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

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