Leadership. It’s a word that immediately conjures up different images in our minds. When thinking of a leader, many of us would instantly think of a CEO, a military general, a pastor, or the super charismatic individual who can convince everyone to drink the proverbial Kool-Aid.
Whoever we picture, we ultimately picture an individual who is large and in charge. They are the person who calls all the shots, and in some way is responsible for telling others what to do.
In the military, when your Drill Sargent tells you to jump, the only appropriate response is, “How high, Drill Sargent?” And generally speaking, I think no matter what image we see when we think about leadership, it’s hard to ultimately get away from the chain of command type leadership seen in the military.
It’s a type of leadership that heavily relies on hierarchy, chains of command, doing exactly what you are told, and never disobeying a direct order. At the end of the day, it’s a leadership style that’s heavy handed, authoritarian, and dictatorial in nature. And it’s a style of leadership that’s been around since the beginnings of human civilization.
Jesus On Leadership
Enter Jesus. Jesus lived in a world full of this type of leadership. Leadership that was top-down, heavy handed, and bossy. Not only did this exist within the religious Jewish society that Jesus grew up in, but it was something He experienced living under the occupation of Rome and the reign of Caesar.
Such a mindset Jesus ultimately spoke against. He wanted to teach His followers a different mindset when it came to the idea of leadership. And it’s a mindset that in the church we have shied away from.
We pay a little lip service to the ideas Jesus spoke about in the gospels regarding leadership. But we ultimately stay away from its full implications, because even in the church, we still cling to leadership structures that resemble the things we see in the military or a large corporation more than we do what Jesus actually taught about leadership.
And what did Jesus teach about leadership? Well, as we will see in the next two passages in the gospels, Jesus actually kinda frowned on the entire idea of “leadership.” That’s not to say Jesus is against the idea of leadership per say. Leadership exists whether we like it or not. But, Jesus was against all the baggage we bring to the table when we are discussing the idea of leadership.
Let’s look at two passages where Jesus talked about the idea:
“But do not be called Rabbi; for One is your Teacher, and you are all brothers. Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. Do not be called leaders; for One is your Leader, that is, Christ. But the greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.”Matthew 23:8-10 (NASB)
And there arose also a dispute among them as to which one of them was regarded to be greatest. And He said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who have authority over them are called ‘Benefactors.’ But it is not this way with you, but the one who is the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like the servant. For who is greater, the one who reclines at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at the table? But I am among you as the one who serves.Luke 22:24-27 (NASB)
For Jesus, the idea of “being a boss” is something completely foreign to the idea of what it means to be a leader. Yet it’s the thing we usually think about most. We think of leadership, and we think of the person who ultimately calls all the shots.
Instead of being a boss, Jesus calls us to be servants who wash one another’s feet. A servant doesn’t get to tell others what to do. A servant is one who exists to help someone else accomplish their goals.
Servant Leadership? Or Servants?
Jesus calls on leaders to be servants. And by that, I don’t mean the tired out cliché from the 1970’s, “the servant leader.” For as good and as well intentioned as the phrase “servant leader” might be, I have yet to meet anyone who uses that term without really just meaning to use the word, “leader.” They use the phrase “servant leader,” just as the word “leader,” but as of the nicer variety of leadership.
Instead of saying the phrase, “servant leader,” we just need to learn to start saying the old fashioned Biblical word, “servant.” And indeed, this was the preferred description that “leaders” like the apostle Paul used to describe themselves. The apostle Paul always opened his letters by identifying himself as a “servant,” and never as a leader.
For so long as we think of ourselves as leaders, there will always be the temptation to think of ourselves as a boss, and to think of ourselves as someone who is an “authority” figure. And, once you start thinking of yourself in authoritarian sentiments, it’s not long before you will in someway start possessing the very attitude that Jesus condemned.
Who’s In Charge?
In our society and in the times of Jesus, we tend to think of leadership in primarily hierarchical and top down relationships. This is the opposite of what Jesus wants us to see. Jesus sees everything regarding leadership flipped upside down and flattened. And, instead of pyramid structures of leadership, Jesus sees things in terms of a us serving a common brotherhood.
For Jesus, leadership looks more like people standing shoulder to shoulder in a circle as brothers, rather than some massive, top-heavy bureaucracy.
I’m not a boss. And Jesus doesn’t call for there to be any bosses in the kingdom of God. There’s One that’s ultimately in charge of everything, and that’s Him. And even with Him being officially in charge, Jesus empties Himself of everything that has to do with being in charge, to be among us as a brother, and as one who serves.
I’m Not A Boss
We must do everything we can as Christ followers to stamp out the heavy handed authoritarian tendencies in our heart. No matter what official capacities we might find ourselves in, whether it be in government, work, home, or the church. Even if we find ourselves “in charge” of something, we must never think of ourselves as “the boss.”
For example, as a man, I might be the “head of my house,” but I am to never think of myself as the “king of the castle.” Instead of thinking I can boss my wife and theoretical future kids around, and that everyone in the house must do as I say, I need to look at my calling as the opportunity to be a fountainhead of love and joy for all others in the home.
As a result, I don’t “lead” my home, as much as I exist to equip and empower others in my household to be the people God has called them to be. Instead of “laying down the law,” God has called me to be a living example that inspires others to embody a certain way of life.
Instead of ruling by an iron fist and exercising brute force, God has called me to kind and gentle persuasion, and to serve others by means of sacrificial love.
And in saying this I concede that, yes, there might be instances where I have to draw a line in the sand. But, such instances should be exceedingly rare. For if you get to the point where you have to use a stern rod of correction, this would only be for moments where relationships have become irrevocably broken, and where both parties are ultimately destined to going there own way.
What Do I Get Out Of It?
Since serving is always about what others get out of my service instead of what I personally get out of it, then I need to stop looking at my service as an opportunity to feed my ego, or otherwise doing something that ultimate benefits me. Instead of seeking after positions of power and prestige that are in the lime light, we need to always be on the lookout to identify opportunities to serve others in whatever capacities we have to serve, even if that’s in small and forgotten places that are far away from any stage.
That includes doing things we don’t necessarily like, and sometimes even things we aren’t always even good or particularly talented at. It’s been my experience over the years, even when I’m not very good at doing something, so long as I do it as one serving the Lord, there’s always a special kind of grace that comes along in that moment to fill in for the areas I’m deficient.
It’s always easy to see the stage and say “I want to be up there!” But in serving others, it’s not about me, and “what I get” out of serving. Whether or not you get jollies or a sense of purpose out of doing what you do is irrelevant. You may even feel your time and talents have been wasted in whatever capacity you served.
And if that’s you, then welcome to the idea of being a servant!
For servants are often individuals who do things behind the scenes, and do things that go unnoticed and uncelebrated. They don’t see much in the way of kick backs for their service and the things they’ve done. Their only reward is the outcome of their labor.
But in being a servant, your time and talents are never a waste.
For when we serve, we ultimately do our service as unto the Lord, and not men. And what we do, we do as brothers standing shoulder to shoulder with our other brothers, and not as individuals standing on top of other men.