Rebellion: Failure or Fruit?
It's easy for pastors to be irrational about our role. I've often joked with fellow ministers about the seemingly thankless role of the senior pastor. If the church grows, God gets all the credit. If the church fails, it's your fault. Revival? Attributed to God's sovereign grace. Lethargy and rebellion? Poor leadership. Whether stated or implied, this twisted logic undergirds much of how we assess our ministry and effectiveness.
"If people aren't healthy," we think, "It's my fault."
There are many leadership principles rooted in blaming "rebellion" or other internal conflict upon the leadership. One business aphorism (often parroted from conference platforms) is the principle that "church growth is limited by leadership growth." The logic goes something like this: The reason your church isn't growing is that you are not ready for growth. Until you develop more capacity as a leader, you will not be able to handle greater capacity in your congregation. The reason you have limited influence is that you are limited. Increase your strengths as a leader, and your church will increase as well.
I've heard hundreds of variations on this "limited leader" theme. Whole conferences are developed to remove pastors' limitations. Usually, pastors from larger churches educate pastors from smaller churches on how they too can grow if they just change how they lead. The implication is either implied or stated outright: The reason you are not "successful" is because you are not implementing the right leadership technique. If you were a better leader, more people would follow you.
Rebellion in Scripture
I certainly believe there is room for all of us to grow in our leadership. As well, there are definitely good and bad leadership principles. But even so, there is one giant problem with the "blame the leader" model of resourcing pastors: It's not biblical! Scripture is full of community conflict—often even "rebellions"—occurring in the face of excellent leadership.
The children of Israel did not rebel against Moses because he was a bad leader. Rather, they rebelled because they were rebellious. The Apostle Paul's disciples didn't abandon him in prison because he was a bad leader. Rather, they rebelled because they were rebellious. The Bible is full of many examples of good leadership, even seemingly perfect leadership, producing the fruit of rebellion and abandonment.
Jesus lived a perfect life, yet much of what he did and said was rejected by most of the people he met. In Matthew 11:21 Jesus laments,
"Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes."
Even after the resurrection, after all those miracles, there were very few people actually gathered in the upper room to carry on ...