The resurrection of Jesus frees us for a life of Christian pilgrimage. Now, if we could only allow ourselves to really live as liberated people. How many of the rules we live with as iron-clad are, in fact, self-inflicted and optional? Think about this:
- Jesus mandated his followers to “Love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and love our neighbor as our self.” Mark 12:30-31
- Everything else is up to the faithful to negotiate.
Invisible rules hold us together in important ways when they shape us for the better. Occasionally they get in the way and need to be confronted. Most importantly, we need to know that we are not as constrained as we think we are. Our biggest limitations to living as freed people of faith are:
- Power and control – this includes how we understand decision-making, governance and financial management. Every faith community wrestles with these dynamics.
- Pleasing people – our need to keep certain people, families, or groups happy can stop us from living into our calls as leaders and as a faith community. This can lead to valuing some people over others, which is a problem.
We can start paying attention to how we think about things. When hidden rules stop us from welcoming new people into leadership, especially if they are from a different ethnic group, we need to confront the rule. When unspoken practices get in the way of inviting children and youth to serve in meaningful ways or when inappropriate behavior goes un-checked because we are living out our need to keep people happy, the rule is wrong. When we allow one person to manage the money in our congregation without the checks and balances of a team, ignoring best practices for accountability, or overlook the need for a Safe Haven Guidelines, the rules need to change.
We are leading in a world with rules that are changing all around us. Navigating this change in the church is calling us to clarify our identity. Without clarity of purpose, congregational leaders are caught between trying to manage out-of-date rules and an uncertain mission. The tension is wearing out leaders. Deep inside you know what I am talking about here because you have felt it yourself.
Breaking rules comes with a cost, so choose carefully, but definitely do it! Christian leaders must question assumptions. We must notice the places where hidden rules are unhealthy, unethical or unacceptable and act to make change. It may take courage to add a gluten-free communion station or make space up front for people in wheel chairs or allow young adults to sit in key positions of leadership, but no one ever said leadership was easy.
We live in a country where religious freedom is a gift. We are people who believe Jesus liberated us from sin and death on the cross. Now we have to have the courage to live it.
So who makes the rules?