Someone far more clever than the writer once coined the term, “Thermostat or Thermometer?” to reflect the options we each have. A thermometer merely responds to its environment and reflects the temperature. It is passive in its activity. A thermostat, however, is active and controls the temperature in its environment. Each of us has this choice to make in every sphere of life: will we simply reflect and conform to what is prevalent around us, or will we be influential, seeking to make a change in the spheres in which we are found?
This divergence in action is perhaps illustrated best in the current political scene. Politicians conform their statements and choices to the prevailing sentiment of the public as reflected by the polls taken by the pollsters. Rather than leading, they are being led. Public support and sympathy are deemed all important. Philosophies and platforms are made to conform to what is the current prevailing public opinion. Philosophies, principles and truth are sacrificed upon the altar of popularity.
For many, parenting has become a similar art. The great challenge of the nineties, to be “our child’s best friend,” has resulted in doing what the child likes, failing to intervene when discipline and guidance are needed. Negative words (and there is a danger of too many of them) are rejected because they may damage the child’s emerging self-esteem. The child is allowed to lead the parent so that the parent can be “popular” with the child. But where in the Word of God is there the suggestion that parenting is a great popularity contest?
The challenge of “lead or be led” is also faced by those who guide the assembly. Difficult and unpopular action is often avoided for the sake of the “peace” of the assembly. In truth, however, it is avoided because it is unpopular. It is incumbent upon those who lead to do precisely that: to guide the assembly even through difficult waters. Peace at any cost leads to war. There has been no final armistice to avoid the sad spectacle of James 4:1.
What is the ultimate goal of leadership? The Scriptures, especially the teachings of Proverbs, remind parents that their responsibility is the moral and spiritual development of their children. We are responsible to discipline, direct and disciple those whom God has given us.
The purpose of leadership in the assembly is the welfare of the flock, including its protection from dangers within and without. It will involve both a positive feeding (Acts 20:28) and a negative ministry of warning and admonition (Acts 20:29-31). None of this may be popular with men, but then the Scriptures are replete with examples of the shipwreck of those who esteemed the praise of men more than the praise of God.
The challenge which faces us as believers at the brink of the next millennium is not popularity or even how to adequately reflect the values of contemporary “Christianity” around us. It is how to be thermostats, leaders in the spheres in which God has placed us, making a difference, in keeping with Scriptural principles.