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Why we need heroes

Leading an interpretive life makes a leader, and there’s no course to teach skills and competences that are required. Of course a leader should be acquainted with modern and postmodern hermeneutical theory, but, even more so, he or she should develop leadership by interpretation and lead an interpretive life. By an interpretive life we mean the embodied reflection of everything the community stands for, such as its faith and hopes and life expectations. An interpretive life invites all who care to participate in narrative identification. Accordingly, an interpretive life points at viable hermeneutical pathways for others to take.

Almost thirty years ago James Wm. McClendon stated that Christian communities do need heroes of faith to embody the convictions they share (‘Do We Need Saints Today?’, 1986). We honour our fathers of faith, because their lives aptly symbolize our shared convictions and the great story of the faith as we understand it. Paul Fiddes, Brian Haymes and Richard Kidd, too, have shown that for Baptists saints belong to the legacy of the Church (Baptists and the Communion of Saints: A Theology of Covenanted Disciples, 2014). In their feebleness saints embody the faith, hope and love of the Church, and as such their lives provide rich and costly ground of divine disclosure. Their stories make a venue for the Spirit to act through, just as the biographies of Hudson Taylor, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Athol Gill do. Their lucid examples re-define and transform the role of leadership in the Church. Their type of leadership (if one could call it leadership after all) differs significantly from the kind of leaders churches tend to attract nowadays. I would call this form of leadership sacramental leadership, which is not built on technical qualities like exegesis and management skills. As I said, an interpretive life, recognized as sacramental leadership, cannot be taught or purchased by training, because it is the story of a life that is visited by Christ’s sufferings and decisions, and functions as a storied space for people to step into and meet Christ, not the saint. Baptists should look and pray for such leaders, I think.

If the sun would die right now, the earth would still have eight minutes of light and warmth to live by. This far, and yet this close is the sun to the earth. In the same way, there are lives of Christians that still provide light and warmth, although they have already passed away. Their strength and sobriety have reached us ever since. Such is true spiritual leadership.