Wednesday, February 27, 2013

210. Apostolic Ministry and Legitimacy Part 3

In Part 1 and Part 2, we looked at how Paul, in chapter 3 of II Corinthians, contrasts the super-apostles “agent” style of ministry with a more gospel centered style ministry. Paul likens the “agent” style of with the ministry of Moses. At first, this style of ministry is appealing. It has a certain glow to it that attracts attention.

However, over time, as people get closer to the leader, they will begin to notice that the leader has weaknesses and inadequacies.  The “glory” of the leader begins to fade. In the eyes of the follower, they become all too human and mundane. Most leaders know when their followers begin to lose their fascination with as a leader. The leader can sense when their followers are no longer impressed with them.

In order to compensate for their fading “glory”, the super-apostles were putting a “veil” over their face to cover up their weaknesses. In an “agent” style of ministry, when you lose your glory, you lose your following. So in a James Bond like fashion, the super-apostles enacted the “secret agent man” lyrics:

“Ah, be careful what you say, you might give yourself away”

In an “agent” style ministry where the leader sees themselves as the source of transformative power, secrecy and distance become the key leverage points for the leader to secure their status of leadership and influence in the group. Eventually, their weakness and humanity will shine through, exposing themselves as empty vessels. In hopes of prolonging their gravitas, the super-apostles, have to conceal(veil) their fading glory and focus attention on external devices of legitimization (in this case letters of recommendation.)

In contrast to this “agent” style of ministry (which corresponds to the ministry of Moses) Paul says that there is a new style of ministry which finds it’s legitimacy in the new covenant. This new style of ministry can be framed around the concept of “agency.” The goal of agency is to bring source and recipient into a direct, unhindered relationship. [1] In order for an apostle to function as an “agency” they must find ways to divert attention away from her/himself and onto the transformative glory of the Lord.[2]

The difference Paul and the super-apostles is not so much found in WHAT they presented. Both Paul and the super-apostles talked about Jesus. The difference in their ministries is best located in HOW they presented themselves. What made Paul’s style of ministry different from the super apostles was that he positioned himself, not as an “agent” of transformation, but as an “agency” through which the power of the gospel could be mediated. In contrast to the “secret agent man” strategies of the super- apostles, Paul was transparent about his weakness, sufferings and inadequacies. Instead of “veiling” them, he openly discussed them. Rather than seeking to become the communities focal point of attention, Paul’s willingness to be open about weakness enabled him to redirect the communities attention away from himself and onto the glory of the Lord, the true source of transformative power.

Paul’s style of apostolic ministry mirrored the weakness and power, death and life, suffering and victory contained within the transformative power of the gospel. It was this mirroring of these patterns of the gospel within Paul’s life that authenticated his apostleship and ministry. In this way Paul could put himself in front of the community as a model to imitate, while simultaneously pointing people beyond himself to the transformative power of Christ.

It is crucial to understand the role of transparency in apostolic leadership because starting new communities from scratch throws us into group dynamics of power and authority. In the formative phases of a newly founded community, the apostle can become idealized as they shoulder the responsibility of infusing the community with vision and meaning. This makes the leader vulnerable to the often unspoken process of what some call “transference” in which individuals unconsciously project onto a leader their hopes and aspirations that often come with authority figures, particularly parents. [3] Like a Hollywood actor, apostles will unknowingly step into roles that have been pre-scripted and transferred onto them by the newly formed group, making them the repositories of unrealized hopes and expectations. [4] Not making good on these expectations can create significant disappointment in the relationship.

These expectations, while making the leader-follower relationship somewhat precarious and fragile in nature, also present a unique opportunity. Whenever a leader shows any promise of coinciding with these latent expectations, it provides the spark for charismatic authority to emerge.[5] Without pre-existing organizational structures to fund the apostle’s legitimacy, it is charisma that provides the initial currency for leadership to emerge and function. Because charisma primarily stems from the perceptions of the follower, the leader is limited as to how they can negotiate it’s emergence. Charisma neither exists in the follower or the leader, but rather between them. It is relational in nature.

Charisma can, however, be stewarded. When stewarded in the way of Jesus, it can empower both leader and follower alike. However, if stewarded poorly, the leader can nurture unhealthy dependency and frustrate the growth of both individuals and the community. As Heifitz notes, “The pitfall of charisma, however, is unresolved dependency. People can fail to move on, to discover their own ‘magic,’ their own capacity to flourish and lead. They may not realize their capability for self-governance…For the charismatic it feels good to be idealized. For his constituents, it feels good to have someone who assures deliverance in the long run, and in the short run provides direction, protection, orientation, the control of conflict and clear norms.”[6] Charisma brings certain benefits to the tasks of leadership. It can generate a following, but in the long run, it cannot generate a sustainable movement. 

