The Head of the Church is Jesus Christ. He is our only leader, teacher, and king. Recognizing this, the Presbyterian Book of Order does not name anyone else as a “leader”, and talks about leadership only in very limited ways. First, it mentions leadership in terms of the practical organizing of music and worship. Then our polity recognizes leadership as the work of gathered councils, not individuals. Finally, and barely more than implicitly, leadership is mentioned as something related to pastors. But it is not listed among a pastor’s main tasks. The Book of Order also never mentions leadership among the responsibilities of any staff person.
Jesus Christ is the only Leader of the church, and he is nothing if not a change agent. His proclamation of the Kingdom of God is a direct assault on the status quo. And his whole ministry is a demonstration of radical change, as he brings people from disease, disorder, and bondage, to healing, wholeness, and freedom. He is crucified for his work in advocating and instituting change, from his embrace of women and others excluded from power, to his predictions of the demise of the ruling elite.
If Jesus were about “technical” change, he would have talked about tweaking the details of the institutional Judaism of his time. He would have worked within the institutional boundaries, goals, and definitions of establishment religion. This might have annoyed some entrenched interests, but it is doubtful that we would ever have heard of him. And he would not have been enough of a threat to Rome for them to bother crucifying.
If Jesus were about “adaptive” change, he would be advocating ways to bring Judaism into a more efficient and effective alignment with the economic and political order of imperial Rome. Adaptive change is usually about responding to a changing environment. For a business this has to do with new technologies, changing attitudes, different political structures, evolving social mores and expectations, shifts in the market, different competition, and so on.
In the church, we might speak about “adapting” to a “post-Christendom” context, where the church has to deal with having a significantly different place in society. Now we have less money, lower prestige, and diminished status. People today have more religious options, including the increasingly popular choice of having no religious affiliation at all. Ecclesial life today is burdened by empty buildings, aging congregations, dwindling resources, and a society that often reacts to religion with indifference or hostility. Adapting to this environment would mean downsizing, reallocating resources, streamlining structures and procedures, becoming more flexible, changing our messaging, learning new technologies, and so forth.
But Jesus isn’t about either of those kinds of change. He proclaims the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God goes far beyond both technical and adaptive change. It is even more comprehensive than a revolutionary change, which is at least a step beyond the kinds of change discussed so far. Revolutionary change would have Jesus advocating the overthrow of Rome and the religious establishment. He would want to replace that empire with new leaders.
The Kingdom of God requires an order of change that is beyond even a revolution. It requires apocalyptic change. Apocalypse is not about the destruction of creation, as some perversely imagine; it has to do with what is revealed at the heart and core of reality. The Greek word for apocalypse means revelation.
Apocalyptic change is an awakening of human nature to the deepest truth of its own nature and destiny. It turns everything upside down and demands a change of the entire system, beginning in the souls and bodies of people, and extending to include the nature and practice of leadership itself.
“So Jesus called them and said to them,
‘You know that among the Gentiles
those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them,
and their great ones are tyrants over them.
But it is not so among you;
but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant,
and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all.
For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve,
and to give his life a ransom for many’” (Mark 10:42-45).
Apocalyptic change doesn’t just reject the current ruling empire; it rejects the whole idea and practice of some people ruling over others at all. It rejects coercive power itself, and replaces it with a regime of non-violence and peace. Apocalyptic change doesn’t just temper and channel our ego-centricity in more creative, efficient, and mutually beneficial directions; it rejects the whole idea and practice of letting our ego-driven personality be the sole lens through which we view the world, and replaces it with a multifaceted view of the soul that sees and responds directly to reality. Apocalyptic change gets rid of domination altogether.
This is way beyond mere adaptation to a changing environment. The Lord does not adapt to the society of his day. Rather, he calls his gathered community to grow continually into its identity as the people of God. In this respect, the kind of change the church requires is more like metamorphosis. The church of Jesus Christ is called to adapt only and always to the good news of the Kingdom of God. This kind of adaptation is apocalyptic; it is a response to an expression of the true nature, purpose, and destiny of the church, as revealed to it by God.