The Leader as Catalyst – Part 3 (Expositor)
This is the third installment in a seven-part series on understanding the leader as a catalyst. In the last two weeks, I have laid the foundation for this concept from a biblical perspective, so if you missed it, you should take the time to revisit those blogs. Today I would like to introduce the second of five key elements within this framework, each being a different role the leader plays within the community to which they provide leadership. These five roles are essential to catalyzing a community to embrace the Jesus way in both thought and practice. They are sequenced by design, each element being foundational for the next.
Second Element: Expositor (Interpret the Way)
An expositor is defined by the Oxford Dictionary as a person who explains complicated ideas or theories. In the Old Testament, Moses is the primary expositor of God's heart, intention, and teaching to the people of Israel. He compiled the first five books of the Bible, known as the Pentateuch, which contained at its heart the Decalogue, the Ten Words, or as we refer to them today, the Ten Commandments (ref. Exodus 20). This is the core of the haggadah, or "the telling", "the story" of God's relationship with Israel. These are the core of everything expounded upon in the rest of the Hebrew Scriptures, what Christians refer to as the Old Testament. The 613 laws which arise all relate back to these ten statements of God's covenant expectations of His people. The 613 are the exposition or explanation of the 10, including how they are applied to everyday life in the ancient world. These were the "halacha" or mitzvot" ("commanded practices)" of the Oral Torah. These were the things you did to live out Torah. The Torah – "the way" or "instruction," had two forms – the Written Torah and the Oral Torah:
Written – the actual Hebrew Scriptures TaNaKh: Torah (here used about the first five books of Moses), Nevi'im (the prophets), and Khetuvim (the writings, which include the wisdom literature and the Psalms).
Oral – the explanation of the written Torah, also called the "Oral Tradition," the fence around Torah.
As it says in Mishna 1:1:
"Moses received the Law from Sinai and committed it to Joshua, and Joshua to the elders, and the elders to the Prophets; and the Prophets committed it to the men of the Great Synagogue. They said three things: "Be deliberate in judgment, raise up many disciples, and make a fence around the Torah."
The "fence" here was the Oral Torah, which was to "fence in," to define, to interpret the Written Torah. The command here then is to intentionally choose the best and brightest students to become disciples, to whom you will pass on both the Written and Oral Torah and engage them in a purposeful mentoring process.
All the ancient rabbis agreed on what the Written Law was (for the most part). They differed in both the halachic interpretation and the associated practices (mitzvot). They each developed slightly different applications of the Torah, so their exposition would vary. This was considered to be the rabbi's "yoke," his interpretation of the Torah and his application of the teaching to life. Again, this comes from the Mishna where we find the concept of "The Yoke of Heaven":
R. Nechunya, son of ha-Kanah, said, "Whoso receives upon himself the yoke of the Torah, from the yoke of the kingdom and the yoke of worldly care will be removed, but whoso breaks off from him the yoke of the Torah, upon him will be laid the yoke of the kingdom and the yoke of worldly care." – Pirke Avot 3.5
The meaning of this is straightforward – if one obeys the Commandments of God, then one will have all that is needed to pay the taxes of the king and care for the needs of daily life. Jesus actually teaches this in several places in the Gospels, including Matthew 6:31-33:
"Therefore do not be anxious, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you."
The rabbi's goal was to "spread his yoke" by taking on new disciples, which Jesus Himself did (ref. Matthew 4:19). In fact, Jesus contrasts His yoke with that of the Pharisees:
"Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light" (Matthew 11:28-30).
Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, "The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses' seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people's shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger” (Matthew 23:1-4).
"But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people's faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves” (Matthew 23:13-15).
In several places in the text, we see where Jesus re-contextualizes the Written Torah to undo the Oral Tradition embraced by the Pharisees. He uses the construct of “you have heard it said, but I say unto you” as a means for deconstructing and reconstructing the understanding of the Torah for His disciples:
"You have heard that it was said to those of old, 'You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.' But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, 'You fool!' will be liable to the hell of fire” (Matthew 5:21-22).
"You have heard that it was said, 'You shall not commit adultery.' But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:27-28).
"It was also said, 'Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.' But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery” (Matthew 5:31-32).
"Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, 'You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.' But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let what you say be simply 'Yes' or 'No'; anything more than this comes from evil (Matthew 5:33-37).
"You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.' But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you (Matthew 5:38-42).
"You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust (Matthew 5:43-45).
Paul indicates that through Christ, the inclusion of the Gentiles was because Jesus broke down the fence of the Oral tradition:
For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. (Ephesians 2:14-16, underline mine for emphasis).
Today our goal is to be disciples of Jesus, who, as Christian rabbis, make more disciples for Him:
And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20).
Like all rabbis we will each have a particular “yoke” or understanding of the Jesus way. Now, we would never try to reinterpret His teaching, as His take on Torah is final. But we each must contextualize it for His way of life to be accessible to those we lead in our local churches. This is essential for the folks we pastor to embrace it as a way of life. We must exposit or explain what Jesus taught (the haggadah) and how we are to live it in our current reality (the halacha).
You are a unique individual. You have a unique expression of who God is in your personality, life experiences, and gifting. These factors affect your interpretation of the Scriptures and their application to life. These sovereign expressions of God’s grace influence your “yoke,” as the specific nature of God’s work in you plays out in a way that is distinctive to you :
For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them (Ephesians 2:10).
And yet, contextualization of Jesus’ teaching is required for application, we are each only a facet of His wisdom:
so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places (Ephesians 3:10).
The uniqueness of Christ in each of us has implications on our own "yoke." The commonality is Christ; the diversity is based in His expression through us:
I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift (Ephesians 4:1-7).
Now for application to catalytic leadership: if you don’t have a common framework for understanding the Jesus way within your community in both doctrine and practice, haggadah and halacha, there is no commonality on which to build a way of life. Consequently, there is no ability to join together in the mission. Understanding the uniqueness of your yoke is essential in mapping practices consistent with your understanding of the Jesus way. There is a life pattern set by the expositor in both knowledge of the Scriptures and the practices associated with integrating them into our lives. There is haggadah and halacha, which must be established for your congregation. Paul did this:
For Timothy, his son in the faith, he reminded him of his haggadah, his halacha, and his life example in times of trouble:
You, however, have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, my persecutions and sufferings that happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, and at Lystra—which persecutions I endured; yet from them all the Lord rescued me. Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:10-17).
For the Corinthians, he instructed them to emulate or model themselves on him in faith and practice:
Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1).
For the Colossians, he reminded them of the pattern of belief and life he set for them:
Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving (Colossians 2:6-7).
You must understand your yoke to catalyze both the way of life and the mission in your congregation. You need to define your haggadah and your halacha of the Jesus way for your community. You cannot give this responsibility away to others. You can share the pulpit, but what others teach must align with your yoke. Otherwise, there will be a division of thought and focus and disagreement about how it is lived out. This will drain the energy and momentum from the church, and it will be more challenging to move the church forward in the Kingdom.
So, what do you believe about the Jesus way? How is it lived out today, in your city or town, by the congregation you lead? Have you captured it, written it down? Have you thought about how to teach it and model it? These are what you need to do as the primary expositor in your church. This is essential to being a catalytic leader.