Yesterday I reported on the comments that Pope Francis made to the Roman Catholic Curia just prior to Christmas. He enumerated fifteen ailments he saw in the curia. (The term curia is foreign to many evangelicals. The curia consists of those officials who assist in the governance of the Catholic Church. The Roman Curia is the central government of the global Catholic Church.) Other denominations have something like the curia but the origins of this term are generally believed to be found in Latin (Roman) Western developments. For example, every diocese (even in many non-Catholic contexts) has the equivalent of a curia. This governing council can be made up of priests, ministers, financial officers and other lay officers who help govern. Every institutional church form has something like a curia even if we call it the elders or deacons of the church.
The point of all this is to show you that the pope’s strong statements can be applied to all who govern and lead the church, including lay leaders in evangelical contexts. For this reason I am counting down these fifteen ailments and applying them to every context where I think his words speak with power and clarity.
No. 12 Having a funereal face.
The one sent by God (apostle) “must be polite, serene, enthusiastic and happy.” This person, said Pope Francis, must radiate and “transmit joy wherever he goes.” Here is one of the pope’s central themes – the gospel is a word of profound joy and any kind of Christianity, especially among the leaders, that acts as if God is dead is genuinely harmful. If God is alive, and Jesus is the good news, then we should be people of incredible joy in a world torn apart by hurt and pain.
Evangelical Christians generally express joy better than other Christians. at least from what I’ve seen. But I have noticed a growing decline of deep joy among evangelicals during my lifetime. We are overwhelmed with material stuff and the slightest decline in our economy creates problems that we cannot face with abiding joy. Is it me or does a lot of the “joy” that we see in our churches and ministries look and feel like it is the result of the gospel or the style of expression that we have adopted outwardly?
No. 11 Being indifferent to others.
Again, many evangelicals, especially younger evangelicals, are stepping up to meet this crisis. There concerns are often met by the indifference of older leaders but I welcome the intense desire of the younger leaders to engage with the poor, with immigrants, and those directly impacted by systemic racism. From the environment to the crisis of injustice in sentencing people within our broken prison system, younger leaders are anything but indifferent, or so it seems to me. I pray this spirit will grow and shed light on all that the church does, especially through its leaders.
No. 10 Glorifying one’s bosses.
Pope Francis said about this point, “It’s the sickness of those who court their superiors, hoping for their benevolence.”
I think we could call this, in popular American parlance, “sucking up to your superiors to get something from them that you want.”
Does anyone doubt that this is a real problem in many of our church and ministry contexts? This is, without doubt, a perennial problem in all church circles. It is especially prevalent among strong (highly regarded) leaders. We have built empires and then assistant pastors and lay leaders have learned well how to get and retain power by “sucking up” to the senior leader(s). Woe be to the person who challenges this corrupt system.
No. 9 Committing the “terrorism of gossip.”
What an apt and disarming turn-of-words we see in this point. It seems to me that Pope Francis wanted Vatican leaders to see that just as terrorists seek to gain and control outcomes through inducing fear leaders do the same through gossip and slander. They create a reign of spiritual and emotional terror that intimidates and destroys people, the sheep. Spiritual freedom is stolen by gossip and pastors “lord it over” their flocks by using it. The senior pastor is very often not accountable and his staff is often made up of “yes” men. Our role model pastor, or spiritual leader, is rarely a truly humble person who is not self-aggrandizing. The fastest way to control a church, or a decision making process in a community, is to gossip. Destroy the other person’s credibility and you gain or keep power. This is why gossip is treated as such a deeply serious problem in the New Testament epistles. Rare is the church that takes this sin as seriously as it should.
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The “terrorism of gossip” and “the funeral face” in the church – leadership and laity – are barriers to evangelism. When one can find more joy and honesty in the local pub, than in the church; well, there you go.
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