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Can We All Stop Trying To Be Leaders Now?

There are worse things in the world than not being a leader.

This simple fact is nearly completely lost on the contemporary American-Evangelical-Leadership-Complex. I’m beginning to worry that modern-day Christians might be shocked to discover that “leader” is not a synonym of “disciple.” As a matter of fact, if the ugly history of leaders wrapping themselves in the banner of Christianity is to be believed, those words are more like antonyms than anything else.

Here’s what I mean: Everywhere I turn, Christians are consumed with “leadership” – leadership training, leadership conferences, leadership retreats, leadership books, and how we can ensure our children turn out to be leaders. As a matter of fact, I recently read an article warning me about parenting behaviors that were potentially crippling children from becoming leaders.

Well, no parent wants their children to be paralyzed, so I guess I’d better get my rear in gear and make sure my two curly-haired cuties aren’t incapacitated for life and live as anything other than leaders.

Crippled? Seriously? If my daughters aren’t leaders, they have been somehow disabled?

Crippled Leaders, I Hope So

I truly hope I’m wrong, but it appears that a segment within Christianity has attempted, once again, to auto-tune the lyrics of power, fame, and adulation and make it harmonize with Jesus’ language of self-emptying. I’ll at least give us this: We have finally mustered the courage to abandon the well-intentioned, but unbiblical, language of “servant-leader” and just confess to the ambition we’ve long striven for: influence and leverage!

Don’t get me wrong, the church needs good leaders. The problem is that our contemporary over-focus on borrowed-from-the-board room, bigger, slicker, shinier leadership, supported by an orgy of leadership products – conferences, books, online-courses, etc… – has made leadership the goal of Christians rather than a tool of the Kingdom.

Biblical leaders found their way to crosses, prisons, lion’s dens, Roman courts, and exile on remote islands – not the top of the bestseller’s list, the company of President’s, and interviews on FoxNews or MSNBC. Biblical leaders’ ears were filled with the complaints and criticisms of the people God called them to lead, not the applause of stadiums and throngs of eager enthusiasts waiting hours deep in lines at book signings. And while I do not begrudge anyone their book signings, shouldn’t it give us pause when the lives of modern Christian leaders look so starkly different from the leaders we see in the pages of Scripture? As Henri Nouwen has said, “The way of the Christian leader is not the way of upward mobility in which our world has invested so much, but the way of downward mobility ending on the cross.” 

A Critical Moment

We are experiencing a critical moment in Western Christianity. We have to deal with the fact that our image of leadership is constructed more by the essence of Wall Street than spirit of the road to Damascus. Leaders, we are told, want to go farther faster, to make things happen, to set the vision and manage the movements to those good and right outcomes. We need to focus on developing leaders and raising leaders and training leaders, which sounds great, until we rediscover that nearly every Biblical leader was hesitant to become one and would have just as well passed on the job.

When Moses first tried to lead, it lead to murderous outcomes. When Saul tried to hold on to leadership, the same thing happened. When David’s sons wanted to ascend to the throne, more bloodshed. And we saw it once again with Judas.

Scripture gives us no indication that  Judas was a bad guy – up until he betrays Jesus. Judas was a leader. He was on the inside. His motivation for trading Jesus for 30-pieces of silver, some suggest, was likely a simple attempt to jump start what he felt was a stalled engine.

With swords finally drawn, Jesus would have to get on with Kingdom-building and quit hanging out with whores and lepers. It’s not that Judas was against sinners, they just weren’t useful in the grand scheme. Time spent with the least of these was crippling the disciple’s leadership goals. The Promise wasn’t being fulfilled quickly enough or big enough, so Judas decides to step up and be a leader. So he punches the “Nitros” button hoping to speed things up and make something happen.

And he does. Sacrifice Happens

Sacrifice Happens.

And this is where contemporary evangelicalism parts ways with Jesus’ leadership style, regardless of how many books we produce trying to convince ourselves of the opposite. You see, Jesus wasn’t about leadership, not even “servant-leadership.” Jesus was about sacrifice. When the scriptures report, “Power went out from him… (Luke 6:19),” it actually did.

That’s how Jesus led. He gave up His seat. He released His platform.  Jesus silenced His voice. He relinquished His power.

Jesus did not leverage His leadership. He surrendered it!

The synonym for Christian is not leader. It’s not even servant. It is sacrifice. It turns out that when we hunt and peck the Bible for leaders, the greatest one is a bloodied, and yes, crippled lamb.

So can we all quit trying so desperately to go into all the church and make leaders and can we find a few more women and men who are crippled?

 

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  • Too many leaders will lead to power struggles. It always has and always will. Thanks for calling attention to this.

    • It’s a constant tension. Throw in some start0up culture and you get board room leadership dressing itself up as spiritual care.

  • Paul Hughes

    Great article. Way too many bosses, not enough bloodied cogs.

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  • justjohn

    nice cornerstone. how about the rest of the foundation?

    what part of “sacrifice” is it to shove theology through the power of government?

    https://www.aclu.org/religion-belief/lane-v-sabine-parish-school-board

    the question i’ve always had for “christians” [sic] is this, “how righteously serious are you about following the recorded example and words of jesus himself?” not-so-much has always been the answer, with the usual justifications based on the presumption that american fundamentalist christians have an epistemological monopoly on The Truth.

  • David Dominguez

    Great piece. This should prompt self-examination by those in leadership positions, and those who follow them.

  • Tim Ogle

    Leadership is not a bad word, nor a bad concept.

    I’m a leadership major, excelled in my class and even received the Delta Epsilon Chi award from ABHE. You’ve never met anyone MORE SKEPTICAL of the Christian leadership guru trend than I am.

    Is that because leadership doesn’t matter? NO! It’s because without leadership nothing intentional happens.

    Biblical leadership is educating them on the empowering presence that God provided through the Holy Spirit. Without people leading people into that understanding by sharing common experiences it won’t happen well.

    God designed the church for leaders to oversee. We must prepare these men properly.

    I agree, let’s stop worshipping at the altar of leadership. Let’s focus on worshipping God through our leadership.

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