by Tim Pippus
(Part 1 of 2)
In December 2014, the highly anticipated finale to the Hollywood reproduction of The Hobbit was released. The Battle of Five Armies was an entertaining finale to the cinematic version of Tolkien’s classic book, The Hobbit. But the title is misleading. Don’t get me wrong - both the book and the movie have a battle involving five armies. It’s misleading because the actual battle, where tens of thousands fight and thousands die, is merely a blurry backdrop for the “real battle” between a few powerful warriors, both good and bad. These men and beasts are super-heroes; they easily slay dozens of “ordinary soldiers” without breaking a sweat. The whole thing is a predictable rewrite of Tolkien’s story to satisfy our culture’s hero-lust.
Sadly, it’s got me pondering the ways we’ve re-written the Church’s story.
There are over 2 billion Christians in the world today. The Apostle Paul tells us that we, every one of us, are in a battle. He also tells us that we, each one of us, make up a body, and that each part matters. Put all that together: there are over two billion soldiers of Christ on earth, all fighting together against evil and the evil one, every last one of us needed.
That’s the church’s story... until we decided to re-write it. In the new version, we’ve made leaders the super-heroes.
I’ve been a pastor at a small church for ten years, and I must admit that I liked The Battle of Five Armies. I like thinking of myself as a hero in the story of the church. I long to play a significant role leading, teaching, and equipping God’s people for the on- going battle. In some ways, that’s how it ought to be. The problem is that my genuine motivation to serve God is easily subverted by cultural appetites like the desire for justification by success. I easily lose myself in daydreams of grandeur. I dream of gaining a few ‘flashy’ spiritual gifts, of Acts 2 conversions at my church, of being renowned and respected by Christians and Atheists alike. A few bestselling books wouldn’t hurt either...
I suspect I’m not alone. I wonder how often churches and leaders alike reimagine the cosmic battle between good and evil in terms of a battle of heroes, where the foot-soldiers are significant in an honorary way, but the leaders do the real work. The battle belongs to us.
Finding and exalting heroic leaders is a common but harmful rewriting of the Church’s story. Churches today often desire “great” leaders: those whose personalities and gifts draw many. They rarely doubt, curse, or bicker with their spouse. When they do, the whole church gets to benefit from the profound spiritual insight they gained from their temporary dalliance with sin. These pastors are often thought to fight the real battle of the Kingdom while those who make up the majority of the church fight minor skirmishes. Congregations easily get sucked into the search for such a leader - those who can do Kingdom work on everyone’s behalf, or take the blame when things go poorly. Leaders can easily acquiesce to (or even promote) this re-write. This is one form of the messiah complex: a church’s search for a second messiah, and a leader’s ambition to get short-listed for the job.
What to do . . . ? Part two of this post will hopefully propose a way forward in our hero-oriented world.
Tim Pippus serves at Hope of Life Christian Fellowship in South Calgary and is a graduate of the Master of Arts in Leadership and Ministry at Ambrose Seminary.