Most people, including religious leaders, follow a course most suitable to their natural interests and inclinations. That is the path of least resistance where the surroundings are familiar and comfortable. A skilled leader can even make the pursuit of comfort, familiarity, and security sound noble while the path of suffering and sacrifice seems unreasonable, irresponsible, or possibly evil.
During his lifetime, Jesus was never popular with religious leaders. He was too honest, too self-sacrificing. He didn’t play the angles for his own benefit. And he loved being with people who could not enhance his social standing.
Instead of wringing our hands over the waning influence of religion in our culture, we should be looking for leaders like that. Show me a leader who cares more for the kingdom than for his or her personal interests and agenda, and I’ll show you fertile soil for religious renewal.
In the twilight of my life, I look for leaders whose principles have cost them something. I look for teachers and guides who have sacrificed comfort and security in the service of conscience and conviction. Not every leader suffers loss as a consequence of faithfulness. Only the great ones.
A few years ago, my wife and I spent three weeks in Great Britain and Ireland, visiting locations where the presence and power of God had been felt in genuine spiritual revival in years past. We were part of a group of 50 people, all evangelical Christians from the United States. I returned from that trip with two convictions etched deeply into my soul. The first was this: our world is in desperate need of a renewal of biblical Christianity. The second: contemporary American evangelical Christianity is not it.
What I observed among my fellow travelers, many of whom were pastors of evangelical congregations, was a sterile, superficial imitation of biblical faith. I don’t question the genuineness of their conversion experience, but my heart aches when I consider how much the character of their religion reflected the spirit of American consumerism—how they described the scope of their ministries in terms of programs and property, budgets and buildings, nickels and noses. And it seemed clear to me that they marketed Jesus the way American businesses market their products… “Try our brand and your life will be better. Just ask our satisfied customers.” Continue reading →
Brennan Manning died Friday, April 12, at age 78. One of my students first introduced him to me around ten years ago. Not the man personally, but his writing. Specifically, to his book called The Ragamuffin Gospel. As I would soon find out, reading Brennan Manning was very much like meeting him in person, for he poured so much of his soul into his writing that, every time I finished one of his books, I felt I had spent a week with the man himself.
In a sense, that is true of most authors who write essays and articles based on personal experience and reflection. But Brennan’s writing was different—more personal, more real, more authentic. His books were more than elegant, moving, first-person prose. They embodied his God-hungry spirit. His awe-filled awareness of the grace and mercy and love of God was embedded in what he wrote.