This post is part of a monthly synchroblog. The topic for November is “leadership”. At the bottom of this post you’ll find links to other posts about leadership.
Today is election day in the USA, and many Americans are thinking about leadership. In the church, Christians often think about leadership as well. In fact, as Hans Kung has stated, leadership defines the church to such an extent that, for many, ecclesiology is simply an exercise in hierarchiology.
Whenever we discuss church leadership, the question of submission arises. Who is supposed to submit to whom? How do those “above” get those “under” to submit to their decisions? I suggest that these questions demonstrate a flawed understanding of the leadership that Scriptures teaches the church.
Starting with Jesus, he said:
You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. (Matthew 20:25-28 ESV)
Thus, according to Jesus, leadership among Christians is to be radically different – not front and center – but among and under. Leaders who follow Jesus’ example are not in front of a group directing them, but among and under a group serving them. Jesus was not talking about “servant-leadership”, but “servants”.
However, the more important point for this post revolves around the idea of “submission”. According to Hebrews 13:17, we are to “Trust our leaders, and submit to them.” This passage, and others like it, are often used by leaders to force, encourage, persuade, even cajole people into acquiescing to the decisions made by the leaders. This practice demonstrates a misunderstanding of submissions.
Leaders cannot force people to submit to them. This is not submission, but subservience. Instead, submission can only be given.
We often take instructions given to others and apply them for ourselves. For example, husbands often feel it is there responsibility to force their wives (or at least remind them strongly) to submit. Yet, the instruction is for wives to submit, not for husbands to force their submission (which is not submission but subservience or enslavement). Instead, husbands are instructed to love their wives. What does a husband do if his wife does not submit? He loves her.
The same can be said of leaders. We are told to follow or submit to those who are leading us. In reality, our submission demonstrates who our leaders are. Leaders are never told to force or even try to persuade others to submit to them. What are leaders to do if others do not submit? Keep living as an example of a disciple of Jesus Christ. We cannot choose whether or not people submit; we can only choose to obey for ourselves.
To look at it another way, is someone a leader if no one is submitting? If someone chooses not to submit (or follow) then I am not their leader â€“ it doesn’t matter what “position” I hold, or what they say about me being a leader.
When Jesus began to teach about leaders among Christians, he pointed his followers to the “Gentiles” and said, “It shall not be so among you.” Today, most leaders in the church model themselves after the prevailing Gentile cultures and norms. But, this is NOT the type of leadership that Jesus taught.
Its time for believers to start following servants, not those who place themselves in the front of the group because of position or education or knowledge. And, its time for leaders to stop trying to force people to submit (which is not submission), and instead simply live their lives as examples of Jesus Christ. We persuade people to follow Christ, not our decisions and our leadership and our vision.
Submission is something that can only be given; submission cannot be taken.
Below is a list of other bloggers who are taking part in the synchroblog on “Leadership”:
Jonathan Brink – Letter To The President
Adam Gonnerman – Aspiring to the Episcopate
Kai – Leadership – Is Servant Leadership a Broken Model?
Sally Coleman – In the world but not of it- servant leadership for the 21st Century Church
Alan Knox – Submission is given not taken
Joe Miller – Elders Lead a Healthy Family: The Future
Cobus van Wyngaard – Empowering leadership
Steve Hayes – Servant leadership
Geoff Matheson – Leadership
John Smulo – Australian Leadership Lessons
Helen Mildenhall – Leadership
Tyler Savage – Moral Leadership – Is it what we need?
Bryan Riley – Leading is to Listen and Obey
Susan Barnes – Give someone else a turn!
Liz Dyer – A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Pollsâ€¦
Lionel Woods – Why Diverse Leadership is Good for America
Julie Clawson – Leadership Expectations
Ellen Haroutunian – A New Kind Of Leadership
Matt Stone – Converting Leadership
Steve Bradley – Lording or Leading?
Adam Myers – Two types of Leadership
Bethany Stedman – A Leadership Mosaic
Kathy Escobar – I’m Pretty Sure This Book Won’t Make It On The Bestseller List
Fuzzy Orthodoxy – Self Leadership