“…because the plowman should plow in hope and the thresher thresh in hope of sharing in the crop.” 1 Corinthians 9:10
“It was always quite an event when the plows were hitched up for the first time after winter. For the farmer the cracking of the sod as it was broken loose from its century – or millenia- old entangled growth‚ was a beloved sound. As he walked behind the plow‚ which did not need to be held but simply lowered into the ground and raised again at the end of the field‚ the farmer already visualized the waving wheat fields and calculated the income form the golden grain. He had no ear for the other sound‚ the painful groan which emanated from the cracking of the soil as the coulter cut through it and the plowshare turned it over. The turning over of the virgin sod signified a turning point in nature and in time for the steppe.”
From MY HOME ON THE CRIMEAN STEPPE by David Weigum‚ 1876 Ludwigstal (Meschen)‚ Crimea.
What a powerful imagery of the struggle of mankind in our pursuit of self-preservation‚ in the betterment of our lives‚ in securing of food – the very existential minimum we can’t do without. Since the dawn of time‚ man has incessantly sought for ways to plough the fields better‚ to harvest better‚ to earn more. It seems as if God Himself‚ by creating us in His image and likeness‚ ensured the undying energy of the drive to survive‚ learn‚ examine‚ tame‚ possess‚ increase and cultivate.
Almost two thousand years ago‚ the apostle Paul used the same imagery to help the believers in Corinth understand the apostle’s labor in their midst.
“…because the plowman should plow in hope and the thresher thresh in hope of sharing in the crop.” 1 Corinthians 9:10
Obviously‚ the whole of chapter 9 is about helping Christians see the value of having ministers dedicated to their spiritual growth and maturity.
There’s an interesting interplay here I would like to discuss – the similarities and yet the profound differences between the two farmers. Let’s look at this tale of two farmers‚ a scenario far too common in real life than what we would like to admit.
THE FARMER WHO PLOUGHS THE PHYSICAL FIELD
David Weigum’s farmer‚ like countless other ordinary farmers‚ is ploughing a very real‚ physically tangible field with very real crops to meet a very real need. He is doing something good‚ something needed‚ something responsible. His actions are dictated by a very simple principle – how to use in a most efficient way his time and resources to increase his productivity. The more productive this farmer is‚ the better life will be for his family. He May even have enough production to help meet the need of someone else‚ a relative or a friend‚ maybe even a stranger in need. May be he will even start a small one-man enterprise and will become so good and successful at what he does‚ that he will be able to feed his family with half of his production but sell the rest on the market and be able with the money to purchase other things his family might need.
That’s where this farmer’s scope of concern ends. He’s not ploughing the field to feed a whole city or a whole nation. That’s not his concern. Sidebar: This is what a good libertarian will tell you is the highest good one can do for the world – to take care of oneself‚ not others. Our Christian convictions go past this way of thinking. We‚ who know God’s heart‚ know that “It’s more blessed to give than to receive.” We know we are blessed so we can be a blessing. This is what distinguishes our Christian worldview and ethos from the classical libertarian worldview.
The work David Weigum’s farmer does is a very spiritual work. For centuries‚ the Church has looked down on this kind of farmer‚ or any other vocation outside of the “holy” work of praying‚ preaching‚ teaching‚ pastoring…you get the picture. It’s what we call today “full time” ministry‚ or to be more correct‚ it’s to be a professional minister.
But the truth is Weigum’s farmer is called by God to farm and take care of his family as much as any pastor‚ preacher or teacher of the Word of God. And this is what makes his labour a spiritual endeavor as much as any other that has to do with what we have traditionally looked at as “spiritual”. Does God have grace (power) for the farmer to plough the ground? Yes‚ he does. And if we say we believe God is giving the farmer grace to plough the ground‚ the teacher to teach at school and the policeman or woman to police the streets of the city‚ we are in fact saying their calling is not really worldly or secular – those are very spiritual activities. We are called to glorify God with all we do on the earth.
