It’s ok to admit that you saw the title of this post and instinctively started singing it in the voice of “Mighty Mouse.” (Some younger readers might have to click this link to catch the reference.)
Amazon Prime recently launched an irreverent and raunchy television series called, “The Boys.” It imagines a world in which superheroes have gone corporate. These “supes” (based not-so-loosely on Marvel and DC Comics characters) work for a business which manages their movie careers, public appearances, social media presence, etc., in addition to the actual hero-work of fighting crime.
The audience does not have to wait long into the first episode to see the contrast between the superheroes’ public identities and their “off-screen” characters. It seems the heavy burden of being a god is not always easy to bear and perhaps the struggles of superheroes are not that vastly different from the rest of humanity after all.
Watching the show (which I do not necessarily recommend due primarily to the ultra-graphic violence,) I did find myself able to relate in some small ways. As a local church pastor for over twenty years, I am well aware of the “fish bowl” nature of being a church leader, as well as the pedestal on which many parishioners and community members want to place me, simply because of my role. There are many days where I feel like my public image feels somewhat like a persona and is misaligned with my personal sense of self. There are occasions in the public arena where I feel like I merely play a role and “wave the flag.”
There are times when it is tempting for Christian leaders to believe our own hype and forget who we are. Or perhaps we get hooked on the prestige that comes with our position. The Christian landscape is littered with leaders who lost themselves. What is it about ourselves that we would commit our lives to following Jesus, the epitome of selflessness and humility, yet still crave the adulation and advantage that come with positions of influence?
In his book, “To Change the World: The Irony, Tragic, and Possibility of Christianity Today,” James Davison Hunter describes the challenge like this:
To the extent that Christians exercise leadership, then, they face an unavoidable paradox between pursuing faithful presence and the social consequences of achievement; between leadership and an elitism that all too often comes with it. The paradox is that all Christians are called to a life of humility, of placing others’ interests ahead of their own, of attending to the needs of “the least among us.” Yet leadership inevitably puts all in relative positions of influence and advantage. There is no way around this paradox and it is especially acute the more social influence one has.
Hunter’s book is an “equal opportunity offender” as he calls out the Christian Church- the Right, the Left, and the Anabaptists- and how, as Jenny Taylor observes, “all three groups merely mimic the culture in their false view of power, witnessing to little more than a desire for domination through politics that offers no relief, and no counter-narrative.”
Hunter’s modest proposal is for Christians to become “a faithful presence” in the world. One summary of a presentation Hunter gave at Seattle Pacific University in 2013 offered this definition of “faithful presence: “the exercise of faith, hope, and love toward family, friends, neighbors, and — yes, enemies — in all spheres, from the classroom to the government, from the dinner table to the marketplace, from the neighborhood to the world stage.”
“This way of living was modeled for us by Jesus, said Hunter. ‘Jesus was not powerless, but he always used the power at his disposal for the good of others.’ Hunter said that the embrace of this vision ‘cannot help but generate relationships, institutions, and a kind of work that fosters meaning, purpose, truth, beauty, belonging, and fairness … not just for Christians but for everyone.’”
Oh, but how we still want to be the ones to save the day, to change the world. And we will use whatever means within our power to do so. This “faithful presence” stuff sounds more like what ivory tower theologians might write about, or what youth groups discuss at summer camps. Faithful presence does not fill up church-growth conferences or sell tons of books. Faithful presence does not convince a finance committee or a Board of Trustees that the mission of the church is more than budgets and buildings. We’ll give a little nod to the idea, but at the end of the day, we in the church operate as if we still believe that the world will only be changed by strong Christian leaders and powerful religious institutions.
Recently, we explored the contradiction in Christianity that while we claim that everything we have is to be used in service to God, we who follow Jesus tend not live this way. Naturally it follows that also wonder how we Christians follow a Christ who taught things like loving one’s enemies or putting others’ needs before our own, yet cannot bear the thought of giving up whatever influence and power we still hold.
To make a blanket generalization about the human condition seems insufficient to me. I think it goes much deeper. The idea that we might actually accomplish something significant is intoxicating. “Look God! Look what we can do. And we did it without any of your help.” If we can do the things God can do, we can feel like we are in control.
We sometimes call this a “Messiah Complex.” But isn’t the goal of our faith to become more like Jesus? Certainly it is. Except when it comes to becoming more like Jesus, maybe most of us forget the whole part about dying on a cross. There’s the ultimate expression of “faithful presence.” That’s what ultimately saved the day (and the world.) God loved the world enough to give up everything for it.
What will it take for people of the Church to lay down our lust for power and domination and simply trust that the practices of faith, hope, and love will be sufficient to truly change the world?
 James Davison Hunter, To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possible of Christianity Today, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010,) 259.
 Jenny Taylor, “Changing the World Through Faithful Presence: A Book Review of To Change the World,” Lausanne Global Analysis, September 2017. https://www.lausanne.org/content/lga/2017-09/changing-world-faithful-presence.
 “A Faithful Presence: Inaugural Symposium Speaker Challenges Christians to Examine the Language of ‘Changing the World,” Seattle Pacific University: Response, Summer 2013. https://spu.edu/depts/uc/response/new/2013-summer/