Diotrephes, who loves to be the leader, refuses to have anything to do with us…Not only does he refuse to welcome the traveling teachers, he also tells others not to help them. And when they do help, he puts them out of the church. – 3 John 9, 10b (NLT)
This intimate scene from the early Christian community has been repeated throughout church history. A “leader” or group of leaders believe they have a corner on the truth. They develop standards by which to welcome people or exclude.
Those standards have varied through the years.
Theological: “What’s your understanding of the Trinity?”
Sacramental: “What’s your understanding of Communion? Baptism?”
Lifestyle: “Are you gay?”
How you answer determines if the leaders welcome you or “put [you] out of the church.”
Over the course of my ministry, two things have become clear.
Those who lead face the temptation of making it about themselves. Leading, and determining what’s right or wrong, can turn into an ego thing. People in authority, clergy or laity, can unintentionally assume a position that only belongs to God. It’s hard to be humble if you speak for the Almighty. As an alternate translation of today’s passage begins, “Diotrephes, who puts himself first…”
The church is about welcoming all, no strings attached. God’s truth is larger than human doctrine. If a congregation models itself after Jesus and embodies compassion and justice, then the Spirit will shape and transform the disciples. Iron-clad mandates from ego-driven leaders won’t.
Science, the pandemic, and the climate crisis have taught us that there’s much we don’t know and that we need each other more than ever. Those who listen to people with different life experiences and views are the ones who must lead the church.
And the nation, too.