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?