The apostle’s leadership will, initially, foster a certain level of dependency in the embryonic phases of the communities development. This dependency is necessary and unavoidable. However, this dependency should be strategically (and carefully) dismantled over time.

When a leader is transparent about their weakness and suffering, in essence, they are refusing to put a “veil” on. Unlike Moses who, when he perceived his glory was beginning to fade, covered his face, genuine apostolic ministry (an all new covenant ministry for that matter) is characterized by a perpetual “unveiling” of the leader’s weaknesses and inadequacies.

Transparency from the leader forces people to negotiate their own God-given capacity to assume responsibility and take ownership of their own role within the development of the community. It allows the follower to reclaim the power they have vested in the leader and re-deploy it within their own sphere of influence.

In Part 4 we will look at how Paul can legitimize his leadership while still pointing the community beyond himself and onto the Glory of the Lord. 

[1] .” II Corinthians Anchor Bible Commentary Series Victor Paul Furnish p. 62
[2] Recognizing this aspect of apostolic ministry helps us solve the riddle of why the first person pronoun is virtually absent from the entire first section of II Corinthians. Paul is using a literary device to reinforce the concept that apostolic ministry is about directing attention toward the Agent/Jesus and not the agency/apostle. The focus of the discussion is on the apostolic vocation in general and not on specific apostles.
[3] Putting a New Spin on Groups: The Science of Chaos by Bud A. McClure p. 96
[4] Leadership without Easy Answers by Ron Heifetz p. 247-488
[5] On Fire: Charismatic Leadership and Levels of Analysis. Katherine J. Klein & Robert J House. Leadership Quarterly, 6(2), 183-198. 1995 JAI Press
[6] Leadership without easy answers by Ron Heifetz p. 247

Monday, February 18, 2013

209. Apostolic Ministry and Legitimacy Part 2

In Part 1, we looked at the dilemma Paul faced in Corinth when it came to legitimizing his apostolic ministry. Without the conventional letters of recommendation from toher organizations, Paul faced a significant challenge of how to legitimize his ministry in the face of criticism and insult. 

Paul works with several metaphors in II Corinthians to bring clarity to what legitimate apostolic ministry looks like. However, before we look at those metaphors, it would be helpful to start with the work of Jeffrey Corfton. In his book The Agency of the Apostle, Crofton provides us with an initial framework to orient ourselves around the metaphors Paul uses to describe the nature of his ministry in 2 Corinthians. He makes the careful distinction between the concepts of “agent” and “agency.”

“An agent is one who acts; an agency is a means through which another acts. To name the apostolic ministry through the role of agent is to direct attention to the apostles themselves as actors; to name the apostolic ministry through the role of agency is to focus on the means by which God works through the apostle. An agent orientation assumes that apostles are the actors; that they are essentially in control as distinct entities. An agency orientation assumes that God acts through the apostle, that God determines the parameters, the scope, the purpose, the means of that ministry; it diverts attention away from the apostle as an individual to apostle as channel, a vessel, a window upon the divine character.”[1]

In this understanding of apostolic ministry(and ministry in general), God is the Agent and apostles are the agency. Apostles are merely the conduit, the empty tunnel that serves as a connection point between a powerful source and an open recipient. 

This role of agency is what causes the unique experience of feeling very weak and inadequate, and yet at the same time feeling a sense of powerful and authority. Paul frames his own apostolic experience with the similar metaphor of “treasure in earthen vessels.” In this metaphor it's important to recognize that the content is separate from the container. That is, the treasure is separate from the clay jar, but it is that very same fragile, weak, vulnerable container that provides the vehicle for the transformative power of the gospel to become mobile and accessible to others. So in this sense, authentic apostolic ministry is characterized not just by power, but by power in weakness, life in death, and victory in defeat (2 Cor. 4).[2] 

Paul introduces this metaphor of “treasure in clay pots” because there were “super-apostles” (the word super is 'hyper' in the text...a thought worth pondering) in Corinth that thought apostolic ministry was legitimized by the form and appearance of the container rather than the power of it's content.[3] Paul’s hang up is primarily with the super apostle’s style of leadership and ministry. 

To catch the surge of Paul's polemical discourse on the super-apostles, you actually have to reboot back to chapter 3 where Paul introduces the topic of legitimacy. This chapter is often a riddle for commentators. Contrary to the conventional understanding of this passage, Paul is not giving us an introductory lesson on the difference between the Old and New Covenants. He is making a contrast between two styles of ministry. In a typically rabbinical form of midrash, Paul levies his weightiest argument against the  hyper-apostles by correlating their style of ministry with the ministry of Moses!

