Tuesday, May 29, 2012

195. The False Dichotomy between Leadership and Servanthood

It is becoming increasingly popular to create a false dichotomy between leadership and servant hood. As the logic goes, having an organizational structure that identifies someone as "the leader" is somehow tyrannical and loaded down with exorbitant pitfalls. Truly spiritual people and organizations use "mutual submission" and "team based models" of leadership, as the logic would ensue.

First, let me say that most of the blogs and talks I hear on this topic are, at best, looking to shape leadership around the sacrificial, servant based, kenotic (emptying of self) values of the cross outlined in Philippians 2. We have all experienced the ego-centric leader, power hungry and addicted to prominence. However, I think that the term leadership is broad and often eludes simplistic definitions, especially when we factor in the dynamics of organization and cultural context. I will not offer a definition of leadership here, I'll leave that to the exploration of the reader. I will however ask one question that I think deserves attention and may have the potential to draw this kind of false dichotomy out into the open and expose it for what it is. The question is this:

If you were to ask any of the 12 apostles during Jesus' ministry who "the leader" was, what would they say?

There is no doubt that they would have said. They all, without question, would have said Jesus. Jesus was "the leader" of the 12, and the 12 knew it. This was not just a Jesus thing, it was a rabbi thing. In other words, it was the nature of a rabbi-disciple relationship. There is a leader and a follower.

This may at first seem overly simplistic, but facing up to this reality that existed between Jesus and the 12 leads me to ask another follow up question:

When Jesus told the 12 to go and "make disciples", wasn't he telling them to now become "the leader" with a potentially new group of followers?

The answer in my mind is an obvious "yes." If discipleship is fundamentally about imitation, then when I am being discipled by another person, I am choosing to follow that person for a season. It is an incubation period where I learn how to be a leader by following a leader. If I am imitating the one I am following, then by definition I am imitating a leader...no? This means disciple making is fundamentally about leadership training. When it comes time for me to expand my role from one who is being discipled to one who is also making disciples, then I will, by definition, be "the leader" of those who are following me.

The problem with most discussions about leadership is that they often don't factor in the equation of disciple making. An organizational structure that includes "the leader" does not have to be tyrannical or abusive, or un-spiritual. If so, Jesus would have been all those things. No, leadership can be exercised in such a way that the power and authority afforded to the leader can be stewarded for the empowerment of those who are following "the leader." This is how Jesus did it, and he asks us to imitate him. This is why I think that the practice of making disciples is axiomatic to any discussion leadership.

I have been on a church planting team in Montgomery Al that was organizationally structured with "the leader" and other "co-workers" who synergized around the over arching vision and values of "the leader." We had staff meetings, argued, debated, shared perspectives, and sometimes hotly disagreed. At the end of the day though, when we could not agree, something had to give. As naughty as this may sound, "someone had to make a decision." And this fell to "the leader." We trusted his heart, as well as his openness to us, and the Spirit. If we didn't, we would not have "followed" him as a leader. He was accountable to us in areas of character, as we all were to each other. How could we not be? We shared our lives together and were in close enough proximity to each other to notice character flaws and address them when necessary.

This is not to say leaders don't need accountability structures and communal processes to season their leadership. This is deserves another blog post, admittedly. The point I am making here is that we don't have to throw the baby out with the bath water. What we need to do is learn how to lead as Jesus led his disciples. We can not improve on what Jesus did. He called people to follow him, trained them, and empowered them to become leaders themselves. He gives us the authority to do the same thing (Matthew 28:18-20). Only now, it is not just "follow me." Our fallen nature requires an exception clause: as I follow Christ.(I Cor 11:1) Our leadership is held to the same standards (if not higher) as those who follow us. We all follow Christ, but not all are making disciples. Those who are making disciples both follow Christ and lead others in doing so, only to make other disciple makers, which is to say, by definition, leaders. 

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