Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Representation, Advocacy, and Leadership

(Continuing from previous posts in the Politics category...)

As a minister, I should both represent and lead.

I must represent Yeshua. Representing him involves how I think and act. Through prayer (especially talking with Yeshua) and the way God's Spirit is within me I can think and act more like Yeshua and less like my old self. The more time I spend with him the more genuinely I can represent him.

In modern American society, living a life that represents someone else is so unusual it is often not even considered by most people. This is different than in the first-century Roman empire, when trying to emulate a famous philosopher or statesman was common. In Matthew 5:14-16 Yeshua says,
...let your light shine before people, so that they may see the good things you do and praise your Father in heaven.
In modern America the trickiest part of doing this is not living a holy and Spirit-filled life (the first clause) but doing so in a way that prompts others to give God credit for it (the second clause).

Something that does prompt people to give God credit for the godliness in our lives is when a group of very different people look similar as they represent Yeshua. After all, a bunch of people who are genuinely representing him should match in how they do so! It is not difficult to get a diverse group of people to agree on a specific idea. It is difficult to get them to voluntarily live similarly and harmoniously in a manner very different from how they all used to live. This is what Second Corinthians 2:14-15 calls smelling like Yeshua.

Representing Yeshua is different from being an advocate for him. Merely being an advocate does not require any relationship. For example, a person need not have a relationship with Yeshua to decide Yeshua's perspective on forgiveness is worth putting into practice.

Also, people who are all advocates for someone need not think or act similarly. In fact, they can even hotly disagree about how to best advocate for the person. A clear example in recent Oregon politics is the new law about "civil unions": some people claim Yeshua would support such laws as a civil rights issue that grants fairness and security from injustice; other people claim Yeshua would oppose such laws as a gay rights issue that grants approval for a lifestyle defined by behavior that scripture calls wrong.

(Now I have written myself into a dead end, and need to tie together representing Yeshua and civil unions before continuing with my main ideas. First note that I can only represent Yeshua as a person: the moment I start talking about "representing Yeshua's stance on such-and-such" I have switched to advocacy. As a person, Yeshua was willing to eat, talk, and pray with all sorts of sinners, and was so comforting to be with that they enjoyed his company even though he spoke against their sin. Yeshua was not anti-government (Mark 12:17) but avoided the politicians of his day and considered them corrupting (Mark 8:15) even if they claimed to seek righteousness (Mark 6:20). He often spoke against the high divorce rate among his fellow Jews but said nothing about Roman sexual habits, as if they were in a different world.)

Okay...enough about representing someone.

As a minister, I also should lead. Leading is almost the opposite of representing someone. Because God has called me to do a certain kind of ministry work, what I do for God is more than smell like Yeshua.

In my specific case, I used to run a congregation and am now doing ministry work focusing on discipleship. With either kind of work I act unlike Yeshua: he never ran a Yom Kippur service or hosted a weekly evening worship and discussion time.

Also, as I lead the ministry work I act differently from the other people around me who are representing Yeshua. They are not leading a ministry like mine! In fact, if I lead well and am distinct in what my ministry is about that people rally together and join me in its activity, rather than participating in some other ministry, because they feel called to participate in what God asked me to lead. So leading is inherently about being distinct and proclaiming "here is something worth doing besides representing Yeshua".

Furthermore, to lead well I need to share my humanness. The people I lead need me to be somewhat transparent. They do not want to know everything about me, but I need to share enough of my struggles and triumphs that they can relate to me as more than someone who represents Yeshua.

Finally, as a leader I need to cast a clear vision. I need to say, "This is what the ministry should be like, and these are our past successes." This allows unity and promotes enthusiasm.

I can apply these same insights to politics.

In a democracy, one role of a politician is to represent his or her constituents. This means the politician learns to think and act as they would. Initially it might be mere advocacy, but a good politician really gets to known his or her constituents so he or she can genuinely represent them.

When political representation happens well, the politician looses some of his or her old self. They gain views and habits that make them "smell like" their constituents. And when political representation happens really well, the constituents see what happens politically and give themselves credit for it.

A very different role of a politician is leadership. We need politicians instead of just voting boxes because good politicians lead. They inspire people to work together in new ways to create better societies. They add some distinctiveness to their representation, to proclaim, "Here is something worth doing! You might not have thought of it, or thought it possible, but we can get it done!"

A politician that only represents need not share his or her human side. But leadership requires this. Politicians who lead need to be somewhat transparent about how they manage their time, money, and relationships. Constituents feel more comfortable following a leader when they know he or she has a happy marriage, is using tax money wisely, shares the struggle of making family time while busy doing important work, and so forth.

Finally, as a leader a politician needs to cast a clear vision. To promote unity and enthusiasm he or she should say, "This is what government should be like, and these are our past successes."

In closing I'll change the topic slightly...

Oddly, I cannot think of any politicians who make a point of being clear about when they are representing and when they are leading. (As a minister I know I need to be clear about this!) This seems especially odd because the vagueness is often hurtful to their political careers.

A recent example is Barak Obama's flipped stance on gun control. You can read more here. From what I've read, the gist is that if he becomes the president his constituency will change from one that is generally anti-gun to one that is generally pro-gun. Yet instead of explaining this clearly and presenting himself as someone who wishes to dutifully represent his constituents whomever they be, he appears lacking in integrity as he ignores personal views for the sake political expediency.

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