Let’s just get this out of the way up front. I might be the only pastor I know who hasn’t yet read The Tipping Point or Blink by Malcom Gladwell (although, given the proclivity of those in ministry circles to quote Gladwell, I kind of feel like I already have). Now…
I heard Gladwell on NPR yesterday talking about his new book Outliers: The Story of Success. I started listening because he was trying to answer the question, Why do Asian kids outperform American kids in math? Of course, they were talking about Asian kids from Asian countries, and how cultural influences shape different skill sets and values — as an Asian American who scored higher on the verbal portion of the SAT than the math section, I am living proof that there is no inherent Asian predisposition to being good at math.
In any case, what really caught my attention was a brief aside where Gladwell spoke about why Korean airlines sometimes have trouble in the cockpit of their planes. Basically, it boils down to Korean culture’s excessive deference to authority and the inability to speak plainly to the boss.
Which got me thinking…
Sounds a lot like Korean churches.
I believe in the recovery and redemption of our God-given identities and cultures. However, there are certain things that need to get tossed. Despite the obligatory church-speak about humility and servanthood, many of us have firsthand experience with the “I’m the boss and you are my minions” ethos of many Korean churches. I know of a senior pastor who had the nerve to stand before a congregation of several hundred and offer this disturbing syllogism: God wants us to serve Him; we serve God by serving the church; and we serve the church by serving the pastor. Um, right.
Picture that church as the airplane Gladwell describes: The plane is heading the wrong way or, worse, about to crash. The pilot, important and in charge, steadfastly maintains the course while happily ordering people around. All the while everyone knows, but is too afraid to say, that something isn’t right.
Of course, in the end, this will to dominate and assert authority affects churches of all cultures and ethnic backgrounds.
Although I’m not a type-A, aggressive sort, I can see how this mentality of the pastor having the final say has influenced my thinking as well. I want to do my part in ending this cycle of excessive deference to authority and, instead, guide our church into becoming a community of mutual submission, of humble love and service.