Last week I spent some time thinking out loud about Old Testament examples of leadership. Two things stand out for me.
First none of the leaders in the Old Testament were perfect. One of my favorite things about the Bible is its honesty about human beings and how we act. God has and does work with some deeply flawed people. They made mistakes, and some big mistakes too. Secondly, I find the variety of leadership styles and systems presented to be quite interesting. God doesn’t seem to have commanded a particular style or form of leadership. Torah, in fact, divides leadership between priests and the judges and military leaders but not in a particularly clear way. The line of authority are fuzzy. No one person ever has complete control, or at least not for long.
So, perhaps, there is not “a” way of leadership.
But what about the New Testament?
The Apostles had important roles but they seem to have, for the most part, worked collaboratively. Read through Acts and you will see this. One of the more well known examples of this is Acts 15 when the council at Jerusalem wrestles with the decision of how to be in fellowship with gentile converts.
Think about the letters of the New Testament. One of their major themes is equality in Christ. “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:28). Societies hierarchy, its divisions of who was in charge and who obeyed, were ignored by Christians. The pastoral epistles talk about elders and deacons but there are no instructions for how they are to organize themselves, or how many of each there should be. Paul writes about spiritual gifts and the necessity for a variety of gifts in the church. And in the list found in 1 Corinthians 12:27-31, “leadership” is quite a way down Paul’s list. To over simplify a bit, Paul spends much more time in his letters writing about how to act and live as a follower of Jesus and very little time telling churches how to organize themselves. Which human is in charge doesn’t seem to have been terribly important. That all of us follow Jesus is important.
And what about Jesus? What does he do? He washes the disciples’ feet. What does he say? Things like ‘”the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like one who serves (Luke 22:26, see also Mark 9:34-35, 10:42-45, Matt 20:25-28, John 13:1-17). Leadership is not about power, leadership is about serving others. And in particular serving God through what we do.
So what do we “do” about leadership? Is our task in the church to develop leaders? If so, what sort of leaders?
Different churches and denominations have different ways of organizing themselves and different ways of picking leaders. I suspect that is all right. Do what makes sense for your particular group. Use whatever system that helps you find Christ like leaders. No system works well all the time. Often they work well in spite of us.
It seems to me that the practice of leadership in the church is difficult. I think the church is called to nurture collaborative, humble, non manipulative, outward focused leadership. Our culture has a completely different idea about leadership. There the emphasis is on power, control, accomplishment,status, rewards and winning. It’s hard to keep our proper focus. What our culture holds up as leadership is so overwhelming we end up like ancient Israel, “We want a leader like everyone else has!”.
Part of the good news is that when we get our priorities wrong, when we get confused about leadership or any of the many things we get confused about, the good news is God forgives us and helps us get back on the path of faithfulness. I wonder, if the ability to say, “I’m sorry, I made a mistake. May I have the opportunity to put things right?” might be one of the most important things a leader can do?
I’d like to know, what has your experience been, of good leaders and of not so good leaders?