Don’t Tell Me What to Do
Living radically for Jesus has never been easy. Throughout this blog series, I have unpacked some specific obstacles for millennials entering into a life of radical obedience to Christ. I will try to wrap things up by addressing a barrier that is arguably the most problematic of them all, and it’s this: many millennials fail to follow Jesus radically because they are unwilling to submit to institutions and the leaders that run them.
The need for leadership is hardly a controversial affirmation. Virtually everyone agrees that bands, ministries, companies, and countries need people who are skilled and willing to lead. This is hardwired into society, and it’s impossible to imagine things working any other way, yet we see an increasing mistrust of institutions and resistance to authority among young people today.
One reason for this is the rise of secular humanism, which itself can be traced back to the 18th century Enlightenment.
In the absolute monarchies of Europe, life had a very fixed order. God was at the center, then came the ruling elite, followed by everyone else. For centuries, this system remained mostly unchallenged.
The Enlightenment turned the whole system on its head (and removed a lot of heads, as well!), placing man at the center. The thinkers and philosophers of this age continued to push the envelope, and it wasn’t long before the very authority of God came into question. After all, removing divine powers is the logical next step after deposing earthly ones.
Soon, man was all that remained.
Removing God from the picture paved the way for a generation of young people who’ve grown up believing that life is about fulfilling their own needs above all else. As a result, we now live in an era of unprecedented narcism, fueled by fame-obsessed YouTube stars, and self-glorifying athletes. The consequence of this “me-centered” mindset is an innate repulsion to the idea of self-denial. Submitting to leadership is antithetical to the spirit of our age.
Against this backdrop, ministries and churches, not to mention companies, are desperate for young people who are willing to commit, pay their dues, and follow leadership. Resisting the self-worship of our culture is crucial if millenials are to go on to live fruitful lives as followers of Jesus.
So what steps can be taken to overcome our fear of leadership?
1) Submit to God
Many people define who they are by what they do or by the opinions of others. As a natural consequence, they are unwilling to submit to leadership, fearing they will lose their sense of identity should the leader not value or release them.
As Christians, our identities are safe with God, and our primary submission is not to an earthly leader but rather to Him. God requires total surrender, and He is worthy of our trust. Understanding this is incredibly liberating because it allows us to submit to a leader or ministry, knowing that our identities are not wrapped up in their approval nor in what we accomplish.
2) Reject the patterns of this world
We need to be aware of the problem. This sounds obvious, but many people don’t realize how much their aversion to leadership guides their decision making.
Paul says that we avoid conforming to the patterns of this world by the renewing our minds. This process takes place as we follow the example given to us in Scripture. Jesus lived a life of service, not self-worship. He modeled surrender, not control, and said that if we lose our lives for Him, we will find them. (Matthew 10:39)
Looking to God, not our instincts or culture to guide us, will help us reject the selfishness of our age and allow us to gladly submit to the person or mission God has called us to.
3) Find a leader worth following
To be fair, some people resist leadership because of past experiences with bad leaders who treated them poorly. This makes their apprehension to submit very understandable. It’s true - some organizations are not worth joining, and some leaders aren’t worth following. God is not calling you to commit to everyone and everything that comes calling blindly. A leader should have an authentic relationship with Jesus, and a willingness to admit when they're wrong. In the same way, a good organization should take holiness seriously, be guided by prayer, and honest about its shortcomings. We need to be wise and prayerful when deciding what to dedicate our lives to.
And yet, if your looking for a perfect leader or ministry, you won’t find one. If you see yourself frequently changing churches, jobs, or ministries, it’s likely that you are the problem. We all know that person who is perpetually hurt, never satisfied, and always complaining. We need to be honest enough to recognize when our problem is not with flaws and faults of those around us, but with the very idea of submission itself.
We shouldn’t be surprised that our fallen culture has often subverted God’s plan for our lives, and this includes how we relate to one another. What I’ve experienced is that those who choose to submit first to God, and then to the right organization and leader, are shaped and molded into the kind of person that God can use to change the world!