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Les Byron


One of the best friends I ever had was Les Byron. I was attracted to his wit and sarcasm and spontaneous personality. He was prepared to do reckless things and to consider new ideas. He was the first person ever to forsake all and live by faith in a Christian community with me and my family. We lived together for several months, enduring insults and abuse from the religious fellowship that we had both previously attended.

But there was one problem in my relationship with Les, and it had to do with leadership. He facetiously talked about the Paul/Timothy argument that he had suffered at the hands of several pastors in the various churches that he had attended. "Everyone wants to be Paul, and they always tell me that I have to be Timothy," said Les. "But what I want to know is, when do I get to be Paul?"

I could sympathise with him, because I had been through the same routine. Submit, submit, submit seemed to be the primary message that I had encountered in all of my dealings with churchy pastors. They had a hundred different arguments for why I had to knuckle under and submit to their superiority even when I knew that they were not at all interested in submitting to the teachings of Jesus Christ.

I did not want to come across as yet another blind egotist, so I suggested to Les that we could form a partnership. We could take it in turns being the leader. He agreed to that. However, during the week that he was the leader we did nothing. He sat around watching TV and smoking cigarettes. I was left to organise Bible studies with my own family, since Les apparently had no inclination for such things. I would slip away with my own family to distribute tracts, or devise ways to pressure Les into doing something. I was open to new ideas and new activities if he had such inspirations, but he had none.

Submitting to Les' leadership was simple, because there was no leadership to submit to. He maintained that he was trying to initiate a kind of anarchy, where everyone just "flowed with the spirit" and power struggles would disappear.

Unfortunately, it wasn't that simple. My spirit tended more toward structure and discipline and production, while Les was more interested in a good game of cards and a beer. I loved Les and appreciated the fact that he, of all other people that I knew in the churches, was the one who was first willing to leave everything and everyone else behind to live with me. But I could not get around the fact that he was not a "Paul". He was not an organiser, not a disciplinarian, not a producer. Neither was he an inspirer or pastor, because he had no vision to get me inspired about. Perhaps anarchy was his vision; but if it was, he was totally unsuccessful in getting me inspired about that.

Eventually it became my turn to lead, and I immediately initiated schedules, planned activities, organised outreaches, assigned duties, etc. I was leading, and we were getting someplace. And Les, to his credit, submitted and went along with what I had planned.

But occasionally Les would overdo the drinking, and he would get drunk. And when he was drunk, a different Les would come out. He would give way to a veritable volcano of bitterness against me and my leadership. All of his skill and wit would express itself in bitter sarcasm about me and everything that I did. He would usually disappear after letting out his inner feelings. At first he was away for only a few hours, before returning as though nothing had happened. Then the time away got longer. He would always return full of smiles and hugs and endless jokes. I would find myself laughing with him and once again appreciating his infectious personality. We would carry on as though nothing had happened.

But each time that it happened, I would tell myself that the bitterness needed to be addressed when Les returned. And each time Les went away, he would stay away a bit longer. He had this uncanny ability to know just how long it would take for my hurt to go away, and for him to slip back into fellowship without resolving the tensions between us.

I loved him and I didn't want to lose his friendship, so it was easy for me to ignore the problem as long as he was willing to try again. However, the last time it happened, I promised myself very solemnly that I would not ignore it again. I must never again work with Les until we could sit down and talk through his bitterness against me.

Les must have been able to sense that from wherever he was, because I didn't see him again for about twenty years, and when I did see him, just this year, it was by accident, at a train station where his train was just about to pull out. There was not enough time in the two or three minutes that we had together, for me to address the issue that I had promised to deal with when next I saw him. So I found myself just saying once again how much I appreciated the time we had had together.

So why am I writing about Les Byron now, after all these years, and in light of the fact that I will probably never see him again? It is because I have met so many other Les Byrons over the years. People who dream of a world where there are no leaders, or if there are to be leaders at all, then they will claim the title of Paul, and let everyone else be the Timothys.

I can sympathise with such people. As the words to the song go, "I'd rather be a hammer than a nail. Yes I would. I surely would." We'd all rather be the hammer than the nail. But life isn't always like that.

A true hammer does not hate the nails that it appears to be bludgeoning to death. A true hammer is working on something bigger... something that the nail may not be able to see. A true leader has a vision of something bigger, that each nail can play a part in building. The bludgeoning is whatever discipline is necessary to build the house. I have seen hammers hit nails too hard and bend them. I've seen hammers keep hitting after the nail is in, and end up damaging the timber. But bent nails and damaged timber aside, the job gets done better with a hammer than without.

A nail can run off and roll across the floor, thus escaping the discipline of the hammer. But what does it accomplish? A whole box of nails can spill themselves all over the place, but unless one of them becomes a hammer, they too will be unproductive.

All of our arguments against authority, against control, against discipline soon start to change when we are put in the driver's seat. Obviously, we cannot lead a community, lead our family, or even lead ourselves without some kind of control. As Maxwell Smart would tell you, without CONTROL, you are going to have CHAOS.

The epistle of Jude talks about "filthy dreamers" who "despise dominion and speak evil of dignities". (Jude 8-9) It says that even the archangel Michael, when arguing with the devil, did not make "railing accusations" against him. He left it to God to judge the devil.

How much more true this must be when it comes to making railing accusations against other Christian leaders... especially if the accusation is simply that the other leader exercises too much "control". You are living in a dream (and a "filthy" dream at that) if you think there is a world where God's will is accomplished without some form of control.

Criticise the morality of other leaders if you like. Point out errors in their doctrine. Expose hypocrisy. But be very careful about damning someone just because they exercise authority and control. Such things are not wrong in themselves.

(See also Anarchy and Pacifism, and Divine Authority.)

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