Too often, churches and ministry organizations allow themselves to be distracted by things other than the real issue. The real issue may be a key problem they need to face or a key opportunity for advancement they should explore. A crucial role of the leader is to focus attention on the real issue at the time.
Healthy leaders help people to face reality and to change their beliefs, values, attitudes and actions in order to deal with the real problems and the real opportunities. They resist false solutions and any attempt to bypass reality. With unrelenting precision, they pursue the truth.
In dramatic contrast to the Pharisees, who were highly accomplished at obscuring and avoiding reality, Jesus repeatedly brought the focus back to the real issue:
So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, “Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with ‘unclean’ hands?” He replied, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: “‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.’ You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men.” (Mark 7:5-8; see also Matt. 23:1-39; Luke 11:37-42)
Dealing with reality usually requires a considerable amount of both insight and courage on the leader’s part: insight to discern in the first place what the real issue actually is, and then the courage to address it. A healthy measure of honesty may also be demanded in the leader – he himself may have been a significant part of the problem in the past! Moreover, dealing with reality requires endurance; the real issue is rarely dealt with quickly or easily.
In many groups, considerable organizational energy is employed in obscuring or avoiding reality. This might be due to various vested interests that do not want the real issue to be uncovered or addressed, out of fear of loss of power, influence or money. For example, in the face of Jesus’ increasing popularity, the Pharisees feared the loss of their own control over the people (John 12:19; Mark 15:10). Consequently, they attempted to obscure the fact that Jesus had the truth and the power of God in His life and ministry (and they did not), by focusing on what it means to “keep the Sabbath” (Matt. 12:1-14; Luke 13:10-17; 14:1-5; John 9:14-16).
Leaders may also avoid reality out of fear of potential conflict if the real issue is addressed, or they may simply be too busy, too impatient, or too lazy to do the arduous and often lengthy work that is involved in effectively dealing with the real issue.
It is not easy to pursue reality. People employ an almost limitless array of tactics to obscure or avoid it. Here are some examples:
- A church that lacks the presence and convicting power of the Holy Spirit blames the influence of the surrounding culture for the ineffectiveness of their ministry, when the true culprit is their own prayerlessness.
- A group that is bound by a negative tradition criticizes and rejects another group that is challenging that tradition for their lack of wisdom in the way they’re going about it, and thus avoids facing their true problem.
- Leaders can employ hype and “spiritual big-talk” to keep people superficially excited and to cover up their own lack of clear God-given direction.
- When all else fails, those in charge may resort to raw intimidation – using superior position, power, education or wealth – to silence those who challenge them (e.g., John 9:28-34).
In the short term, it can be more comfortable or convenient to avoid reality, but we will pay the price in the end.
To pursue reality requires honesty, insight, courage and endurance. Healthy leaders help people to face reality, to take responsibility and to deal with the real issue. This is our privilege and our high calling before God.
Next Letter: Legitimate Vision
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