Thanks to Lionel for pointing me to a book by Lawrence O. Richards and Clyde Hoeldtke called A Theology of Church Leadership (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1980). I haven’t read the entire book yet, I thought the section on leadership by service went well with my post from yesterday called “It shall not be so among you” concerning Matthew 20:25-28:
But Jesus called them to him and 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)
This is how the authors contrast leadership by rule vs. leadership by service using the passage above:
This passage attacks many of our ingrained presumptions about leadership and help us define how a servant leads. In the paragraphs below are a few of the contrasts that are explicit or implied in the illustration Jesus uses…
Relationship with the led
The passage states it clearly: the ruler is “over” those he leads. But the servant is “among.” We cannot be servant-leaders if our position or role or our own attitude tends to lift us above others and makes a distinction between us and the rest of the people of God.
Rulers “lord it over” and “exercise authority” over the led. Here is a command-type of authority, which tells others what to do and demands conformity of behavior. But we cannot even imagine that a servant entering a household where he is assigned would issue commands! To attempt to use such a command authority calls forth one of God’s most powerful rebukes: “not so with you.”
Command authority tells others what to do. The leadership mode involves issuing orders, passing on decisions the leader has made. Servants have one role in the household – to serve. Rather than tell, the servant shows. Example, not command, is the primary mode through which the servant leads.
The command authority of the secular ruler does lead to behavioral change. There are all sorts of sanctions that secular leaders – be they in the military, in government, or in business – rely on to obtain the behavior they require. But servants must rely on an inner response in those they influence. Without the power to coerce behavior, servants must seek the free choice of the ones being led. The one style achieves behavioral conformity; the other style achieves heart commitment.
The secular leadership style has a wider range of coercive means to enforce response. In business, raises or denial of raises and many other symbols of approval and disapproval are used to coerce behavior. But in the church of Christ no such means of coercion are available. All such methods are decisively rejected! (106-107)
I think it is possible, effective, beneficial, and healthy to lead without ruling – that is, to lead through serving. But, it is also much more difficult.