We glorify wealth, strength and fame. We take people who already have those attributes and lift them higher as our leaders, our heroes.
Jesus comes along. We rush to see him at the courts of the Temple, turning over the tables of the moneychangers and running off those selling animals for sacrifice.
Then we turn a blind eye to all Jesus had to say in regard to leadership, violence, peace and the attitudes that God prizes.
We ignore the character and attitudes he prizes among the disciples and his categorization of what he wanted of those leading the mission to God’s reign on earth.
The disciples were nothing special before society. They were relatively uneducated. They were working men of a common class.
They were not wealthy. They were not powerful. They were not famous. They were deemed of no account when called before the Jewish authorities, nothing special other than having been in Jesus’ midst.
When Jesus talked about leadership and prominence in God’s reign, he spoke of those who placed themselves in service to others, following his example in washing the feet as a model of leadership.
He gave living evidence elevating compassion for others as central to the character of leadership he prizes. Jesus evidenced the elevation of all those who found themselves marginalized as a central tenet of God’s reign.
Leadership for Jesus began with character, an attitude of selflessness placing the needs of others on a par with one’s own and inviting their growth as a shared value.
Jesus invited all to belong, to grow, to be transformed by grace, love and acceptance into their best selves. This is all antithetical to the concepts underpinning social norms and character of leadership.
Jesus’ leadership consistently elevated others. Time after time, he elevated Samaritans, women, lepers, working people, children, outsiders and reputed sinners, along with the infirm and disabled.
These leadership principles drove the development and growth of the early church.
The disciples became leaders who did not call attention to themselves, rather working to meet the needs and challenges facing all those who gathered under the name of Jesus.
They led the church to share not only their material resources, but also their newfound purpose in extending the grace of God in offering acceptance and inclusion indiscriminately to all.
When Jesus spoke with Pilate, he discussed a distinction between God’s reign and the world of politics.
The power structures of this world are wrapped up in systems that elevate all the wrong values from Jesus’ perspective.
They call out as leaders those more wrapped up in self-promotion than in service, in ego than in humility, in self-aggrandizement than in uplifting those cast aside.
When Jesus sought leaders and responsible caretakers of God’s reign and mission, he called those who would be willing to set self aside for the higher calling of making God’s mission of reconciliation primary.
God’s reign is not invested in the political structures of the world around us. It does not seek to wield power for the promotion of some over others. It does not seek to elevate some on the backs of others.
Instead, it welcomes the most neglected, scorned, ostracized and debased into full participation in the blessings of life in community. Those values should be front and center in all aspects and arenas of our living and relating.
“Have this mindset in yourselves that we see so vividly in Christ Jesus, who let go of self for the benefit of others in humble service, placing his own living in subjection to God’s reconciling mission,” Paul declared in Philippians 2 (my paraphrase). “By doing this and living as our own example, he earned the position and right of being the leader to whom all should bow in subservience.”
Leaders with this mindset embody empathy, compassion, humility, service and inclusion.
As the early church discovered, it is a welcome change from the status quo of the political realities so often surrounding us.
Unfortunately, such leadership tends to be rare, if for no other reason than we do not promote and elevate people with those qualities Jesus so prized.
We prefer heroes who embody other principles, principles that are opposed to all Jesus stood for.
If we elevate wolves to lead us, we should not be surprised when we wind up as prey.
Formerly a Baptist missionary in Mexico and Brasil, Harbin is a Provisional Elder with the United Methodist Church in Wingate, North Carolina. He has written several books, including On Immigration: Surveying Biblical Teaching on Issues of Immigration, Immigrants, Foreigners, and Strangers.