Look for the ‘spittin image’ of Jesus
Stuart Briscoe shares a humorous story with a serious moral: “One of my young colleagues was officiating at the funeral of a war veteran. The dead man’s military friends wished to have a part in the service at the funeral home, so they requested the pastor to lead them down to the casket, stand with them for a solemn moment of remembrance, and then lead them out through the side door. This he proceeded to do, but unfortunately the effect was somewhat marred when he picked the wrong door. The result was that they marched with military precision into a broom closet, in full view of the mourners, and had to beat a hasty retreat covered with confusion. This…story illustrates a cardinal rule or two. First, if you’re going to lead, make sure you know where you’re going. Second, if you’re going to follow, make sure that you are following someone who knows what he or she is doing!”
These “rules” become even more critical when it comes to matters of integrity and trust and the treatment of people in the church. Andy Frost speaks on behalf of people who have lost their faith because they were abused in churches: “They have not been let down by Jesus but in some way they have been let down or hurt by the very people who claim to represent Him. Their stories are painful to listen to…stories of cover-ups, hypocrisy, gossip and the abuse of power.”
An unidentified victim of molestation in a church shared this report of personal disillusionment: “Shocking, bewildering and devastating. I was taught to unconditionally trust the church and clergy. The actions of [the priest] broke this trust. I had nowhere to go. I was too embarrassed to tell my mother, and I did not trust the church. This led to inner conflict, confusion, fear, trauma and anxiety. I lost my faith, my respect for the church, my self-confidence and esteem.”
No wonder Jesus uses such harsh language when He speaks of abusive spiritual leaders in Matthew 7:15: “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.”
How are we to discern which leader we can trust as opposed to which leader we should avoid (or repudiate or report)?
Jesus tells us in Matthew 7:16 and 7:20, “By their fruit you will recognize them.”
In other words, we are to look for evidence of integrity, humbleness, and compassion in the life of a “leader.” If such qualities are lacking, turn away.
Dwight D. Eisenhower pointed out, “The supreme quality for leadership is unquestionably integrity. Without it, no real success is possible no matter whether it is on a section gang, a football field, in the army or an office.” Athanasius of Alexandria, who lived about 16 centuries before Eisenhower, adds, “You cannot put straight in others what is warped in yourself.”
Integrity, humbleness and compassion are obligatory qualities for a Christian leader, because a Christian leader must bear the likeness of Christ. Without bearing the likeness of Christ a person is not fit to be a Christian leader. Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw explain, “In the South we have a saying: ‘You are the spittin image’ of someone. Folks still speculate over how exactly the phrase originated, but I’ve heard it put like this: It’s shorthand for ‘spirit and image.’ Spittin image. It means more than just that you look like that person. It goes beyond just appearance to include character and temperament. It means that you remind people of that person. You have their charisma. You do the same things they did. In the truest sense, Christians are to be the spittin image of Jesus in the world. We are to be the things he was. We are to preach the things he preached and live the way he lived. We are to follow in the footsteps of our rabbi so closely that we get his dust on us. We are to remind the world of Jesus.”
When the ‘spittin image’ of Jesus is in a leader, marvelous things can happen. William Willimon shares, “Philip Haille wrote of the little village of Le Chambon in France, a town whose people, unlike others in France, hid their Jews from the Nazis. Haille went there, wondering what sort of courageous, ethical heroes could risk all to do such extraordinary good. He interviewed people in the village and was overwhelmed by their ordinariness. They weren’t heroes or smart, discerning people. Haille decided that the one factor that united them was their attendance, Sunday after Sunday, at their little church, where they heard the sermons of Pastor Trochme. Over time, they became by habit people who just knew what to do and did it. When it came time for them to be courageous, the day the Nazis came to town, they quietly did what was right. One old woman, who faked a heart attack when the Nazis came to search her house, later said, ‘Pastor always taught us that there comes a time in every life when a person is asked to do something for Jesus. When our time came, we knew what to do.”
When people follow a leader who genuinely seeks to be the ‘spittin image’ of Jesus, marvelous things happen.