Is Leadership a Healthy Christian Aim?

I hear a lot about developing Christian leaders for the next generation.  Many schools and churches target development of “leaders who will make an impact” as a necessity for their institution to survive in the marketplace of Christianity.  Christian parents and seminary candidates are attracted to slogans like “Preparing Christian Leaders for Tomorrow’s World.”  Clearly this kind of thinking sells because it is all over the place in Christian Day School, Christian College, and Seminary marketing.

One Christian University brochure states it plainly enough:

*** will engage the minds and hearts of students in such a way that they will be Christian leaders after they graduate.

That’s quite a promise.  But is it a good one?

Leadership is never an aim for the Christian in the Bible.

The English word “lead” occurs 128 times in 124 verses while  “leader” occurs 85 times in 80 verses in the English Standard Version.  The words “serve” and “servant” come in at well over 1100 usages in the ESV.  Word usage alone, of course, does not settle a question. However, it is interesting to note that never is a believer commanded to or even encouraged to lead (except when already in a position of leadership (Rom 12).  What is extolled and commanded is servant-hood.

Are there people who led others in the Bible?  The answer is certainly, yes.  Are there multitudes of others [often unnamed] who, with no position of leadership, made an indelible mark in the history of God’s redemptive work?  Again, yes.  I wonder, however, why do we not celebrate the second with same energy as the first?  Why don’t we extol the virtue of being like the young girl of 2 Kings 5:

2 Now the Syrians on one of their raids had carried off a little girl from the land of Israel, and she worked in the service of Naaman’s wife. 3 She said to her mistress, “Would that my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.” (ESV)

Here is a young girl quietly sharing the truth of God’s healing power and reign over sickness with the wife of the man who was most likely responsible for her family’s deaths. She is a hero of faith!

Consider those who later in the same story confront Naaman’s pride:

Then his servants came near and spoke to him and said, “My father, had the prophet told you to do some great thing, would you not have done it? How much more then, when he says to you, ‘Wash, and be clean’?”  (NASB95)

Where is the call to be the quiet, anonymous servant?  Mostly on the lips of Jesus:

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. 26 It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, 28 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)

Church Historian John Hannah once stated, “Ultimately, the men that shape the world are the quiet people who touch the catalyst people: Melancthon’s influence on Luther for example.”  He later cautioned, “If we don’t develop a generation of people who are not afraid of anonymity, who are willing to be nothing as far as being unknown, who don’t see sacrifice as a crime, and who realize God has commanded contentment not happiness, then what will happen to the missionary enterprise in two generations?”  He said those things in 1989.  Now a generation later, have we the courage to be nothing that He might be preeminent in all things?  Have we the courage to serve even as the Son of Man came to serve?


7 thoughts on “Is Leadership a Healthy Christian Aim?

  1. You’ve written an excellent article here, and I plan to link to it later this week. Your final paragraph, however, has a phrase that clangs down like an iron shoe: how is 2010 “two generations later” than 1989? Do you mean one generation, or is 1989 a typo?

  2. A provocative article Steve! Just take a moment to think about how many Christian “leadership” books have been written. I’m guilty of it too. I’ve always called my volunteer student ministry adults “youth leaders,” and developing “student leadership” is a big topic in youth ministry circles. A lot of times we’ll call our leaders “servant leaders” as a hat tip to the Jesus way. Good to think about. I imagine you’ll get some push back on this! 🙂

  3. Pingback: Christian Leaders Or Christ’s Servants? « The Cruciform Life Blog

  4. Hi Steve,

    Three other points might bolster your argument. (1) The lack of explicit reference to leadership as a qualification for even church leadership, i.e. elders and deacons (1 Tim 3, Titus 1).(2) The absence of leadership from the lists of spiritual gifts (1 Cor 12; 14; Rom 12; Eph 4; 1 Pet 4). (3) The absence of leadership from the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23. A further problem that I have noted is that we have more often taken our models of leadership from the secular world than from Scripture.

    • Thank you Charles for your reply. Those are excellent points. I believe the term “servant-leader” came to us in 1970 from Robert Greenleaf. He was an executive with AT&T and, I understand, a Quaker. I hope no one infers that leading is bad. It is the push to lead over and against serve that I think both feeds the fleshly desire to be and do some important thing while at the same time, and ironically so, contributes to quenches the spirit of a believer who cannot lead and shouldn’t but feels pressure that they must. Great comments. Thanks again.

  5. Steve – Good stuff.

    “Where is the call to be the quiet, anonymous servant?”

    Jesus in Mat 23:10 KJV, told **His disciples** “NOT” to call
    themselves “Master / Leaders,”
    for you have “ONE” “Master / Leader” “The Christ.”

    King James Version –
    Neither be ye called masters:
    for one is your Master, even Christ.

    The Interlinear Bible –
    Nor be called leaders,
    for one is your leader the Christ.

    Phillips Modern English –
    you must not let people call you leaders,
    you have only one leader, Christ.

    Today’s English Version –
    nor should you be called leader.
    your one and only leader is the Messiah.

    Jesus told **His disciples** not to be called “leaders” and none did.

    Rom 1:1 Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ,
    Php 1:1 Paul and Timotheus, the servants of Jesus Christ,
    Col 4:12 Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ,
    Tit 1:1 Paul, a servant of God,
    Jas 1:1 James, a servant of God
    2Pe 1:1 Simon Peter, a servant

    **His Disciples** all called themselves “servants.”
    None called themselves “leaders.” None? None.
    None called themselves “servant-leader.” None.

    If Jesus instructed **His Disciples** NOT to call themselves “leaders”
    and someone calls them self a “leader”
    or thinks they are a “leader;”

    Are they **His Disciples? Are they a “Disciple of Christ?”

    Why isn’t what Jesus said important? 😉

    And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold:
    them also I must bring, and they shall **hear my voice;**
    and there shall be “ONE” fold, and “ONE” shepherd.
    John 10:16

    One Fold – One Shepherd – One Voice.
    If Not Now, When?

    Be blessed in your search for truth… Jesus.

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