There are lots of theological debates over what titles church leaders should use. Are they primarily priests or pastors, preachers or leaders, should they be called “reverent” or “father?” The Anglicans like to go large with their titles they have, canons, vicars, bishops, archbishops, primates, VERY reverends, venerables and archdeacons and I am sure that list isn’t exhaustive. Charismatic churches often have prophets and apostles and my own church has elders, district superintendents, regional superintendents and general superintendents. Its seems like status is important in the church.
Despite that plethora of titles I have never met a church leader who has introduced himself as “scum.” Well except this morning when I read Paul doing that very thing, “Up to this moment we have become the scum of the earth, the refuse of the world.” 1 Cor 4:13 I couldn’t help but think about the contrast, our preferred titles which seem to underline the prestige and authority that comes with Christian ministry while Paul describes himself with a title that underlines the disdain, contempt and loathing that he had experienced as a servant of Christ. The first word he uses describes what was swept from a dirty house and the second what was scraped from a dirty pot. In Scotland we would describe both as things that make you boak, something that is repugnant.
Paul had discovered through painful personal experience that his calling to be a servant of Christ did not lead to universal popularity or acceptance, in fact it was quite the opposite he often felt like the scum of the earth because of how he was treated. Earlier in this chapter he had described how he had experienced physical, mental and verbal abuse as well as severe deprivation because of his calling. The sad thing was that he had experienced this contempt and disdain not just from the “world” but also from sections of the church. That’s part of the reason the letter we call 1 Corinthians was written, Paul was being rejected as an authentic apostle by that church and treated with utter contempt by them. They rejected him as a leader because in their view he wasn’t eloquent enough, he wasn’t physically impressive enough and he didn’t know enough about the “secret” things of God. They even complained that his spiritual experiences were a bit second rate compared to their new leaders. Frankly to them he looked and sounded a bit weak in a culture that was impressed by power.
The surprising thing is that Paul didn’t deny weakness in his ministry, he admitted it and went on to revel in it. Paul does so because he recognised that God’s power is expressed through weakness that’s a principle of the Kingdom of God. He doesn’t recoil from being treated with contempt because he follows a crucified messiah and in the Roman world nothing was more contemptible. Paul embraced the way of Jesus even when it led to opposition rather acceptance and contempt rather than popularity. It seems to me that the Corinthian church had turned from the cross to their culture to identify what they thought were the defining characteristics of a Christian leader.
After reading what Paul has said in 1 Cor 4 I don’t think I will have “Scum” Petticrew, Mosaic Edinburgh, printed up on my cards. |I will however think seriously about where I look to for the inspiration and shape for my style of leadership. We have a lot to learn from the business world, the academic world has implications for church leadership too but if they ever obscure or take over from the way of the cross they are subversive of true Christian leadership. I think Paul’s words will also make me more realistic as a leader. Like most people I like to be liked but such a desire can easily become the motivation to court popularity and avoid making difficult decisions or preaching hard to accept truths. If I am honest I have done both as a church leader. Paul unlike me willingly picked up his cross and followed Jesus even when that led to him to being treated with contempt, with him being told he was the scum of the earth, any authentic Christian ministry I think will at times provoke the same reaction. As servants of Christ we are not called to popularity among people inside or outside the church but to faithfulness to the Kingdom of God in all things. That doesn’t mean we should provoke unpopularity but it certainly doesn’t mean we should avoid it all costs either.
On reflecting on this my prayer today is that I would be like Paul and my Lord, faithful to my God given calling whatever the reaction and wherever it leads.
“he was crucified in weakness, yet he lives by God’s power. Likewise, we are weak in him, yet by God’s power we will live with him to serve you.” 2 Cor 13:4