Apparently, there is an old Japanese proverb, which relates an incident when everyone praised the peacock’s beautiful tail. Some of the other birds cried out “Sure, but look at its legs and listen to its voice!”
When someone has a beautiful appearance or an outstanding ability, it is tempting to ignore their flaws.
This can often be true in respect of church leaders. A genuinely gifted charismatic leader can be a great asset to the church, but it is a rare bird that has no bad points. Unless these are acknowledged alongside the good, problems will inevitably surface at some point and may cause great harm.
Praise where praise is due is no bad thing. However, when praise becomes indiscriminate and is served up regardless of ongoing merit, it becomes mere flattery and flattery will always demean the giver and puff up the recipient.
It is salutary to remember that God humbles the proud and exalts the poor, and we do well if we ensure that we make space for our weakest and perhaps less attractive members to play their part in God’s work among us. Of course we need those who have leadership responsibility; leadership gifts are foundational for the church; but it is surely healthy to acknowledge that God can and does give wisdom through those who are least esteemed in the world’s view in addition to those who have positions of authority.
Prior to and during the period when the Communists came to power in China, a church called the Jesus Family sought to embrace the simple principles found in the New Testament. In one situation a whole village agreed to live in this way and as part of that, all the elders took on the task of being the team that dealt with and transported all the dung produced by the animals in the village.
In a secular situation over fifty years ago, the newly appointed CEO of Avis Rent a Car decided on a radical turn around. At that time, the switchboard operators were considered to be at the bottom of company’s staffing structure, but they were the company’s front line with the public. The new CEO decreed that all the senior managers spend half a day a month on the switchboard dealing with customers and their problems.
I am not certain how these sort of principles might translate into our culture, but it seems worth taking a long hard look at how we function as the people of God. Jesus’ practice of sitting down to eat with all classes of people seems a good place to start; especially if those of us who are leaders muck in and serve the food or do the washing up from time to time.