26 June 2015
Public leadership is mission so the Church needs to disciple public leaders
We need people in all sectors of society to hear the good news of Jesus Christ, and for this to happen we need Christians in all the sectors. Yet, although proximity for evangelism is essential, we also need to understand that it's not the only form of mission. When we exercise leadership and take on responsibility, as we operate under God's authority, we are also acting with His authority. And in doing so we have theopportunity to contribute to God's coming kingdom.
When we pray in the Lord's Prayer: "His kingdom come, His will be done, on earth as it is in heaven", we should also be challenged to match our prayers with action. Throughout the Bible we are given a mandate to be involved in the ongoing work of creation, it started with our creation in God's own image, continued through the command to go out into creation naming animals and became ever more necessary in a world bearing the scars of the fall. There are authorities that we exist under, and realms where authority is crucial and warranted, but there is a broader realm where worldly authorities do not reach and God's overarching reign rules supreme – this is what Jesus meant when he said: "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's."
All of this means that Christians should see leadership in public life as a vital part of mission, and an important way of helping the world glimpse the coming kingdom that one day will be revealed in full. Just as we now see something of God's goodness when the sick are healed, the orphans cared for and the hungry fed, we can help the world see something of what God's eventual perfect rule will be like when we take on leadership and exercise authority while under the authority of God, for example if we are chief executives, school governors or local councillors.
This also poses a challenge for churches.Very practically, if people's primary place of mission and leadership is outside the structures and services of a local church, they will have less time and capacity to contribute to those churches. An initial step for discipling public leaders could see churches encouraging their best leaders to perhaps not take on leadership within the life of the church. This also means recognising the demands some roles may make on their time; mid-week meetings, for example, might be practically impossible.
A second response for churches should be to understand what public leaders are doing and the opportunities for mission their leadership presents. This means church leaders providing space for public leaders to talk about what they do and to be prayed for by the church. And it should also be a prompt for public leaders to meet with others doing similar roles who are likely to understand the particular challenges and pressures they face. This isn't an opt out from the life of the church but a recognition that the discipleship challenges for public leaders are likely to be different and therefore will require taking time to understand.
Many church leaders are unlikely to be aware of what it is like to be in a position of leadership within business, media, politics or any other sector – all places in need of good leadership – and this means there is the potential for disconnection between public leaders and the Church. Public leaders need churches that give them space when it is required, that seek understanding, but vitally, also work hard to encourage them and to include them in the life of the church.
The theological understanding for why Christians should be engaged in society has filtered through the church over recent years. The role of the Church in local communities is abundant and vital.It is serving those who need it most and providing a witness to the life giving work of Christ. But where our theological rubber really hits the road is when we take on leadership in society – when we take responsibility to transform things for the glory of God.
By giving attention to how the Church disciples public leaders, we can put flesh onto these theological bones - if that's not one metaphor too many. By showing what public leaders contribute to the mission of God and working to support these leaders we can grow a culture of public leadership within the Church. By releasing public leaders as cultural missionaries we can all play a part in contributing to the coming Kingdom of God.