It is time for shepherds to stop wandering with the sheep.

This is the age of the nonhero. Look no further than our preschoolers’ TV programs: Superman and the Lone Ranger have lost ground to confused space creatures or lovable but scarcely heroic monsters.

Literature reflects the trend. The beautiful, loving, hard-working, bigger-than-life heroes and heroines who used to dance out at us from the pages of novels or biographies have been replaced by protagonists who generally resemble the family next door.

The key words are “identify” and “relate.” Communication is graded for “honesty” and “realism.”

This is a healthy emphasis. We need to face real facts if we are to communicate with real people.

But maybe we have overdone it. In our desire for brutal, stark reality, we seem to have killed off all our heroes.

Whether purposefully or unconciously, evangelicals have joined in the slaughter. Few heroes are allowed to survive in the church. In fact, it is definitely unfashionable these days to be holier, more knowledgeable, or more spiritually attuned than anyone else. The message we seem so eager to get across is, “Don’t look at me, I’m no authority. I’m no better than you are.” “I don’t know any more than you do” is definitely more popular than “Thus saith the Lord.”

Consider a scene I recently witnessed. A minister visiting in another church was chatting with a group of believers in various stages of Christian maturity. He spilled out the failings, the doubts he feels, and, yes, the sins to which he falls prey—even now as a pastor. Each succeeding revelation seemed calculated to cast aspersion, not only on himself, but on the ministry he represents. “I think it’s best to be honest,” he told them. “Preachers aren’t any better than the rest of you, you know.”

Or think of the sharing encouraged in so many circles. Evangelicals share weaknesses and failings in an attempt to be accessible to non-Christians or new Christians. The idea we try to get across is, “I’m just the same as you are.”

Even an average Bible study reflects this attitude. Away with Bible “teachers.” The right approach now is sharing and discussion groups that draw out a response from the members. The leader is to act simply as moderator.

I am not condoning dishonesty. No one of us can pretend to perfection. And the desire to focus people’s attention on God himself, not human heroes, is commendable. His holiness is our ultimate standard.

Countless Christians nevertheless, have been influenced by the lives of such saints as Hudson Taylor, William Carey, or C. T. Studd. Many were won for Christ by the authoritative preaching of Calvin, Spurgeon, or Jonathan Edwards. We were blessed precisely because we saw in them, not so much an honesty that made them like us, but a faith, a holiness that put them out ahead of us, that beckoned us to follow.

Oh, of course they sinned. We knew that. Nor would any of us really believe our minister to be sinless, or a beloved Bible teacher to be above temptation. But we hardly get a blessing from knowing about their sins. We know our neighbors must accumulate garbage too, but we appreciate them hiding it behind their fence.

What is there to emulate about leaders or characters whose lives are no better than mine? Where is the incentive, the striving for Christlikeness, if all our heroes are demystified, reduced to real-life size?

The writer of Hebrews urges Christians to “be followers of them who through patience inherit the promises.” And elsewhere he urges them to follow the faith of those who rule over them.

Why then the current trend in the church toward the fashion of the nonhero?

Could it be that we are keenly aware that we are not hero material? Certainly Paul could say “follow me, “but he was the apostle Paul. We’re not!

And maybe therein lies the problem.

Being a hero is a demanding business. Instead of endeavoring by the power of the Holy Spirit to be the kind of examples we ought to be, we have taken another route. In the name of “honesty” we let it be known how we fail, doubt, sin. That way no one will be shocked when we fall (we warned them!). And no one can accuse us of hypocrisy.

Maybe it is time for Christian leaders to stop running from the hero role, time for mature Christians to say, “I’m not perfect, but I have learned something by walking with the Lord. Let me tell you about it.”

Maybe it is time for shepherds to stop wandering with the sheep and start leading them to higher plateaus of Christian experience. For pastors to say, “As a representative of Jesus Christ, I’d better not be just the same as the people I’m commissioned to lead. I have a duty to be an example, a hero, to my people; to say to them, ‘Follow me as I follow Christ.’ ”

Christian honesty demands that we admit our sinfulness. But Christian love demands that we don’t line up our garbage cans where our brother will trip over them. (Or worse, that we don’t come to accept trash as beautiful just because everyone on the block has some.)

Let the church have heroes willing to meet the demands that this involves. The world needs them.

Alice Poynor is a homemaker, free-lance writer, and speaker living in Edwards, Mississippi.

Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.

Our digital archives are a work in progress. Let us know if corrections need to be made.