Three years ago, I wrote a post on the topic of leadership called “Submission is given, not taken.” The point of the post is simple: some things can only be given by others; those things cannot be taken from them. For example, think about love. Love can be given, but it can’t be forcibly taken by someone else. Submission is the same way. Some think that since instructions to submit to others is the same as an instruction to exercise authority. But, this is not true. Why? Because submission can only be offered freely. If it is required by someone else, then it is not submission.
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.