Vol 4:20 Mission and Leading Christ’s Community – Part 16: Leading and the Mundane Stuff of Life

In preparation for our summer and fall series on the Prophets (in following the lectionary, July through November Scriptural texts engage the major and minor prophets), I dusted off Abraham J. Heschel’s two-volume work on The Prophets, written in 1962. He mentioned something that caught my attention that I believe has import for those of us who are engaged in missional leading. In his first chapter, entitled, What Manner of Man is the Prophet? he describes the difference between what concerns philosophers and what concerns prophets.

He stated, “A student of philosophy who turns from the discourses of the great metaphysicians to the orations of the prophets may feel as it he (sic) were going from the realm of the sublime to an area of trivialities. Instead of dealing with the timeless issues of being and becoming, of matter and form, of definitions and demonstrations, he (sic) is thrown into orations about widows and orphans, about the corruptions of judges and affairs of the market place. Instead of showing us a way through the elegant mansions of the mind, the prophets take us to the slums. . . . They make much ado about paltry things, lavishing excessive language upon trifling subjects” (Heschel, Vol 1, p. 3).

He goes onto say, “The things that horrified the prophets are even now daily occurrences all over the world” (p. 3). This he stated in 1962, but it still applies to 2013. “There is no society to which Amos’ words [in Amos 8:4-6] would not apply” (p. 3).

In reflecting on this, reflecting on leadership, and reflecting on being missional, there are ramifications for the way we go about leading. It has been expressed that leadership focuses on the large vision, managers take care of the day-to-day operations. Leaders set the philosophical direction, the end vision, whereas the day-to-day matters are handled by staff. But as Heschel reveals, God would not fit the definition of such a leader, because what is of concern to God is what goes on day-to-day.

In discussing the importance of trivialities, Heschel expresses, “[i]ndeed, God . . . is described as reflecting over the plight of man (sic) rather than contemplating eternal ideas. [God’s] mind is preoccupied with man (sic), with the concrete actualities of history rather than with the timeless issues of thought. In the prophet’s message nothing that has bearing upon good and evil is small or trite in the eyes of God” (p. 5).

Often the pastoral role has been denigrated as one that maintains the status quo – and that what is necessary is more of a role of “rancher” (a term developed by Lyle Schaller and C. Peter Wagner) which oversees larger scale issues and directions. Even Alan Roxburgh has limited the role of pastor to times of stability, suited to Christianity within Christendom (cf. Crossing the Bridge, pp. 142ff).

The point I think that Schaller, Wagner, and Roxburgh make regarding the pastoral role is that pastors have often opted for the status quo, but that does not mean that this is what the shepherding role is to entail. The prophets often chided the shepherds of Israel for not being pastors of the people (cf. Ezekiel 34). However, Jesus had a very different image of the shepherding role, the pastoral role.

And as pastoral leaders, in being shepherds and pastors who seek to follow in the ministry of Christ, leading a community of God’s people, I believe we have neglected leading in Christ’s way when we have neglected the daily trivialities of life, the daily goings-on, the daily struggles of life, the daily hopes, dreams, disappointments we encounter. In opting for the big picture, we neglect the day to day realities – and to that extent we cease being good shepherds, good pastors. In neglecting the mundane, the church becomes philosophical, rather than being a community that participates with God in God’s mission in the nitty-gritty realities of living.

The Spirit blows in and around the mundane realities of our everyday living, and the best way to exercise our gifts of leading is to lead a people in following the Spirit. In following the Spirit in the midst of our ordinary realities, I believe we will discover what it is to be a people who make a difference in the world, being sign, foretaste, and instrument of God’s present and coming reign – because God’s reign engages the ordinary day-to-day realities of what we struggle with as human beings.

Such leading foregoes the setting of 5-year and 10-years plans (which we know always are in flux and so are never accomplished). Yet, leading in light of the day-to-dayness of life focuses on a strategy of discerning and following where the Spirit leads – through the trivialities of our days.

In my mind this is far from maintaining the status quo – it is all about walking alongside with a community of God’s people figuring out how to live out the will of God in the midst of everyday life. What can be more engaging, more adventurous, more incarnational, than seeing God, and walking with a people of God, in the midst of the trivialities of life?

iMissional.org | Roland Kuhl