form of dominance of some over others, however well-intentioned or even democratic it might seem.
Heinrich Arnold, (author of Discipleship: Living for Christ in the Daily Grind) a pastor and author whose escape as a refugee from Nazi Germany informed much of his later life in the United States, and whose own church suffered from having its founding vision twisted by legalistic and power-hungry leaders, knew this.
In his writings on leadership he suggested that humility and its companion the childlike spirit – taught by Jesus when he told us to “become like little children” – are key factors in healthy relational dynamics between leaders and followers, between pastor and congregation.
Pastor Arnold taught that the revelation of Christ does not tolerate any human ego next to it. If there is ego – pride and presumption – in any leader, it must be dismantled. Only Jesus should rule in the church. God does not need human ego to flourish the church. He needs men and women who hunger for truth and thirst for living water. If someone preaches the Gospel to his or her own credit and does not acknowledge their frailty and weakness before God, they act as a thief. He or she steals the words of Jesus and uses them for his or her own glory.
A true Christian church cannot be a living organism unless there is leadership. Christian community needs guidance, and that guidance must must practice humility and not “Lord it over’ the congregation they lead. Leaders must not isolate themselves. Through close cooperation and collaboration with all members, a direction in all matters can be found.
When we speak about the authority of leaders in the church, it should be very clear that we never mean authority over people. Jesus gave his disciples authority, but he gave them authority over spirits – not people. In the same way, those of us appointed to lead the church are given authority, but not over people. It is all too easy to forget this. We must seek for humility again and again.
Peter writes, “Shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock” (1 Peter 2–3).
True leadership means service, so it is a terrible thing to use it as a position of power over others. When such abuse of leadership takes place in a church community, it is especially devilish, because men and women give themselves voluntarily, trustingly, and open-heartedly to the church.
In a dictatorial state, people might yield to a greater power even though their souls reject it as evil. But in a family of believers, where members trust their leaders, the misuse of power is real soul-murder.
Leaders of a church have no rights whatsoever over the souls entrusted to them. Consider how Jesus entrusted his flock to Peter. He did not give him any rights over the lambs. He only asked, “Do you love me?” And then he said, “Feed my sheep” (John 21:15-17). It is a terrible sin when someone entrusted with a pastoral service thinks they have the right to govern souls.
Being a Childlike Leader
Jesus put a child into his disciples’ midst and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 18:3–4).
Here we see that Jesus loves the childlike spirit. This should also be true among us. In the church community, each member is invited to be the least.
Speaking the truth, which is a task of a leader of the church, is not a gift given only to especially clever and superior people. If it were, most people would have reason to fear being a disciple of Jesus or a leader in the church. It is not intellect that is receptive to the truth; it is the childlike spirit. Jesus says, “Become like a child – only then will you be able to enter God’s kingdom” (Matt 18:3).
The childlike spirit is and remains spirit, and because of that it is authority and revelation. The realization – that the truth is revealed only to children and to the simple-hearted (Matt 11:25) – is crucial to being a leader in Christ’s Body.
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For more on the life of J. Heinrich Arnold, Plough offers an award-winning biography, Homage to a Broken Man.
See You in September
We look forward to seeing you at The Praxis Gathering 2018 and be sure to connect with our friends from Plough while your there!
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