There are lots of definitions of leadership, and many different ways to lead. Wikipedia says, “Controversial viewpoints [on leadership] are present in the literature, among Eastern and Western approaches to leadership, and also in the West, on US vs. European approaches.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leadership) The article discusses Monarchy, the Mandate of Heaven, Patriarchal, and Autocratic ways to rule. I’m sure these various approaches to leadership have their strong and weak points, but there’s a rarely-used one in the Bible that’s worth considering. It’s also worth following.
A Different Approach; a Different Template
“Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be the slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:42-45, NIV)
James and John had approached Jesus and asked to sit next to him when he came into glory. This caused some friction among the other disciples, who resented the idea and wanted to establish their own place in the pecking order. Jesus starts by reminding them how the Gentile leaders operated, and told them to turn that model upside down. This paradigm for leadership was not just something Jesus talked about, it was something he lived and demonstrated.
A Critical Characteristic
When some of John’s disciples asked Jesus what he was about, his answer was “Come, and you will see.” (John 1:30) His direct, accessible leadership style was founded upon exemplary humility and service. Instead of lording over them, the Lord of Lords humbled himself and served them in the most menial act of service their society had to offer…
Quick, now: make a list of all the leaders you have ever known who operated as humble servants who lifted you up. I bet it’s a short list. Our cultural definition of leadership rewards authority, giftedness, the ability to motivate people, strength, and ego. In today’s political world it also takes a large amount of money. Members of Congress used to be called public servants; now we call them millionaires. In 2017, 237 sitting members of Congress were millionaires. Today, about 52% of the 535 members in the House and the Senate have over $1,000,000 net worth, whereas only about 7% of all US citizens are “millionaires”. Let that sink in a moment. (Personal home equity is not included in the net worth of either group.)
In a quaint, old Jimmy Stewart movie, “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington”, a naive representative goes to Congress to do the right thing, only to discover that politics is a dirty business. Congressmen make deals instead of support ideals, and far too often they are driven by desire for power and personal gain. Jesus says that instead of lording it over others, the leader should be a servant and a slave to all. So, stop and recalibrate your definition of leadership. Think of ways you can serve others. Then get out there and lead!
Politicians interest me. It seems that no one dares
To ask why all those Congressmen end up as millionaires…
Aren’t they public servants? That’s a term that I’ve heard used,
But more and more it seems like public trust has been abused.
Leaders strut and posture, and they’ll offer up a speech,
But more and more it seems that they are rich and out of reach.
Jesus told his followers, “Don’t do what rulers do:
They exercise authority and lord it over you.
Instead, if you desire to lead, and want to be the best,
Don’t emulate those leaders, who are just like all the rest,
But here’s a thought on leadership that you should contemplate:
Go serve, and be a slave to all. Then you’ll be truly great.”
The disciples looked around the room; they knew it must be true.
For after all, it’s what they’d always seen the Master do.
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