As we continue to think about what leadership as a Christian looks like in our culture today I want to talk about an idea that I think we too often seem to forget about. That is the idea of responsibility.
We live in a culture that doesn’t like to take responsibility. This is true both outside and inside the church. We like to talk a lot about other things. We talk about rights, as in my rights. We like to talk about blame, as in blaming others for my situation. Actually what we typically do is talk about my rights and others’ responsibilities.
But there are some key truths that we need to get ahold of if we are going to lead and make an impact.
First we need to understand that rights without responsibilities is a terrible plan. What that leads to is an attitude of self righteousness and blame. It leads to me doing what I want but not being responsible for it. It leads to entitlement. All bad.
We also need to grasp that really most responsibility is individual. Or at the least the most healthy way for me to understand it is that I’m responsible for me and what I do. This does not mean that everything that happens to me is my fault. That is simply not true. It also doesn’t mean that all my circumstances are my fault. What it does mean is that what I do in my context is my responsibility. At the base, at the very least, as a believer I’m responsible for what I do before God. I’m responsible for my sin – both what I do wrong and what I don’t do right.
Now individual responsibility is not the same as what some call individualism. What I mean is that in the west we sort of have a culture of rugged individualism with individual rights and so on. But that’s not what I’m talking about here. No matter what the culture I have individual responsibility. Even in a different culture, say a collective culture or a familial culture, I still have individual responsibility within those dynamics. And again, before God I’m responsible for me.
Now another angle here is the question of group responsibility. In other words can a group of people be responsible. This is sort of a tricky question. In one sense the answer is yes. A church or a corporation for example does have a sort of responsibility as an actor in culture. But we need to be careful with this idea. On the one hand that is true. But really any group is made up of individuals. I would suggest that we are better off not assigning either rights or responsibilities to groups of people.
There are two big reasons for this. First of all when we do this we get to start using the word they. The word they is easy. They did this to me. This organization did this to me? Did it? Or did certain people in that organization do it? In fact if you are a part of said organization doesn’t that mean you did it? If we could never use the word they again, I think we’d be better off. Secondly, throughout history the idea of group responsibility ends badly. Very badly. There’s always a they to blame. When “they” are responsible then “they” can be held accountable. This is a disastrous plan. Because, at least so far in all of history, the “they” tends to shift around. “They” can be slaves. “They” can go to the concentration camps. “They” can go to the gulags. And then next year a different “they” can go.
We are all guilty of the “they” mentality. The church is no different. People (They) are leaving the church. Men (They) don’t come to church. The church (they) hurt me. We could list hundreds of examples. None of it gets us anywhere.
Kids today. Men. Women. Trump supporters. Democrats. White people. Black people. Rich people. Poor people. Gay people. The Jews. Big Business. The Politicians. They. They. They. In what way has this been helpful?
What we need is to start with me. Not because we are bad and “they” are good but because at the end of the day every they is made up of a whole lot of me’s.
But all of these are just the cultural side of this. Really the reason that we need to see individual responsibility is that it is the key to us growing as a person and growing in Christ. I’ll hit more on this next time but for today here is my encouragement. Start trying to see people, including yourself, as an individual. Not as alone and not as individually responsible for all problems. But as a person, created in the image of God.
Check yourself. Who do you see as a “they”. Seriously. Want to know where you are prejudiced and/or self righteous? Ask yourself who you see as a “they”. Let me promise you God sees them as a person, uniquely created in His image for His purposes. As someone He died for. As someone He calls you to love. If you see someone as a “they” then you are not seeing them as a person created in God’s image.