Carl Trueman once noted that “to lead is to choose” (Fools Rush In, 35).
In other words, it is the task of leaders to make choices for which they will bear responsibility. Followers can “like” and “retweet” and “share” all day long. They can choose to go along with various opinions, various leaders, but if/when a leader’s ship goes down, followers are free to jump ship and in all honesty point to the failure of the leader. Leaders have no such luxury. Leaders make choices and own the responsibility for those choices. They have no one to point at but themselves. To lead is to choose a particular path, particular emphases, particular words, particular dangers. And the risks are many. The risks are making poor decisions and squandering time and resources, making poor decisions and confusing followers or worse leading them astray. Leaders risk being misunderstood, hypocrisy and lack of integrity, or the plethora of temptations that come with actually being followed.
In the same chapter, Trueman cites Mark Dever’s critique of what he calls the “cult of choice” afflicting modern culture, an aversion to commitments that seem to shut down other options. This is the single guy syndrome, the fear of being limited, the fear of constraints. The cult of choice doesn’t mind choosing favorite movies, favorite musicians, favorite clothes or food, because heck, you can change your mind next week if you want to. But marriage is kind of big deal. If you choose poorly, there you are shackled to a pill of woman. Having children sort of commits you to a storyline — your life doesn’t belong to you anymore, your schedule submits to the needs of the little people in diapers. And if you stick your neck out and do anything really bold — like share the gospel with your next door neighbor, take an unpopular stance and give the raspberry to everybody’s favorite thing — like mock the current orgasmic obsession with all things natural/organic/alternative, you run the risk of commitment. You run the risk of being forever labeled (“freak” “close minded” “fundamentalist” “nerd” “Republican” “meany”) and thereby forever banished to the gutters of public opinion. But the real fear in all these instances is the fear of being wrong and being stuck with the consequences. You can change your diet, change your wardrobe, change your style, but it’s a lot harder to shake a wrecked family, a lot harder to buy a new reputation. The cult of choice is a visceral aversion to any choice that might diminish future choices.
This is the fear of choosing a path, the fear of commitment, the fear of burning bridges, the fear of putting down roots, the fear of missing out, the fear of not succeeding, the fear of failure, the fear of not accomplishing much, the fear of disappointment, the fear of being wrong. Which, as Trueman notes, is basically the fear of real leadership. But behind all of those fears is the Mother Fear: the fear of death. People fear commitment ultimately because they fear limits, finality, coming to the end, the conclusion, the fear of being trapped in a story, like a bad ride at the fair with no escape. People fear making poor choices and then dying with the consequences. What if there was something better? What if it could have gone differently?
But Jesus died to free us from all fear, especially the fear of death. Hebrews says that Jesus partook of flesh and blood so “that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; and deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage” (Heb. 2:14-15). In other words, the cult of choice is ironically a form of slavery to death, but freedom is the ability to commit, the ability to risk, the freedom to fail and die and rise again. Christmas is God committing Himself to a particular story, to a particular family, to particular people in a particular place at a particular time. Christmas is God limiting Himself by choosing one way and not another. Christmas happened so that we might embrace our individual stories with joy and stop resenting our limits, stop fearing what might have been. And Easter happened so that now our stories can keep going. Now there is no end for those who are in Christ Jesus. Even the most ragged, messed up stories get new beginnings, get restarts.
This is because for those who are in Christ, death is not the end. Death has been tamed. And so we are not afraid of death anymore. Our sins are forgiven. Jesus paid for them all. Now we cannot be bound by our failures anymore. We can choose, we can lead, we can commit, we can dive headlong into life, completely fearless. There is no automatic protection from failure, from disaster, from serious disappointment. But we are running towards death, we are running towards a small hole in the ground about six feet deep. Serious prayers need offering, serious thought needs taking, good counsel needs gathering, but we also need a generation of choosers, a generation of fearless leaders, young men especially who will risk everything, who will take wives, raise children, lead their families with humility and courage and till the ground in front of them for the glory of Jesus until they collapse into it — men who will let go of their arrogant hopes and fanciful dreams and shiny reputations, and step up to the mic and go into all the world, cheerfully naming Jesus as Lord and obeying His call, come what may.
This year, what will you choose? What will you commit to? How will you be branded? In other words, Who will you follow? It’s a new year. Strap on your helmet, put on some gloves, and go make some choices.