Do you sense the gap between the way things are and the way they should be?
This Advent, I’ve been singing O Holy Night with new fervor:
Long lay the world in sin and error pining
‘Till he appeared and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn!
This song names the tension I feel on a regular basis. Yes, there is hope, but the reality of that hope is only slowly unfolding. And unfortunately, I often sense this gap most within the church.
If you’re familiar with the APEST assessment, I score high in the category of Prophet. This means that God has made me particularly attuned to this tension. I often feel compelled to correct and challenge the status quo, and I have a passion for empowering people to be all that God has made them to be. My biggest leadership challenges are deciding when, if, and how to address the gaps I see.
We who lead in the church have a front-row seat to all God is doing in our congregations. We witness life change, see new relationships form and grow, and celebrate people stepping into leadership. And yet, sometimes church leaders have the clearest view of all the church’s flaws.
As a congregant, I believed women and men were treated equally in the church. When I became a minister, I was startled by how differently I was treated than my male coworkers. This, and other experiences like it, gave me the sense that I was getting a chance to look behind a curtain to see how the cogs of a machine really worked. To be frank, it's not always a beautiful sight.
We’d love to believe that church leaders are nearly perfect. When we become one, however, we realize that leaders are just people who love God, love the church, and eagerly want to serve. While those are great things, they don’t negate the fact that we’re broken humans in a broken world leading as well as we can in broken circumstances. It's no wonder that the inner workings of our churches are messy at times.
The themes of Advent—waiting, yearning for Christ to reign fully, hungering for heaven—resonate with me in mighty ways. It’s a hard season because it reminds me anew how wide the gap is between the way things are and the way they should be. This gives me two options: get angry, complain, and wallow in disgust—or actively be part of the solution.
As people who love the church and see its potential, we must choose to be part of the solution. Even when it’s hard. Even when each step forward takes us three steps back. Even when it’s nearly impossible to imagine real change taking root.
That means standing up for the people in our ministries, fighting for the person who feels marginalized, speaking out when we mistreat one another, and, most of all, digging deep into our own patterns of unrighteousness.
Thankfully, we don’t do this in our own strength or wisdom. This choice to be part of the solution means choosing to lean into God and his grace, to depend on him in ways that don’t come naturally, and to cry out with new understanding, “O Come O Come Emmanuel!”
From Tension to Joy
The best part of the Christmas season is that it doesn’t end with Advent. In Advent, we spend time reflecting on the way things are, and we mourn just how far we are from the people, the church, and the world God envisions. As we approach Christmas Day, though, these lines of O Holy Night become our cry: “A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices / For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn!”
As we move from the waiting of Advent to the realization of Christmas, there is much reason to celebrate. God, too, sees how far things are from the way they should be, and he actively chose to be the solution, sending Jesus into the world, not just to fix things, but to be with us, to give us vision and hope, and to empower us to live out kingdom values in the power of the Spirit.
It’s precisely because we’re aware of the gap that we can celebrate Christmas so heartily. Because we have felt the tension, we can better understand just how great a gift it is that God is with us. As we realize the full value of this gift, we can’t help ourselves from crying out, “Joy to the World!”
Church leader, as we move toward Christmas, do reflect on the ways we fall short. Do grieve the ways we get it all so terribly wrong. But also, celebrate the beauty, the joy, and the miracle of a God who comes to earth to live with us in the mess. Stand in awe as you reflect on the ways God uses the messy, imperfect, flawed church to impact the world in beautiful ways. Praise God for the opportunity we have as church leaders to help others grasp the truth of the gospel.
Finally, rest in God’s presence, letting him fill your soul and sustain you for another season of ministry. Let your soul feel its worth, as O Holy Night says, and be reminded again that God’s power works best in our weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). God is working, and it’s an honor to be part of that work.
Amy Jackson is managing editor of Gifted for Leadership.