“A leader is a person who has the ability to get others to do what they don’t want to do and like it.” – President Harry S. Truman
It’s likely many of us have read that quote through the years. As matter of fact, as an instructor for the Professional Development Center at the U.S. Air Force Academy, I often referred to that very quote. In the context of my military career it made complete sense, yet deep inside my soul it gnawed at me because it didn’t jive with kingdom thinking.
I came across the quote after a “church leader” posted it on his Facebook status. He claimed that’s how pastors have to lead in order to get people involved. It really set me off because I believe we have taken the wrong perspective when it comes to leadership. I would say that most of us understand a leader to be someone who “influences” another person. I’m okay with that, but after reading Truman’s quote it doesn’t sound like influence…it’s more like coercion. Yes, there is a difference in the two. However, in Christian circles we have taken Truman’s quote as a standard or tenet to church leadership.
I can tell you from experience some pastors have told me that leadership in their church was their way or the highway. That meant they called the shots and didn’t need anyone’s discernment or input. Sometimes it felt like they didn’t even need the Spirit’s input. Needless to say, I saw the highway. Now, at this point your thinking, “Gibby, you just have a problem submitting to authority.” Yeah, I’ve had very dear friends say that about and to me. Let me tell you that is not the case. I have trouble submitting to someone who lords him/herself over others.
Back to the quote
Let me ask you, do you truly believe that church leadership is about getting people to do something they don’t want to do and actually have them like it? I don’t. Yet, somehow charismatic folks have a way of doing that and it’s not always a good thing. It’s easy to “follow” a charismatic person with a magnetic personality and want to do what they say, but that can’t be the reason one follows another. It’s unhealthy if the charismatic person delves him/herself into performing rather than being a servant. It’s unhealthy if all there is for us to do is cling to dynamic preaching, teaching and worship services. I honestly don’t remember any of the sermons I’ve sat through. Not that I’m dynamic, but I don’t even remember my own sermons.
So, if all there is to do is trust in charisma and an awesome personality, we give the Church a harmful perspective of leadership. Think about it. When pastors/elders/deacons/etc. are called leaders it usually gives the connotation they are large and in charge. They have full authority to make all decisions for the church…especially spiritual decisions. Sadly, it also gets the church members off the hook in taking any responsibility for their own spiritual growth, making disciples, or for being on mission with God. That’s a lot of power and authority given to “church leaders” by allowing them to be fully responsible for us.
Now, by referring to “church leaders” as servants it puts their position in a different light and gives their calling a whole new perspective…one of vulnerability and humility. For instance, if we look at the apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers (APEST) as servants called to equip the followers of Christ Jesus it should give us a more humble perspective of them. If you are one of the APEST it should cause you to take responsibility for your own spiritual growth as you equip others to do the same. If you are making disciples you must approach it with the heart of humility. Jesus’ example was one of a servant. He came to serve and not be served. He washed the feet of his disciples. He touched and healed the lepers. He submitted himself to do the will of the Father, even to the point of death.
In Mark 10, Jesus addresses his disciples after James and John made a fuss over who would sit to his right and his left. It incited frustration among the other disciples. First, he addresses James and John by saying, “The cup that I drink you shall drink; and you shall be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized. But to sit on My right or on My left, this is not Mine to give; but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.” (v.39, 40)
It doesn’t end there. Jesus then proceeded by stating to all the disciples, “You know that those who are recognized as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them; and their great men exercise authority over them. But it is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant; and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” (v.42-45)
Being a servant is not sexy. A leader, on the other hand, gives the idea of power, strength and authority. It gives status and cultural relevance to a position. Yet, the reality is there won’t be conferences based on being servants. Very few books are written about being servants. I know of a handful and my top two are: 1) Organic Leadership by Neil Cole and 2) Unleader by Lance Ford. Both books will challenge your thinking and the status quo. They might cause you to rethink what it means to be called a leader. Maybe they’ll help you understand my angst with the way church leadership has become something different from what God intended.
May we remember who we are in the kingdom of God. Servants to the King.
1. At what point will local churches begin referring to their leaders as servants?
2. When will we invoke a change in ourselves to live as servants?
3. Isn’t it time we stepped back and examined where we are on this journey of faith?
4. Would others call you a servant?