Why Can’t We Just All Get Along?

1Listen, my people, to my instruction (Torah),
Pay attention to the words I speak. — Psalm 78:1

I’ve been following some online debates about hierarchy in the church. Should there be certain people in authority? If we are all lead by the Holy Spirit, shouldn’t the church simply fall into place? If there is any kind of hierarchy, shouldn’t it be more egalitarian and spread out?

Though it isn’t really my topic today, I’m reminded of one of my political science professors who regularly pointed out that democracies could be just as hard on their minorities as dictatorships. The term is “dictatorship of the majority.”

I have seen church groups like that, in which the claim is that everyone is equal and they’re following the guidance of the Spirit, but it’s very clear that the Spirit guides through one person, or a very small number of people. Because nobody admits those people are in charge, it’s hard even to challenge them. Very flexible authority structures have a rigidness of their own!

But I’m not arguing one church structure over another. All type of church order have one major failing—they involve people. I recall a time when our own church was debating over issues of being Spirit led versus the traditional approach to church. I was invited to speak at the local Unitarian-Universalist congregation. Now you would think that if there is any church that is completely different, it would be the Unitarian-Universalist church. But in my discussions there I found that they had a debate going between those who wanted a more traditional church service, which for them was a educational/philosophical presentation with a few elements of liturgy, as opposed to those who wanted to experience spiritual practices from a variety of traditions. The two debates were separated by light years on the theological landscape, but on the human landscape they were quite similar.

All this came together as I saw that Psalm 78, one of my favorites, was an alternative lectionary reading for this coming week. As I started reading, I thought, “Hierarchy!” Here’s someone who truly believes he has something to say and that other people should listen. He’s willing to say so. Much later, James would say that not many should become teachers (James 3:1), but this guy isn’t afraid to do it.

There’s a certain arrogance in announcing that one is a teacher, but there is also a certain humility, or should be. If there’s no humility, teaching won’t go far. But that too is another subject.

How do we put this together? We need teachers, but few should dare. We need leaders, but those who lead must be servants. We even have the term “servant leaders” which gets thrown around so much that it tends to become meaningless.

Now prepare for some theology. Think about the incarnation. Jesus is fully human and fully divine. That’s 2*100% or 200%. That’s too many percents! But in the divine order, it works.

We try to divide our leaders between being servants and leaders so they can be servant-leaders, sort of half and half. But like the incarnation, I believe God wants servant leaders to be not 50%-50%, but 100%-100%, fully servant, fully leader. That’s tougher, I think. In fact, I think part of the plan is that all leaders and servants think about that and strive for it.

Let me illustrate from teaching. If I don’t learn I cannot teach. Sometimes I learn from students, sometimes from books, sometimes from other teachers. To the extent that I cease being a learner, I will be less able as a teacher. There are times when I am tempted not to prepare when I’m teaching something I have taught before. Sometimes others will tell me the same thing. “You don’t need to prepare. You already know that.” But when I get into the “already know it” state, I am in danger.

I must be 100% a learner and 100% a teacher, or at least strive for that, in order to serve God best.

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