I'm Only Human

Well, I’m only human!

“Well, I’m only human!” No truer words have ever been used to cover more harm. “I’m only human” is meant to convey the idea that, given our human nature, “We have limits” or “We can’t do everything” or “We can’t be perfect.” Fair enough. But too often today those words are meant to cover almost every wrong or explain away all patterns of poor behavior.

Here is the deal: of course we are only human. That is not saying much. There’s more: our nature can grow, deepen, and be transformed. This transformation is what servant leaders pursue as a first-order issue. In this chapter I want to help you think more deeply about it.

I have coached young leaders during most of my career. I’ve seen those who can’t help but cut people off when they feel threatened, and others who accuse people without knowing all the facts. I’ve known men who habitually threaten others rather than reason with them. I’ve worked with women who tell lies to avoid confrontation. Yes, we are only human, but these are not the only human options available to us. Transformation is both possible and needed.

Servant leadership literature assumes that specific characteristics are needed to be a servant leader. These include listening, empathy, healing, awareness persuasion, stewardship, commitment to the growth of others, and building community. But what do we do if our default positions are the opposite: being talkative, self-centered, hurtful, inward, argumentative, and wasteful? Maybe we worry that the success of others harms us. What if, despite our stated values and best efforts, we are still the kinds of leaders who impede community? Humility is a core trait for servant leadership. How do we become humble? Why would someone attempt it? What would cause as responsible leader to pursue an unpretentious manner? (Our Character At Work, pp. 93-94, Todd Hunter)

The Tension Regarding Intention

The idea of cooperating with God, of being an ambassador of the kingdom, is often scary or negative. Some fear it will lead to works righteousness or legalism. Others fear that people will become self-appointed, power-abusing religious leaders. I understand the fear. Terrible harm has been done in the name of God. When we try to bring about the kingdom of God by our own force, all manner of evil can be released. Thus, just about everywhere I go these days I sense tension regarding the intention to be the cooperative friends of God. There’s uneasiness about intentional evangelism and leadership. In most of the emerging, alternative church scene, it is not cool to enter a relationship with evangelism in mind or to lead a group toward a preferable future. But there is nowhere else to go. There is no legitimate place to run from our responsibilities as ambassadors of God. The answer to former evangelistic or leadership abuses is not to stay home or clam up. The answer is to go correctly – with a humble and serving attitude. (Christianity Beyond Belief, p. 86-87, Todd Hunter)

What Is Church?

A couple of kindergarten-level drawings may help us finally get an unforgettable image of the church in your minds. Take a moment to imagine yourself sketching a picture of the church on a restaurant napkin. What did you picture? I’ll be it was a square or rectangle with a pointed roof line, topped by a cross. Right? It would be so much better to draw a bunch of stick-figure people doing life and mission together. I’m not down on buildings; I’m up on the people of God. I want to make them the center of our image of the church.

Working against the image of the church as a sent people are three common misconceptions. The vast majority of Americans would define the church in one of three ways: church as a place, an event or a famous pastor. Hope to change these wrong ideas without casting local churches aside as irrelevant relics, I offer a definition of church that puts it in its proper, penultimate place: The church is created and governed by the calling and sending activity of God. The church is secondary to the kingdom of God in that it is the instrument or means through which God regularly expresses himself.

As long as local churches see themselves in this light and conduct their activities for the purpose of equipping and releasing God’s people to follow Jesus and serve others during the 167 hours of a week they are not in church, they are doing fine and need not be criticized. They have a legitimate, God-given role to play. These “team meetings” can be design to help people perform better as followers and servants in the real game being played outside of the church building.

Any church can do this. It is not necessary to have a big building, a big budget or a well-known pastor. All it takes is hearing the new story and deciding to organize around it. That decision is, of course, an act of leadership. In my many years in church work, I’ve never known someone so incompetent that they couldn’t make a decision like that. They may not have the gifts of persuasion to win the argument, but that’s okay. Even biblical leaders – including Jesus –heard the people say, “No way. We’re not following you into that story!” (Christianity Beyond Belief, p. 67-68 – Todd Hunter)

Ancient-Future Practices For Contemporary Times

Anglicanism has the reputation of being rigid and bound by the Book of Common Prayer and the Thirty-Nice Articles. But Anglicanism has also, among its most gifted and courageous leaders, not been afraid to pursue fresh expressions of evangelism and church. The Anglican Church has a way of staying anchored to the ancient tradition while being in tune with the ever-changing times.

Anglicans don’t do this merely for the sake of institutional survival, but as a first principle. In face the preface to the Book of Common Prayer calls for the church, in terms of its mission, to be continually led by the Holy Spirit. Within the framework of keeping the faith whole, the Book of Common Prayer encourages new practices for the sake of “the edification of the people.” It allows innovation “according to the various exigency of times and occasions.”

The Book of Common Prayer, being the central rule of faith after the Bible, guides and encourages Anglicanism as it adjusts and thrives as a faithful witness to the gospel of the kingdom. The men I have highlighted in this chapter missed complete orthodoxy and Spirit-led creativity. As I have come to see and know this mix of Spirit and evangelistic entrepreneurialism, I have found a home.

Moreover, I have found a model of leadership. Adjusting and thriving are not accidents. They come from leaders who humbly discern the voice and movement of the Holy Spirit and, having done so, lead with humble confidence. (The Accidental Anglican, p. 102-103, Todd Hunter)