Whenever we participate in the translation of faith, across cultures or generations, we are putting the gospel into the hands of people new to it, which is a little like giving plutonium to a kindergartner.

I will be the first to admit—Jesus makes me uncomfortable sometimes. Never more so than when he is choosing his leaders and giving them God-sized work to do. I don’t like atomic reactions in church.

We’ve talked a bit in an earlier post about leadership and how Jesus’ calling of his disciples obliterates our human constructions of what makes a leader and who is allowed to lead. Today, Jesus takes it even further. How do we empower our leaders? Once we have them, what do we let them do?

What Jesus lets them do is downright scary. He gives plutonium to a bunch of kindergartners.

One day Jesus called together his twelve disciples and gave them power and authority to cast out all demons and to heal all diseases. Then he sent them out to tell everyone about the Kingdom of God and to heal the sick.
-Luke 9.1-2

Now, we know something about these disciples. Some were a tad overzealous. One had attention deficit issues. A couple argued over things like who got the window seat, and one was an outright thief and worse.

In other words, with the exception of the last character, one hopes, they were a lot like us. I don’t know about you, but I have not been set loose lately to cast out a demon or heal cancer. This is not to say others have not—but it is not the standard North American Christian experience. Jesus gave these people extensive power and authority, knowing they would try, mess up, succeed, falter, win, lose, and fail.

The thought terrifies us as church leaders. We don’t want to take the risks that those we lead will fall into the “fail” category. We want to ensure that messing up is not part of the equation. It reflects on the Kingdom of God if people lead poorly, right? Or, perhaps in truth, it reflects on us. Our own worth as leaders falls into question the more we risk giving leadership away to others who may not shoulder the mantle well.

That does not seem to be Jesus’ concern. (And before you say, yeah, but he was Jesus, remember that his reputation did suffer because of his followers. And he embraced it.)

The plutonium writer goes on to say, Congregations somehow intuit that the young people they love also threaten their very way of life; what would happen if these beloved barbarians got their hands on the church as we know it? Most churches do not really want to risk finding out. (Kenda Creasy Dean, Almost Christian)

The next generation of Christians sees leadership differently. They do not fear failure as we have. They don’t worry about making a mess along the way. They expect collateral damage when the goal is anything worthwhile.

The generation in leadership now needs to realize that our inability to accept risk or failure is keeping the next generation from any desire to follow our lead. We will not have to worry about choosing leaders who are not good enough, because there won’t be any to choose. They will have gone off to start their own faith communities, without the mutual benefit of one another.

That would be tragic.

According to this passage in Luke, as a disciple of Jesus, I have been given authority to tell everyone about the Kingdom of God and carry it out in whatever way He chooses.

The thing is, so has every other disciple of Jesus. It’s not a deal solely for those of us who have been around the church rodeo for a while and who have been to seminary. Every disciple of Jesus. So how do we reconcile the two leadership values?

Jesus puts his people in a community that will teach, correct, love, and challenge, and then says, “Go for it. Here’s my help.” (And Jesus’ power and authority is a lot of help.)

This is not our approach. We look around. We carefully choose those who measure up to our preconceived standard of leadership. (Fueled strongly by the American notion of extraverted, stereotypically male personality traits.) Then we throw a case of training manuals at our candidate and say, “Let me know when you come up for air. Maybe we’ll let you play by then.”

Now, I like reading books.

I like being surrounded by people who have their theological ducks in a row.

I believe in training and education knowledge.

In fact, I recently had a bit of a dust up in church over a theological matter that did matter. But it was in the context of community, worked out with people who were being empowered while we disagreed, in mutual respect for our equal standing as disciples. It was not a top-down chastisement. The difference will matter much to the next generation.

How do we deal with our fear of an atomic reaction if we give out leadership to anyone who comes?

How do we synthesize generational ideas of what leadership means?

How do we empower the next generation of leaders, who are leading now, whether we will or not?

We choose like Jesus did—choosing those who are willing to follow and willing to be taught. Those were his criteria. Nothing more or less. Open the artificial barriers we’ve created about what kind of person would make a “good” leader. Look for the teachable and willing, not the affable and energetic.

We create communities that will self-correct. We invite others in not as projects but as mutual learners. We throw diverse people together and work out the tough stuff with those who will challenge us, because once it’s worked out, those people will be the finest forces behind us.

We hand over the plutonium. We prepare for messes. We accept them as part of a big work. We stop accepting small, neat work in order to avoid risk.

We see what can happen when we freely  send them out to tell everyone about the Kingdom of God.