"(The Pharisees) do all their deeds to be seen by others...and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi by others," Jesus said to his disciples. "But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers." – Jesus (Matthew 23:5)
These instructions from our Lord Jesus are all but forgotten in today's Church. The organizations that dot the fruited plane with His name over the door have not followed the advice of their founder when it comes to leadership.
In fact, not only do we have numerous "rabbis" and "teachers" clogging the airwaves and bookshelves in our modern version of Christendom, we have also become obsessed with the concept of leadership in the Church. We have Leadership Conferences and Leadership Study Bibles and Leadership sections in our bookstores – all devoted to making you and I better leaders.
With all this special attention placed on leadership and raising up leaders, it's almost as if we’re doing all we can to avoid the idea of being merely a follower. Our obsession with leadership suggests to everyone that to be a follower is to be pathetically average. To be a follower is to be lazy. Only those who lack ambition are just followers. It's only the serious Christians who desire to be successful and to be successful in the Body of Christ means being identified as a person with leadership skills and the potential to lead others.
In our lust for position as leaders we've convinced ourselves that being a leader is part of fulfilling our command to make disciples and preach the Gospel to every creature. Yet we cannot truly make a disciple (a follower) unless we ourselves are also disciples and followers of Jesus. This means we must first become devoted to the idea of humbling ourselves daily, taking up our cross, and following Jesus before we dare to instruct someone else in this path.
If our desire to lead is based on the idea that we're a better speaker or teacher than someone else, or if it's based on the feeling we get when people treat us like leaders, then we're in leadership for the wrong reasons.
I can remember being at pastors conferences where the idea of being seen as a great leader in the eyes of all the other great leaders was the only thing on anyone's mind, including my own. All the posturing, the off-hand remarks about the size of my church or the casual references to the innovative approach we were taking to ministry were all calculated to raise my stature in the eyes of the other pastors in the room. It didn't seem so bad to me at the time because everyone else was behaving the same way. Today I realize there's more to leadership than being perceived as the one with all the answers and I fully repent of this self-centered pursuit of man's approval.
Our ultimate model for leadership is Jesus. He demonstrated a leadership style that flies in the face of our popular ideas of what it means to be a leader. Jesus laid aside his great authority and power and humbled himself from the very beginning, taking on the role of a servant, making himself nothing. Our attitude should be the same. (See Philippians chapter 2).
Even in the House Church Movement we have started to fall into this leadership-centric mindset with authors and experts being sought after to speak at large conferences around the country. We're beginning to create our very own house church celebrities now, and this troubles me. If there's anything our movement can contribute to the Church as a whole it's the concept that everyone matters, not just the leaders among us who instruct and guide us.
Jesus was the one who told his disciples that the one who wants to be the leader has to be willing to wash feet, and serve others and put their needs ahead of their own. "The greatest among you shall be your servant," Jesus said. "Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted." (see Matthew 23:5-12)
It may not be sexy to merely follow Jesus today, but it's the main thing each of us is called to be – a humble follower of Jesus who teaches others how to humbly follow Jesus too.
I pray each of us can learn to embrace the simplicity of following Jesus in our daily lives.
More than anything else, I hope I can