The church has a problem with heroes

Culture & Language Evangelism Power Proximity Principle
A photo of abi thomas Abi Thomas
5th June 2024 5 minute read
Lego batman and superman eating icecream

Avoid community heroes like the plague. That’s the message I’ve received from children’s TV. In the village of Greendale, where Postman Pat lives, the post is forever going missing or being damaged. There are more fires in Pontypandy, where the hero Fireman Sam roams, than in the rest of Wales combined. And the bigger superheroes (sorry Pat) don’t exactly live in havens of peace and tranquillity. I dread to think of the council tax bill in Metropolis. Apparently uninspired by these idols, my childhood dream was to be a bin-woman! 

Much of our culture is built on celebrating rescuers, and not just in fiction. But is it a role that we can truly say, hand on heart, God wants us to play? In situations of injustice people often slip into ‘rescuer mode’. It is so tempting to try to take on the injustice of the world ourselves, to be the hero of the hour and to do it all in our own power. But instead of solving problems we exhaust ourselves and hurt those around us.  (Just ask Jess the cat.)

When taking on a rescuer role, we assume that we can make better decisions than the person we seek to help, and, even with the best intentions, exert power over them (for more on this read see The Hopeful Activist book, chapter 5, Handling Power). Of course, there are many times in my life when I need help, but most of the time I don’t want to be rescued. When I share a problem with someone my main desire is to be heard and understood, when someone jumps to solve it I feel undermined and irritated! 

The church has a problem with heroes. We have too many recent examples of abuse and injustice by people we looked up to. But what about us; are we alert to our own hunger for power? Do we believe we have what it takes to change the world? Do we want to be heroes? It’s vital that we identify that need within us to be a rescuer and bring that humbly before God.

Injustice is all around us and for those of us in the inner-city we can feel that we rub against it or experience it every day. In the face of enormous injustice the prophet Micah knew that the answer was not to seek to take control, but to give up power.  Micah sees poverty and inequality, he sees power-hungry religious and political leaders and he sees religious leaders turning a blind eye to sexual abuse, or even colluding in it.  And into this situation Micah says,

‘He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.

    And what does the Lord require of you?

To act justly and to love mercy

    and to walk humbly with your God.’

Micah knew the power of God’s Spirit, and he had the ability to see and challenge injustice – because he knew the pattern of a healthy life. He knew the humility of a daily walk with God. He knew that to speak about justice you have to act justly. He knew that to act justly you have to love mercy, and to have the power to do that you have to walk humbly with God. Laying down your own power, your own ideas and your own arrogance and walking in step with Him. The world doesn’t need more superheroes, it needs more people walking humbly with Jesus.

I’ve interviewed over 150 Christians who are taking action for justice, for the Hopeful Activists’ Podcast, and one common theme is the necessity to stay humble by spending time with Jesus.

I spoke to an incredible Anglican priest, Rev Edwin Arrison. He was a good friend of Archbishop Desmond Tutu and cared for him up to his death in 2021. Many of us know about the worldwide impact of Desmond Tutu’s work to bring justice and peace for the people of South Africa. But his good friend Edwin told me about the secret life of Tutu. That he would regularly spend three, four, even five hours a day in silent prayer. 

To so many people Tutu was a hero, everyone wanted time with him, but Tutu wanted time with God, above all else.

We can’t build God’s kingdom by our efforts. Our own power is damaging and dangerous. As soon as people start to believe that the power is ours, not God’s, things start to go badly wrong. For thousands of years Jewish people have prayed,

‘Yours is the Kingdom, Yours is the Power, Yours is the Glory’

I believe God gave us this prayer, and Jesus reinforced it to us in the Lord’s Prayer because the default mantra in our hearts is ‘Mine is the Kingdom, Mine is the Power, Mine is the Glory.’

So, another important question is, am I humble enough to take a sabbath? Or do we believe that if we stop, the work of the kingdom might stop? Or maybe we believe that if we stop someone else might do our job for us. We want the kingdom but we don’t want to stop to spend time with the King. 

Micah begins his book with a picture of the power of God. That when God walks on the earth mountains melt beneath his feet. But later in the book he prophecies about the one who is coming to bring justice and peace. He gives us a picture of Jesus, 500 years before he was born. And we see that Jesus chose not to come in power and melt the mountains, but to come into a cruel and dangerous regime in the most weak and fragile state, as a baby. And when we look at the life of Jesus we see that he continually refused to exercise power over people. The one who has the most power, chooses to live a life of a servant, and to humble himself, even to death on a cross. Jesus came to die on the cross and rise again to break the power of injustice and sin, and to bring restoration to all the earth and to all people who will follow him.  Our job is simply to do just that, follow him, the only rescuer we need.

And when we give up our desire to be the hero, when we stop trying to ‘fix’ people, and give people the dignity to make their own choices and solve their own problems we find friends and companions on our journey with Jesus – the one hero you want to be in close proximity with!

To find out more about The Hopeful Activists, including details of their new book, visit praxiscentre.org/ 

Written by

Abi Thomas

Abi Thomas lives in Bradford and is part of St John’s Bowling Church. She loves hospitality, making people laugh and custard in all its forms. Abi spends her time making The Hopeful Activist’s Podcast, being a carer, leading a youth group and cooking, including at Pete’s Place, a community food project.

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