I don't know Frank Vogel, the now former coach of the Indiana Pacers, nor do I know as much about basketball as Larry Bird who has announced that Frank will no longer be the coach of the Pacers. But I see a common fallacy in the decision to seek a new coach for the Pacers, the same fallacy that plagues many persons in congregations who want a new pastor, and even the fallacy that plagues our political system in the U.S. as we decide on a new President. The fallacy is simply this: having a new leader is not the panacea that many people believe and expect. Simply getting a new coach, new pastor, or new president may not be the ultimate answer.
Sometimes when I hear from congregation members who want a new pastor, I am reminded of the wisdom spoken to me by my first District Superintendent who said, "When a car has four flat tires and no gas in the tank, changing drivers is not the answer." There are often much deeper reasons why a church is not thriving, and laying all of the blame upon the pastor is a fallacy. Likewise we have seen many sports teams who get rid of a winning coach in order to find that "new coach" to take them to the next level, only to discover that there are limited options and what they had as a coach was not all bad. If the team does not have a lot of good players (speaking now of the Pacers who still lack a good point guard and a good power forward), what good is it to change coaches? If a church does not have committed lay leadership and a healthy organization for ministry, what good is it to get a new pastor?
We have a huge belief in America that leadership makes all the difference. That is a fallacy. Leadership makes a great deal of difference, and having the right coach, pastor, or president is important. But when we lay all of the responsibility upon a new leader, that is a recipe for failure that often leads to a demand for another new leader in a few years. Leaders can lead. Leadership matters. But when we shift all of our responsibility onto a new leader, that is a form of idolatry that must be avoided.
The ancient Israelites wanted a king so that they could be like other nations. The Lord warned them, through Samuel, that their desire for a king could lead them into deeper troubles, that a king would draft their sons and send them off to war, that a king would tax them and misspend the money, that a king would focus upon his own ego and not the national good, and that a human king was no replacement for following the Lord as their King of Kings. But the Israelites insisted, God granted them their desire, and all that Samuel warned came true. The desire for a king to solve all of our problems is an idolatrous desire.
So we, United States citizens, need to be careful. Donald or Hillary or Bernie are not the answer. We should look for the best person to serve as our new president, but we also must be careful not to fall into the fallacy and idolatry of expecting a new leader to take upon themselves all of the responsibility that rightly belongs to us. We are responsible for the future of our country, and God alone is the One who can show us the way to a future with justice, mercy, and love.