I had some trouble today finding what I wanted to talk about. I was rather busy with other schoolwork, and with a particular situation with a bible study I lead. A young gentlemen from this group had asked if he could lead the discussion for the next meeting, and I was happy to let him. Although, because of my responsibilities as a leader, I asked that he could send me an overview of his lesson, just so I'd get a better idea of what he was saying. I ask this of anyone in my groups who hopes to lead a discussion, just a formality to ensure that the group is not led astray. I had never had a problem with this, before today. When this young man sent me a summary of what he'd be teaching on, not only was it a rather obscure and unimportant topic, but he claimed some complete myths. So, I did the hard thing: I told him that he could not teach the lesson. I haven't heard back from him, and he didn't show up to the meeting. As I considered all of this, I occurred to me that it'd be a great blog post. Christian leaders have to be the "bad guys" sometimes in order to protect the people God's given to them.
Why do they need to be protected? Well, can I let you in on a secret? The church isn't perfect. We have debates, we get petty, we get selfish, and we do stupid things. Don't get me wrong; the church is a beautiful thing. A group of screwed up people all being made less screwed up by a perfect God, and then sharing that God with the rest of the world. The problem is, we do still have those issues, and someone has to deal with them. Enter: the leader. The leader acts as the mediator, a teacher, and when necessary, the protector of the people from danger.
Paul, writing to a young leader Timothy, charges him to "Proclaim the message, persist in it whether convenient or not; rebuke, correct, and encourage with great patience and teaching" (2 Timothy 4:2 HCSB). The idea of rebuking, correcting, and encouraging form the three ways that a leader goes about resolving these conflicts within churches.
On occasion, I work with the kindergarden age kids at my church. Generally, these are nice kids, but sometimes, there aren't enough firetrucks to go around, and a disagreement starts. When one child is being selfish and refusing to share their toy, in my best attempt at a loving manner, I tell the little boy or girl that he or she needs to share, and that being selfish is wrong. Though Webster would define it as "to criticize sharply", to rebuke in the context of the Christian community is focused on locating sin or a major spiritual or physical health issue, and pleading with an individual to change. Practically, it means telling one's porn addicted Christian friend that what they're doing isn't right, and they cannot keep living in sin. The leader’s rebuke must be motivated by love for the health of the Christian.
Correction is different from rebuking in a less than obvious way. While rebuke requires someone to turn away from an action and turn to something else, correction is about the way that action takes place. A young man who was a part of a bible study I led was passionate about sharing the news about Jesus, but didn't always do it gracefully. He had a habit of using "Christianese," which led to some confusion with the non-Christian people he was talking to. I brought this up to him, and offered a suggestion on how to communicate the gospel using everyday language. He certainly wasn't doing anything wrong, but there was a better way to do what he was doing.
Sometimes overlooked, encouragement is universally understood by Christians and non-Christians alike. When a leader is encouraging, they are focused on building up the good that someone is doing, and calling attention to the gifts and abilities that the individual has. My pastor is constantly encouraging me in the work that I'm doing, both in my musical giftings, and in the leadership I have been given. A leader cannot forget to encourage alongside of correction and rebuking. Our job is not to tear the individual down, rather it's to lead them to the fullness of the future that God has for them.
So, what's with the "bad guy" talk in the beginning? Because sometimes, people aren't open to rebuke, or correction, or even encouragement. Like I shared before, the people who go to church aren't perfect, and some become extremely unhealthy to the rest of the group. Much like a teacher would kick out a problem causing student, Church leaders sometimes have to kick out problem causing people. I don't like it. I hate conflict and the idea of not including someone. Thankfully, the issue with the gentlemen today probably won't come to that. However, sometimes, a leader needs to step in the authority given them by God to protect the people from danger. Being a leader isn’t always a glorious job, and sometimes, it means hurting people’s feelings. How wonderful it is to know that God brings healing to hurt people.