I’ve had reason recently to consider patterns of Christian leadership among evangelicals around the world. And among fast-growing churches, a paradigm emerges: If you succeed in this marketplace, you’ll have great clothes, fine cars, big houses, and high status. From Hillsong Plexiglas pulpits to the prosperity-gospel thrones of African Indigenous Churches to Latin American Christian temples (including a monstrous literal temple in Saõ Paulo), apostolic leadership holds out great promise.
Then one encounters the Apostle Paul recounting all the terrific treats of his paradigmatic ministry (in 2 Corinthians 11:24-25): “Five times I have received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I received a stoning.”
(And that short, nightmarish passage is lifted out of a longer list of afflictions.)
Here, Paul says, is what genuine apostolic ministry entails. You can expect to be beaten—beaten hard, beaten often.
From Nigeria to China today, pastors are being beaten. Even rank-and-file believers live under the shadow of imminent physical danger of the worst sorts.
I wonder how many pretty-boy pastors would sign up for that job if instead of looking forward to affording excellent sneakers they could look forward to a beating. And then another. And another after that.
Likewise, I wonder how many students would aspire to become public teachers of Christianity—theologians and such—when such a position would require being punched, not just disagreed with or even maybe (horrors!) disrespected.
I don’t mean to come within a mile of espousing a religious machismo that looks for trouble and congratulates itself on its piety by merely being obnoxious. “Look at me! Suffering for the Lord!” Nah, you’re just annoying people.
But I surely need to toughen up some and be willing to suffer a little more than I do for my odd convictions, and accept with greater grace whatever marginalization or even hostility I might encounter—starting with the basic *expectation* that if I am truly living at cross-purposes with the powers of this age, they won’t like it and will push back. Hard.
Harder than I’m used to. Harder than I’d like. But not yet nearly as hard as they went after Paul…