In drawing attention to their written letters of recommendation, superior rhetoric and their supposed manifestations of spiritual power, the ministry of the hyper-apostles were essentially functioning like an Agent, the source of power and transformation. In effect, they were concealing the true nature of the gospel and obstructing the community from beholding the transformative power of the glory of the Lord. In essence, their style of apostolic ministry was diverting attention away from Jesus and onto their own "weighty" credentials.  Paul says that this style of ministry has more in common with the ministry of Moses than the gospel. It has an effervescent quality that is sensational at first, but fades over time and produces no lasting effect.

Paul is sharply critical of this style of ministry because it diverts the attention of the community away from the Lord and onto the apostle, obstructing their view. This essentially conceals, or as Paul would say, it veils, the transformative power of the gospel. When leaders draw more attention to themselves and their pedigrees, it is flashy and exciting on the front end. But just give it some time. Eventually, the people will become disenchanted with that leader. As the community begins to see their all too human weaknesses and deficiencies, the glory will fade and the people will begin to search for another leader who can dazzle them with their rhetoric and charisma. 

In Part 3, we will look at a framework for how Paul frames his relationship to the gospel and the community. 

[1] Agency of the Apostle by Jeffrey Crofton p. 61
[2] For an in depth discussion on how Paul’s Apostolic ministry mirrors the gospel, see Death in Us, Life in You: The Apostolic Medium by Steven J. Kraftchick in Pauline Theology Vol. 2 1& 2 Coritnhians p 156-181
[3] It is interesting to notice that Paul’s main beef with the super-apostles is not with their doctrine. “Looking back at the evidence overall, one is struck in particular by the fact that there is no direct information about the ‘doctrinal’ stance of the opponents, not even in 11:4. Whatever doctrinal basis the actions and attitudes of Paul’s rivals may have had, the actions and attitudes themselves are what Paul attacks, so the personal dimensions of the conflict are much more apparent than the doctrinal aspects of it.” II Corinthians Anchor Bible Commentary Series Victor Paul Furnish p. 53 

Saturday, February 16, 2013

208. Apostolic Ministry and Legitimacy Part 1

Proximity to power has a way of skewing our perception. This is especially true when it comes to the task of leadership. And even more so when it comes to starting new communities centered on the gospel and mission. Confusing one’s role as a steward of power with being the actual source of power is possibly the most fundamental vice that leaders flirt with.

Every apostolic leader needs to be rooted in healthy metaphors and paradigms that can help them differentiate the power of the gospel from their own role as a representative of that gospel. The power in the gospel can be focused towards a particular goal through leadership, rhetoric, and even charisma. However, let's be crystal clear about this, that power does not originate in the leader. No, the leader merely focuses the power by functioning as a conduit through which it can travel. There is a difference between stewarding power and being the source of power, and this distinction weighs heavily in Paul’s mind as he writes to a church where his legitimacy as an apostle has been called into question.

II Corinthians provides us a window into a complex dilemma that Paul was confronted with in his ministry. Paul essentially broke ties with the Antioch church after his confrontation with Peter about table fellowship with the Jews. The ramifications of this incident in Antioch reached far into the future and across geographical boundaries. It would ripple outward all the way to Corinth and pose quite a challenge for Paul’s legitimacy as an apostle.

Once Paul essentially branched off from Antioch, he also made himself suspect in relation to the church in Jerusalem. This may not sound all that important, but it had social and political consequences or Paul’s mission. Without the Antioch or Jerusalem church, he was suddenly on his own. There were no institutions willing to sponsor or vouch for him.

This was not that big of a problem for Paul seeing he was breaking new ground in most places with the gospel. The nature of his message and the signs and wonders of his ministry afforded him a level of legitimacy on the front end of his apostolic endeavors that funded his initial leadership role in the communities he planted.

But what about when he left that new community and other people came in behind him, calling into question his legitimacy? Those looking to exploit a newly formed community as a platform for their own power base and agenda would either have to align with Paul’s pre-established role, or de-legitimize him as a leader. 

This is exactly what happened in Corinth. Leaders came in behind Paul with letters from other churches vouching for their legitimacy as apostles. They were superior in rhetoric, and according to their letters, they were superior in their organizational pedigrees. They came highly recommended by the leading churches of their region. These leaders were highly qualified, well networked, and had the resumes to prove it. They were sporting the “high pro glow” of organizational legitimacy, and were quick to point out that Paul had some serious deficits in this weighty area of leadership credentials. Their central claim was that Paul is not a legitimate apostle because he has no organizational one would vouch for him (his style of ministry had no flare either, and this did not help matters). In short Paul's opponents said he is incompetent in almost every category of leadership that counts

Paul writes II Corinthians with the aim of legitimizing his apostleship. He cleverly frames an apostle’s relationship not only to the gospel, but to the community as well. In doing so, he provides a framework by which all legitimate apostolic ministry is to be tested and weighed. 

In Part 2, we will look into this framework and explore some of its implications.