To make the claim, as I did last week, that leadership in the West is shaped by a culture of violence and that a necessary project for the North American church is to undo the violence of leadership in the church, gives rise to a significant question regarding nonviolence – is nonviolence intrinsic to what it means to be Christian, to be a follower of Jesus?
J. Denny Weaver, who as a theologian is focused upon exploring the implications of nonviolence for life and theology asks, “[i]s nonviolence an assumption that belongs intrinsically to Christian theology with the potential to shape and/or be reflected in all theological doctrines[?]” His response is yes, “I believe that nonviolence is intrinsic to Christian theology” (J. Denny Weaver, Christian Faith as Embodied Nonviolence. Paper presented at Historic Peace Church Conference, June 2001).
Weaver in describing the shift of allegiance that took place in the life of the church from the first century to the fourth and fifth centuries, expresses that the early church, rather than serving the empire, served Jesus as Lord – “to be Christian was to oppose the Roman empire and to live in a social order structured around Jesus as the manifestation of the reign of God” (Weaver, June 2001).
By the fourth century, the church became identified with the social order of the state and became reliant upon the power of the state to effect its purposes – “[t]he end result of these changes was that the Christian church ceased being perceived as a dissident minority group and came to identify with the social order and to make use of and express itself through the institutions of the social order. It changed status from harassed minority to dominant, required majority” (Weaver, June 2001). The support of the state with its use of the sword became an integral part of the church being church.
Though now at the beginning of the 21st century we are questioning the church’s comfortableness with power within Christendom, we still by and large lead the church in ways intrinsic to the paradigm of hierarchical leading in a context of power and control established within Christendom – and in some ways have become more comfortable with it as we experienced loss of control as we try to navigate the modernity to postmodernity cultural shift – seeking to exert “more control” to hang onto what we sense we are losing.
Therefore, as Weaver asks within the context of theology, I ask within the context of practical theology (and leadership) – is nonviolence an assumption that belongs intrinsically to the practice of leading and the shaping of how we lead within the life of the church?
I believe it is. Nonviolence is not merely an option, I believe it to be essential confession for being a follower of Jesus and in pastoring and leading the communities to which we have been sent to shepherd.
In believing that nonviolence is intrinsic to leading in ways which exemplify the way of Jesus, we need to uncover how violence has influenced the way in which we have been leading – asking how we have embraced ways that are more aligned with the agenda of the cultural social order, rather than the social order structured around the reign of God.
As stated last week, this has strong missional implications. If we are to be a community participating with God in God’s mission, then not only our worship, discipleship, but also the way we lead needs to embrace practices that foster the redemptive purposes of God in reconciling humanity to God and to one another and in making all things new.
I confess that I have been complicit in leading in ways which were comfortable with power and control (violence). I have not only hurt and burned out others in leading within a paradigm opposed to nonviolence, I and my family were also hurt. I came to dislike who I had become as a pastor in leading the way I had been led to lead. In leaving the pastorate in 1993, I found myself on a wilderness journey that lasted about 15 years – never dreaming that I would ever re-enter the pastorate in order to walk alongside and with a community of people seeking to attend to God and participate with God in God’s redemptive mission in the world. I commit myself to leading in which nonviolence is intrinsic to my practice of pastoring and leading.
It’s now been about three years or so in which I have had the opportunity to pastor in a radically different way. I am still discovering what all that entails as I keep surrendering my penchant for taking charge, exerting control, dominating the vision, strongly expressing my perspective or opinion over those of others, and, being the sole voice or interpreter for hearing what God has to say to us as a church community. It is my prayer that the way I practice leading exemplifies the way of Jesus.