And whatever you do‚ in word or deed‚ do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus‚ giving thanks to God the Father through him. Colossians 3:17
It has been said that at only 3% of all believers will ever be involved in professional career as a minister of some kind. But if the 3% professional ministers recognized God’s calling on the rest 97% of believers in the workplace‚ their whole modus operandi would change. The 3% professional ministers would spend their time mostly in equipping the 97% to fulfill their calling in the workplace as moms‚ dads‚ students‚ professionals‚ business owners‚ wealth creators‚ civic and political leaders. What we call “church” today would look‚ feel‚ sound and operate very differently.
THE FARMER WHO PLOUGHS THE NON-PHYSICAL FIELD
He is ploughing a non-physical‚ actual field out in nature. He is called to plough the field of hearts‚ minds and lives of God’s people in such a way so that the seed of God’s Word will be planted‚ take root and produce harvest. Paul’s farmer must have faith that God will provide for his/her needs. He doesn’t own his enterprise‚ he is merely a steward – of his own life and abilities‚ of the call of God‚ of the opportunity to minister to other‚ of the community of people he is working with and for. He must serve all people as the Spirit leads‚ regardless of the economic strata in society they come from. He is not to cater to the wealthy and despise the poor. He is to see all people through the eyes of God’s love and compassion. That’s what a Kingdom of God farmer would have to do and be like.
He is not supposed be greedy and to do it for money‚ but as we learn from Paul‚ he’s supposed to plough “in hope”.
What kind of “hope”? Clearly the hope that it will all work out and he won’t be shorthanded economically.
Obviously‚ the driving forces behind the efforts of these two farmers are very different!
One is aiming at producing as much monetary profit as possible and hopefully achieve this in a godly way. The other has hopefully mortified his natural instinct for “more” (materialistically speaking) and is ploughing people’s hearts‚ minds and lives with the hope that somehow it all work out economically as well. They both are facing the demands of two different type of “economies”. The term used for “household” in the New Testament is “oikonomos”. Every family represents its own “economy”. For any human activity on the earth‚ if it’s to prosper and achieve results‚ it has to operate within a sustainable‚ effective economic model.
The apostle Paul‚ being the pragmatic that he is‚ make a passionate case for the necessity of a sustainable economic model that will ensure God’s “oxen” won’t fail in their efforts to spread the Gospel. His appeal to the Corinthian believers is for them to understand the need for the economic model of the Kingdom to be set in motion. If this doesn’t happen‚ the advancement of the Kingdom will cease. The professional minister-farmer May have to pull back from ploughing God’s field and become once again a “real” farmer who will make sure his family’s needs are met. Christians won’t cease to be Christians‚ but the advancement of the Kingdom May take a loss. This is because it all boils down to the finite and scarce nature of resources.
GREAT LEADERS – GOOD OR EVIL?
The farmer who is ploughing a physical field should pray and labor to become a great farmer. The farmer who is ploughing the non-physical field of the hearts‚ minds and lives of God’s people‚ should pray the same. As a result of the efforts of both‚ the Kingdom of God is advanced. Different ways‚ but the same Kingdom.
It could be said that leadership is not the key to successfully discipling whole nations.
Godly‚ efficient and resourceful leadership is.
Those who are godly‚ efficient and resourceful become influential. They have the capacity to solve problems and implement change. Their motives are right and their capacity is proven. They synergize with God. That’s what we would call “great” Kingdom leadership‚ to use the language of Jesus and well‚ Jim Collins‚ the undisputed authority on the subject of “greatness”‚ at least in the corporate world.
“You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them‚ and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant‚ and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve‚ and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10.4’-45 ESV)
“Good is the enemy of great. And that is one of the key reasons why we have so little that becomes great.” (Jim Collins‚ Good to Great)
Jesus wants to raise up great leaders. Jim Collins wants to see as many companies become great.
But some people see the pursuit of greatness as an evil thing.
“Power corrupts‚ absolute power corrupts absolutely” said the famous british historian Lord Acton in a 1887 letter to Bishop Mandell Creighton. Now here’s the full quotation: “Power tends to corrupt‚ and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.”
