Listening to sympathize with God’s concerns

It’s the season of listening in Circle of Hope. We’re always listening, but over the next several weeks we’re intensely listening as we discern the direction God wants us to go in. We’re mapping out our goals for the next year. It’s an intense and radical process. It’s very communal. We trust each other enough that we put the future of the church in each other’s hands. Check out Joshua’s video about how we make cheese together:

In other organizations, an over-zealous CEO might come up with a vision for his (or her, but let’s be honest, it’s usually “his”) company and lead them to success. Honestly, authoritarian leadership often results in success too. Do all CEOs need to be assholes? My boy Ted Bauer asked the question.

Circle of Hope would say “no.” In fact, consolidated leadership and power isn’t just something the pastors morally don’t want to do, we also think it’s a bad strategy. It’s ethically and tactically problematic. We don’t know, alone, what God has in store for us and for the community. We have to listen. We have to talk. Everybody needs to be involved.

This is a hard thing to convince someone of in the American political economy. Democracy is so glaringly a farce, it’s hard to tell people their voices matter. We all know that’s not how it works. This isn’t the government of the people. It’s the government of the elite, of the oligarchs. These days we expect our leaders to be self-serving and self-interested. It’s so easy to translate that cynicism to every other environment, too, including the church.

We need everyone’s voice, though, in order to listen to God. Our proverbs are full of them: leadership is a team effort; the Bible should be known and followed, and that is a group project; we are called out to be a living organism, building a community in love.

It’s not just about employing “democratic” values (this process is not democratic), it’s about discerning the will of God. It’s about becoming sympathetic to the pathos of God. Put another way, it’s about allowing God’s concerns to become ours.

That means we have to let go of our preoccupations and truly consider what God is concerned about. Abraham Heschel says that the prophets of the Old Testament were concerned with this very thing. They often did it alone; talking back to the kings, trying to influence the people of God. With Jesus alive among us and the Spirit filling us, we all have the chance to participate in this sympathy. In fact, we need to do it together. It’s too hard to sort through our own biases, our own proclivities, and our own desires without doing it in common.

We need to do it common if we have any hope of discerning what God wants. I want to do the church together, in radical community. I don’t want to be subject to my own individual desires. I want to work together on something bigger than I can muster on my own. I need community to follow Jesus. We need it to listen to God.

I think it’ll take us a lot to get there. We’ll have to rid ourselves of our cynicism (maybe the Wells Fargo shareholders almost ousting their directors is a boon to your hope). We’ll have to actually participate and pay attention—it’ll require focusing our attention, and keeping our eyes on the ball. It’ll require actual mutual submission—we all get listened to, but we are going for mutual agreement. It requires faith, quiet, and prayer—we have to still our minds, and prayerfully consider what God’s concerns are.

I’m grateful for the chance to listen together and to counter-culturally come up with good direction. Let’s take ourselves seriously enough to do it.

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