Wednesday, May 18, 2011

ReTool Leadership Part 1 - Who is in Charge?

If the church is going to expand and multiply on an ongoing basis, there are some issues that must be faced, admitted to, repented from and transformed to become more like Jesus.  The cornerstone issue that faces the church today regarding stunting its growth is our understanding of leadership in the church.  My next few posts will give some time to this topic and I would love engaging with you in a conversation about this very important issue.

Leadership as a bottleneck towards creating a culture of rapid kingdom expansion.  There has been a disconnect between our theology and our orthopraxy (correct action correlated to our theology).   As we continue this discussion on leadership, we find some striking differences in how many churches are led today as opposed to what Jesus clearly taught about leadership.  Let’s continue by looking at what I believe to be the key New Testament teaching on leadership from the lips of Jesus.

Matthew 20:20-28
20 Then the mother of Zebedee's sons came to Jesus with her sons and, kneeling down, asked a favor of him. 21 "What is it you want?" he asked. She said, "Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom." 22 "You don't know what you are asking," Jesus said to them. "Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?" "We can," they answered. 23 Jesus said to them, "You will indeed drink from my cup, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared by my Father." 24 When the ten heard about this, they were indignant with the two brothers. 25 Jesus called them together and said, "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 26 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wants to be first must be your slave-- 28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."

What can be learned from this portion of Scripture?  One of the first things that jumps off the page is that it is a common thing for men and women to want to be in charge, to be in control or to feel important.  It can also be learned that mothers often try to push their children to the top.  Moms just want their children to succeed.  James, John and their mother were no different. 

When the other 10 disciples got wind of what James and John were up to, they become very mad and upset.  One reason why these guys became ‘indignant‘ may be because they too had the same desire deep in their soul; to be more important or in charge.  James and John just happened to be the first to push for it.  All of this relational tension caused Jesus to call a family meeting about self-promotion and leadership.

In verse 25 Jesus says worldly leaders rule people, they lord over people and act like tyrants.  To lord over people is defined as one acting as if they are in charge or in control  (see previous post on ReTooling Leadership: Who is in Charge).  Jesus then turns the concept of leadership upside down with His next four words, “Not so with you...” (v.  26 NIV)  These four words cause a major seismic shift regarding leadership in the church.  These four words teach us that leaders are not to lead in the same way as they have in the past.  Jesus is actually shifting concepts of leadership commonly understood in the Old Testament and giving leadership a major overhaul.  Leaders are not now to lead like Moses did (Exodus 18:21ff) nor are they to act like they are in charge or in control, in fact they are to lead in a much different way.

Jesus contrasts worldly leaders as being OVER (v.25) people and His leaders who are to be AMONG (v.26 cf. 1 Peter 5:2) people.  There is an enormous difference in this contrast.  ‘Over’ indicates control or importance, ‘among’ indicates equality and mutual submission, but Jesus doesn’t stop there.  He continues to turn leadership principles upside down by teaching that His leaders are actually be servants (v. 26) and slaves (v. 27) of the people.

Think me for minute about slaves and servants.  Do slaves or servants give orders or take orders?  Do slaves or servants do what they want to do or what is best for others?  How can these terms be understood any differently?  How do we apply them to church and leadership today? 

Remember that the context of Jesus’ instruction was caused by James and John wanting to elevate themselves which caused the others to be upset and Jesus setting them straight.  I believe one way to live out these principles is to lead from a position of weakness and let any authority you may have come from relationships with people (be among them), not position, titles or appointments (over them).

Asserting position, power or control over another should be as offensive to the church  today as it was to Jesus.  The reality is that leaders have to let go of control and learn how to serve, how to be transparent among the people.  Leaders must learn that deep relationships bring a level of authority in each others lives that is rarely experienced - but I pray it will not be rare much longer!

What do you think?

Next time we will explore where the leader's priorities ought to be.