Wow! This sounds like a pretty negative take on leadership. Years ago I would have discarded this statement. I was convinced that great leaders are the way to turn things around. Well‚ after 25 years of walking with the Lord and observing my own as well as other people’s human nature‚ I trust myself less than ever‚ I have less confidence in my own self and I see others through the same healthy skeptical lens. Human nature is quite a strange mix of rational and irrational‚ good and evil‚ creativity and destruction. You can never be quite sure what human nature will do with all that is otherwise good and godly. It’s the X factor‚ the evidence that things in this world are broken and will remain such until God makes new heaven and new earth‚ only to be inherited by people with new bodies. Only then and then‚ will we be able to see the real greatness of man‚ without it competing with the greatness of God.
And yes‚ we need great leaders‚ but we need to know they can fall‚ too. This is the tragedy of leadership – we simply don’t know how to handle God’s greatness in us. We get cocky‚ we lose sense of reality and we blow it. Over and over again‚ the history of the Church repeats itself. In fact‚ success itself comes with a curse few suspect until they succeed – your very strengths can become the very reason you fail. People speak of becoming a “victim” of your own success – just look at the devastation celebrity status stardom has brought to so many in the entertainment and business worlds. [Jim Collins’ newest book “How The Mighty Fall” speaks well to this phenomena through research and analysis of great companies who fell after achieving “greatness”]
So what is the solution? Jesus didn’t create this whole thing called “church” for it to be dysfunctional. It’s supposed to work‚ or be efficient‚ to produce results. It’s supposed to be great!
Some have discarded the idea of strong leadership altogether. They try to introduce a non-hierarchical structure of church government‚ where everyone is equal and whoever acts as a the elders is simply “first among equals”. This has never produced great results in history. Such communes might end up being nice fellowships‚ but they never grow beyond their living room and therefore can’t impact the city and the culture. A strong work will always have a “set man” or a woman‚ a visionary (yes‚ I know some men still struggle with the concept of a woman being “set” by God over His work. I don’t.)
Others have implemented denominational government with strong control systems‚ elections and mandates. This is not scriptural and most of the time it leads to politics and power struggles in one way or another.
The Biblical answer lies in Ephesians 2:20’– apostles and prophets working together to lay the foundation Jesus Christ. In addition to this‚ the 97% and the 3% need to redefine the very reason church exists – what is God’s true purpose for the Body of Christ‚ what is “holy calling” and how all this is supposed to work together. Until the 3%‚ the professional ministers‚ look down on the 97% as busy with something less holy or less important to the Kingdom of God‚ we will never be able to move as one.
So then you are no longer strangers and aliens‚ but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God‚ built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets‚ Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone‚ in whom the whole structure‚ being joined together‚ grows into a holy temple in the Lord. (Eph. 2:19-21)
When true “sent ones” (apostles) and spokesmen of God (prophets) work together‚ they form a strong eldership level governance‚ which incorporates accountability‚ truth and honor. It will also incorporate those who represent the 97% of believers who serve God outside of the pulpit or any church function.
The prophet speaks truth to power and the apostle adds power (structure‚ stability‚ vision‚ direction) to truth. Christ is being glorified through leaders who plough God’s field united by such vision. They see the future‚ they lead others into it. They don’t just preach words‚ they have a plan and work to bring it to pass.
This is God’s true leadership in the earth – the two “farmers” ploughing together with wisdom and maturity – leaders who represent the 3% professional ministers and leaders who represent the 97% business owners‚ professionals – your “ordinary” Christians who make up the majority of the Body of Christ.
When this becomes the equivalent of what we call “leadership” in the church‚ we would have truly turned corner and will start seeing great leaders once again be the norm‚ not the exception. None of this is a guarantee in and of itself but I’m convinced we as believers should be fully capable of defying Lord Acton’s saying that all great men are almost always bad men.
It’s time to restore trust in the Body of Christ. It’s time to restore greatness and humility – the Lion and the Lamb‚ embodied in all of us – from the youngest to the oldest.
Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven‚ but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. Mat. 5:19
George Bakalov*This is an edited version of the article that was originally posted under the title “Great men almost always bad men?” on September 1’‚ 201’