This is the first article in the series, “Who Will Name Reality?”
The Voldemort Effect
Most of the characters in the J.K. Rowling Harry Potter novels refer to the evil character, Voldemort, as “He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named.” But there is one character, Harry Potter, who has the courage to say “the name” aloud.
Over and over again, Harry is quieted, scolded, and “shhh’d” for saying Voldemort’s name. It is in saying his name that Harry claims power over “He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named.” Harry names the reality that others were afraid to name.
Perhaps the avoidance of naming reality should be called the “Voldemort Effect.” It has more to do with the current reality of leadership in the local church than you might first realize.
“The Effect” seems to be huge in mainline denominations. After a year of serving as a district superintendent, I recognize that many of our United Methodist Churches suffer from “the effect.” It presents itself in congregational leaders, both clergy and lay. When we do not have the courage to name the current reality of the local congregation, we succumb to “the effect.” By not naming reality, we are unable to claim the power needed to move forward.
The Effect in the Church
“He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named” shows up in our local churches as nostalgia, empathy, and division. Just as Lord Voldemort started out as a good character, nostalgia and empathy are not bad within themselves. But when they demand unhealthy respect, each one can become harmful. Nostalgia can hide in the closets, classrooms, sanctuaries, and parking lots on our church property.
Even worse, when unbridled nostalgia, empathy, and division take control of our purpose, they can become the very realities we refuse to name. Often, the result is disengaging with our communities. Our mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ guides us. Let’s not allow “the effect” dictate our ministries.
Will you lead your congregation in naming these three realities?
Precious memories are good. Memory is a gift from God. It helps us become who God created us to be for today. But when memories enslave us to the past and paralyze us with fear, it is problematic. Being held hostage by yesterday does not produce fruit for tomorrow. It is time to name our captivity. We need to lay the fears of yesterday to rest. It is time to be courageous congregational leaders. Point people to our purpose. Create new memories of God’s abiding presence.
Identifying with another person’s feelings is a blessing. Understanding how other people feel is a good thing. Empathy is a gift from God. When we get stuck in a routine of being nice, make decisions so as to not offend a friend, or mask our niceness as grace, we overprocess empathy.
We need courageous congregational leaders to name what has become unhealthy, cheap grace. Then, we need courageous congregational leaders to reframe our empathy and lead people into the tough ministries of loving our neighbors. Yes, the neighbors we may or may not know, may or may not like, and may or may not be sure we want to know.
We are fallen human beings. We are always going to find ourselves in disagreements. But when we act as if “our” way is the only way to see specific issues, theologies, or the world, we divide people into their perspectives. Sometimes, unintentionally, we take sides. We become exclusive instead of welcoming…and fail to see the impact on those who do not yet have a relationship with Jesus or the church.
Courageous congregational leaders name our sinfulness. We need to hold our focus clearly in view: discipling people, all people, into the likeness of Jesus. Not fill our pews. Not to add to our program roster. We disciple people so our neighborhoods, our communities, our cities, and the world will be places of love and justice. We disciple people so, in the context we serve, people encounter the grace and mercy of Jesus.
The Call to Courage
It seems to me that we need courageous leaders to hold our purpose, our mission, above all other concerns (nostalgia, empathy, agendas). We need courageous leaders to guide our congregations into God’s plan and purpose of Shalom.
Even though “the effect” seems to be huge in our congregations, we need courageous Christlike leaders to name that which we are afraid to name. Only then, can you claim the power to lead us in our purpose of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of our communities and the world.
So, who will claim the power? Who will name the reality of your congregation, defeat the enemies of that have you stuck and envision a new reality for your community? Who will name reality?
Will it be you?
Read Part 2: An Exclusive Walk Down Memory Lane
Read Part 3: When Empathy Becomes A Barrier