Be the change you want to see. I’ve heard this advice often over the past year. I know I’ve mused about this before. But watching the inauguration of President Barack Obama at the beginning of his second term leads me again to express this desperate need for leaders — for me — to be today: words are not enough.
The president’s effective leadership will be debated for centuries to come, to be sure. But one thing stands out: He will be known for his oration. He can speak. President Obama is a model for any preacher or public speaker. His ability to use words and articulate vision, and bring it from the heart is amazing. His speech writers need to be credited as well!
At the same time, he probably knows that the rubber will hit the road when executive action follows from his words. Proclamation finds its validity in the being and doing of leadership. And then the sparks will fly.
So, who one is and what one does, as a leader, will impress upon the public as much as gifted oration will ever.
Be the change you want to see. Don’t do as I say, do as I do.
I couldn’t help make the connection with the Gospel text (Luke 4:16-22) appointed for the coming Sunday — when Jesus stands up in the synagogue to read from the scroll, the scripture appointed for him to read, from the prophet Isaiah (61). Jesus announces his purpose, his divine mission in the world. Notice the verbs:
“… to proclaim …” appears twice in that short quote from Isaiah. Jesus is called by the Spirit to proclaim release to the captives and the year of the Lord’s favour. Proclamation is part and parcel of, even foundational to, the Chrisitan ministry.
I was raised by two pastors from the Lutheran tradition who taught me that the pastor’s fundamental role was to engage in “proclamation”, in the art of preaching. Homiletics professors in seminary reinforced that mission of the ordained clergy. I’ve always found comfort in that. But why?
Not that comfort is altogether a bad thing. But when the comfort means that I conveniently avoid the other part of the equation, or shy away from it, am I being faithful to that Christian ministry?
Today I notice in younger generations who do not find their heart in the church, they see Christians who talk the talk but don’t walk the talk. I don’t believe they want someone talking to them about what it means to be Christian; they want someone to show them what it means to be Christian. They would, I imagine, be more impressed by Christians and their leaders who behave and act consistently with the proclamation.
For those concerned about effective evangelism, I suspect a church that is led by example more than anything will impress those not normally associated with the church. More so than words, acting in the mission of Jesus towards the poor, the captives, with forgiveness and grace will attract and draw others into that Christian mission and identity.
Not only is Jesus called into a mission of proclamation, the other verbs in that text from Isaiah which he quotes in the Nazarene synagogue at the beginning of his ministry are telling: “…to bring good news…” and “…to let…” These are action words.
What does it mean to bring good news to the poor, and to let the oppressed go free? These compelling verbs bring to life many possibilities in fulfilling, in deed, the proclamation of Jesus Christ in his day, and in our lives together today.
“So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the word of Christ” (Rom 10.17). “…the Holy Spirit produces faith, where and when it pleases God, in those who hear the Gospel” (Augsburg Confession).
That’s why we “proclaim.” The Gospel word changes hearts, changes lives, produces faith. Changed hearts, changed lives, people of faith will then naturally put their feet to the pavement and walk the walk. I don’t think it’s preaching vs. doing, one begets the other.