I have based most of my understanding of leadership on the premise that God wants me to be a leader. Yet the more I get into the story of Jesus (his words, his actions, his life) the more I realize, that God has no interest in me being a leader.
He wants me to be a servant.
So I’m in trouble.
Because I like the title servant… until people start treating me like one.
I have intentionally chosen positions of leadership. They make me feel valuable and significant.
And to every one of those titles (whether I say it or not) I attach a sense of leadership (and rule) to them.
At least more than I attach a sense of servanthood.
You call me Teacher and Lord–and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.
Jesus in John 13:13-15
I hate it when people take what Jesus said and turn into a rule or forced guideline. But I honestly have to ask myself, when was the last time I actually washed feet?
Literally not figuratively.
Heck, when was the last time I even figuratively washed someone feet?
Who Are You Serving?
Recently I was asking God in prayer to open up doors for ministry. I wanted more opportunities to preach in prisons, the nations, big stages, small gatherings.
(You know, because I’m so humble and cool.)
Then, the Father answered my request with His own question,
“Who are you going to serve when you go there?”
My answer: “Duh. I want to serve those prisoners.”
His gentle reply, “Do you really want to be there for them, or for how it looks on social media when you visit prisoners?”
“Or, when you’re on the big stage, are you there for their sakes, or yours?”
Many times people have told me that I have a leadership calling on my life. But now, I’m concerned. Because not once did they said that while I was washing someone’s feet… which is the physical expression of godly leadership.
Just like the bread and the wine are a physical manifestation of a spiritual truth (the body and the blood), so is feet washing the down to earth visual of a heavenly revelation.
So I’m here to say… I got it all wrong.
Let’s take a 5 seconds interluded.
It would be tempting to start thinking of past leaders and teachers and pastors and bosses. But I am not writing so you can get angry/cynical about/towards them.
This is an encouragement for you and me.
However, if you have endured legitimate control/manipulation, then this becomes an invitation to forgive their mountain-top-ways, so we can move in grace, with Christ, in the opposite direction.
The Best Example
Now, let me give you an even stronger text to support the outrageous claim: Jesus anti-leadership.
This one is in Matthew 23:8-12.
And once again this is Jesus talking; King of Kings and Lord of Lords:
But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all students. And call no one your father on earth, for you have one Father–the one in heaven. Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Messiah. The greatest among you will be your servant. All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.
So what are we doing?
And this is an honest (loaded) question.
Why are we teaching people so much about leadership and influence? How come we spend so much money on books and seminars and conference to be better at it?
Obviously, leadership is extremely important. It is a New Testament concept with incredible examples like Peter, James and Mary and Paul.
But the Word of God in the flesh, Jesus Christ himself, never used the word leadership.
His continual invitation was for those who wanted leadership, to recognize that the way up, is down.
The way forward, is back.
And that the Kingdom of God is found while we are not building our own.
Every time his own disciples talked about thrones and position… Jesus re-directed those desires towards feet, dirt, brokenness and sacrificial love.
I have tried to call it Servant Leadership in order to make it more Jesus-friendly. But honestly, that does not work.
Nothing more, nothing less.
And Jesus leads us by example in this. He resisted the temptation of the enemy to rule the nations though force. He resisted the invitation of the crowds to be an earthly king.
Jesus didn’t use his authority to build an empire. He did not use his power to make people bow before him. He didn’t force people to serve him — he served them!
The perfect Son of God fixed broken chairs, washed feet, died on a cross, and cooked breakfast for his friends.
So here we are again dear church.
Standing on top of the mountain.
Wanting power and influence and control.
But Jesus said no to that temptation… and he invites us to do the same, “For even the Son of Man came NOT to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45)
Maybe it will help us to see what leadership titles in the original language meant; as used in the New Testament:
- “Bishops” are guardians (episkopoi).
- “Pastors” are caretakers (poison).
- “Ministers” are table-waiters (diakonos).
- “Elders” are wise old men (presbyters).
- “Apostles” are sent ones (apóstolos).
- “Deacons” are waiters (diakonos).
Or as Paul wrote in Philippians 2: “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.”
If we’re going to talk about leadership, let’s make sure it’s in the arrow model and not the pyramid one. I learned this comparison from Duncan Smith (A leader I love, follow and gladly serve).
Pyramids are found in desserts. They are full of dead man’s bones. They are a relic of the past. And they don’t go anywhere.
Arrows are weapons. They move forward. They are launched by someone.
A true (Jesus like) leader is one that goes ahead (launched by Jesus himself) not one who stands on top (overpowering the body Christ).
Let’s destroy the pyramid model of leadership, and let’s become the ones who are sent ahead. Launched by God into the forefront of the battlefield.
To die for our friends.
“Life’s most urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’” ― Martin Luther King, Jr.
+ Read more… and the full story of Dying to Ambition.