Posted by: Mark Nielsen | January 29, 2013

On Leadership: Deacons, Drunks & Deadly Sinners

The Seven Deadly Sins (ca. 1620) - Envy

The Seven Deadly Sins (ca. 1620) – Envy (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today, a sort of conversation-starter about the qualities of a leader, and the pedestal we tend to put leaders upon –religious, political, professional leaders, …it doesn’t matter much when it comes to the pressure of living under closer scrutiny than that given to non-leaders.

It’s important to model a high standard, yes. And probably we can’t help but expect our leaders to adhere to those high standards, maybe because we ourselves know it is hard and want to see somebody else succeed, to inspire us to keep trying. But I think people with genuine authority often are tempted more forcefully than their rank-and-file colleagues by a few of those classic deadly sins. Pride is the obvious one. And probably greed. But what about gluttony [aka drunks, compulsive eaters [we call the powerful “fatcats” for a reason, right?, shopaholics, etc.]?

By way of review: the deadlies in no particular order are these: Pride, greed, sloth, gluttony, lust, wrath (I prefer “rage”), and envy. Of course, the one that I think is my toughest challenge -Envy- is the one I temporarily forgot this morning, had to look up. But isn’t that what denial is all about, leddies and gennelmen?

So here’s the question: When our leaders stumble, what is the best, most honest and productive response, and when are we just playing into the Enemy’s hands and tearing down another fallible human for what we deny or dislike about ourselves?

For further reading…

The more overtly religious material below is pretty much a direct lift from my private journal. Color indicators & all. Not my attempt at confession, just that this is how I thoughtfully engage my faith and scripture-reading with my actual daily life. Sometimes. Don’t hold me to that, though…

RE “OVERSEERS” (BISHOPS) & DEACONS:

1Timothy 3:1-13, 3:14-16

Qualities of BISHOPS:

self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, … not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money.” (NIV)

To which I inwardly responded: Ok, I’m OUT! (given my aversion to the boldface attitudes or behaviors above… )

This type of teaching is where Paul sometimes loses me, where maybe he goes beyond what the gospels or Holy Spirit have taught me, and gets back into his own Phariseeism in a small way. Jesus was plenty quarrelsome, as are many of my historical or creative heroes.
Plus, “self-controlled” can also become a synonym for boring or fear-bound in the wrong context… though I believe in it in principle.

As for deacons, this line stood out, in a good way:

v. 9- “They must keep hold of the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience.”

My first response: ‘Yeah, I sleep real good’ (re matters of conscience).

1Tim 3:14 & ff is cool, too, esp the following:
“… how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth. Beyond all question, the mystery of godliness is great:

He appeared in a body,
was vindicated by the Spirit,
was seen by angels,
was preached among the nations,
was believed on in the world,
was taken up in glory.”

It’s the “ought” before all that good theology and poetry that I get stuck on. The rules just suck, right? The Law was broken from the get-go.

I know that God loves me, and that how I conduct myself will not change that. Guilt is generally a trap, a trick of the devil (though denial is, as well). Behavior/conduct/works –that all counts, but it is not foundational.

Therefore “ought” is more about the witness (bad or good) that my behavior presents in the World, than it is about any moral or ethical standing in the grand scheme of things. One can do all the “oughts”, yet still skip the ACTUAL gospel and any real critical thinking about what one believes, achieve no real intimacy with God or indwelling of the Holy Spirit, … and still be a lost soul.

I am bound to be imperfect, to sin, and to (usually) learn from those behaviors and hopefully not do them again– so that I might not harm myself or another in that particular sinning method or habit. But I will still miss some other thing that I “ought” to have done or not done, and that puts me back where I started. The onus is on me, not on God.

On the other hand, AA and the Recovery movement (for example) is based almost entirely on the actual FELLOWSHIP of admitted sinners who move past the ought to the confession of “I can’t”, then past the can’t to the power of “God can”. They self-disclose and thereby overcome these behaviors by breaking the addiction’s power over them thru unity with others and/or God’s upsetting of their inner compulsive order of things (or dis-order). Part of the disorder is the power of shame, and part of the healing is freedom from the weight of that shame or guilt. Perhaps shame has its purpose in God’s eyes, but it is also dangerous as a “corrective”. We can get caught up in what we “ought” to do, in the rules and/or how we have failed in upholding them, and the result of asking this “wrong question” (instead of the “grace question”) is more often hopelessness than it is an expectation that God can change us. “Ought” is therefore a very dangerous two-edged sword.

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