Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Lead like a servant

Many things that Jesus taught were contrary to conventional wisdom. But, when you examine them from a Godly point of view, they make complete sense and when put into practice we can see the result that He taught would happen. One idea that is the exact opposite of what the world would teach us today is about leadership and that true leadership is being at the bottom, a servant, instead of at the top.

When we think of leaders and leadership, our mind naturally gravitates towards people such as the President of the United States, a General in the Army, your principal at school, or maybe a top-performing athlete in a sport. We view them as leaders because of the position they hold, the influence and power they wield, and the commands they give to the people they lead. We express this as “top down” leadership in which orders are given and they are followed. But, that is not the kind of leadership defined by God and patterned in the lives of the leaders He has chosen.

First, consider Moses. The Jews viewed Moses as the ultimate leader and revered his name. But, how did Moses become the chosen leader by God of the Israelites? It certainly wasn’t because he sought after it! Beginning with Moses’ story in Exodus 2 after he had killed an Egyptian beating a fellow Hebrew, he came upon two others having a dispute. When Moses had rebuked them, their response was the challenge “Who made you a prince and judge over us?” (Ex 2:14). Here we see the beginning of what true leadership is not: it is not by self-determination. Moses could not make himself to be a leader of the Hebrews.

After Moses fled Egypt, we see the call of God to Moses many years later. The scene of the burning bush in Exodus 3 has God telling Moses He has chosen him to lead his people from Egypt. But, Moses first response is “Who am I, that I should go unto Pharaoh, and that I should bring forth the children of Israel out of Egypt?” (Ex 3:11). You might think that Moses did this out of politeness not wanting to seem eager for the position but in his heart desiring it. After all, he was raised in the house of Pharaoh, the very seat of authority. No, in continuing to read the story, we find Moses giving four more excuses why he should not be God’s chosen leader before he does agree. Surely Moses was not seeking to be a leader of God’s people. Which gives us another aspect of Godly leadership: it is not sought after but taken on understanding the seriousness and responsibility of the task.

Why was Moses so reluctant of becoming the leader that God chose him to be? To answer that requires us to look into the mind and heart of a Godly leader. The best insight we can find is Jesus, the ultimate servant leader. First consider who Jesus was being both God and Man. In being God, he quite literally had everything: divine authority, power, and influence. Contrast that with the Man Jesus was: not attractive, without wealth, and not of the spiritual ruling elite. You would think, and the Jews of the day did think this way, that the God of Heaven would come in regal, glory and large fanfare but that’s not the way Jesus came to this earth.

We can see some answers as to why Jesus chose to come like this in Matt 20. The context begins with the mother of two disciples asking the position be granted for her sons to be seated at the right and left of Jesus. (v21) Jumping to the conclusion of this exchange we see leadership through God’s eyes and why Jesus chose the Man he was in appearance, “Even as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” (v28). Jesus contradicts her view of what leadership means showing that it is by being a servant that one leads, “But whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant.” (v26)

Jesus epitomized the servant leader in washing the feet of his disciples. John 13:3-8 is a passage of Jesus serving His disciples to give them an object lesson in servant leadership. This is emphasized in what is revealed leading up to this account in v3, “Jesus knowing that the Father has given all things into His hands”. He had the ultimate authority and chose to use it this occasion to serve others. Being a servant does not make one a leader, but to be a Godly leader requires you to be a servant. By serving others you influence them to seek and serve God instead of commanding them. God seeks leaders. Will you be one?