The Call by Os Guinness is a book that was on my list of things to do for a long, long time before I actually settled down to read it. But once I got into it, I was amazed at just how much wisdom it contains. At one point Guinness discusses the importance of living life for an audience of One. He begins the chapter by reflecting on Andrew Carnegie and his lifelong desire to be able to parade through the streets of the city of his birth to prove to them that he had been able to become fantastically wealthy. He desired to be seen and known by a human audience.
Guinness talks about other examples of people who have been obsessed with the praise of men. He mentions Marlene Dietrich who would record the applause given at the end of her performances and would then play the recordings for visitors to her home. She would gather friends such as Judy Garland and Noel Coward and play them both sides of a record filled with applause, telling them solemnly what city each round of applause was from. Guinness quotes Mozart who wrote to his father, “I am never in a good humor when I am in a town where I am quite unknown.” He quotes an old French story which tells of a revolutionary who, when sitting in a Paris cafe, hears a disturbance outside. Jumping to his feet he cries, “There goes the mob. I am their leader. I must follow them!”
Such narcissism is shocking, yet is all too common. Some time ago a reader forwarded me a link to a copy of Sharon Stone’s rider, the document that describes her requirements when she accepts a role in a film. Reading the document is almost nauseating, yet is no doubt not uncommon for Hollywood standards. She demands, among other things, $3500 per week in unaccountable “per diem” funds, three nannies, two assistants, presidential suites, first-class travel, a deluxe motorhome, and the rights to keep all of the jewelery and wardrobe items she uses in the film. Even more shocking, to myself anyways, were the requirements dealing with publicity of the film. The rider insists that her name is given first position in the credits for the film and that her name be at least as big as the movie’s title. Her picture, if it appears in advertising, must be at least as big as, if not bigger, than any other person’s likeness. It goes on and on. As I read this I thought of a friend who used to work in the special events industry. She tells of a particular musician who insisted that no one turn their back on him. People serving him had to, quite literally, walk backwards when they left the room lest they turn their back on him. Reading this is enough to turn one’s stomach.
In The Call, Guinness discusses narcissim in the context of audience. Christians are to be motivated to serve and to please an audience of One. We are to called to seek the pleasure of God. Guinness finds it odd that in a century which began with some of the strongest leaders the world has known—Churchill, Roosevelt, Lenin and Stalin—has ended with a “weak style of leadership codependent on followership: the leader as panderer.” He quotes Winston Churchill, a man who had an amazing way of cutting to the heart of issues. “I hear it said that leaders should keep their ears to the ground. All I can say is that the British nation will find it very hard to look up to the leaders who are detected in that somewhat ungainly posture.” At another time he said, “Nothing is more dangerous…than to live in the temperamental atmosphere of a Gallup Poll—always feeling one’s pulse and taking one’s temperature.” Violet Bonham Carter once said of Churchill that he was “as impervious to atmosphere as a diver in his bell.” Why was this? Because Churchill knew his mandate and sought to fill it to the best of his abilities. He was far from perfect. In many ways he was a troubled, rude, unkind individual. Yet he led the British nation through a dark hour and his name lives in history as an example of a great leader.
The application to the church is obvious. In our day we have leader after leader, teacher after teacher, telling us that the leaders of the church must take their cues from the people. Leadership is seen ever more as leading the people where they want to go, not necessarily where they need to go. Leadership is shaped by fleeting public opinion more than objective standards.
Yet what the church needs is leaders who serve the audience of One—leaders who, like Churchill, are sure of their calling and their mandate. They care nothing for the whims of their followers or potential followers, but only for pleasing the one who has called them to be leaders. These words from Spurgeon, sent to me by a friend, seem particularly pointed:
Never think of the Church of God as if she were in danger. If you do, you will be like Uzza; you will put forth your hand to steady the ark, and provoke the Lord to anger against you. If it were in danger, I tell you, you could not deliver it. If Christ cannot take care of his Church without you, you cannot do it. Be still, and know that he is God… When you begin to say, “The Church is in danger! The Church is in danger!” what is that to thee? It stood before thou wert born; it will stand when thou hast become worm’s meat. Do thou thy duty. Keep in the path of obedience, and fear not. He who made the Church knew through what trials she would have to pass, and he made her so that she can endure the trials and become the richer for it. The enemy is but grass, the word of the Lord endureth for ever.