Last week, Josh talked about the role of ritual. It isn’t that ritual is bad, or useless, or unimportant...rituals have a place in our lives. When we get married or buried...we have a ritual for that. When we get up in the morning...we generally have a ritual we go through. We have a human need for ritual. But when it comes to our faith, ritual cannot replace relationship with God.
The key verse for me last week is Jesus’ quote from Isaiah, ““These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.” It is the difference between taking communion because that is just something you always do vs. recognizing that God is present and working as we take communion.
Today we are going to look at another aspect of Discipleship...Jesus’ vision of leadership.
Some may ask why is leadership a discipleship issue...
Well there are two reason:
1. Have you ever seen a group of people try to function without a leader? It is horrible. They wander around doing this or that, but not really getting anything done. Watch one episode of Survivor. People are trying not to get voted off so no one takes leadership. Shelters are shoddy. Fires are non-existent. Without leadership, the tribe ends up in worse shape than if someone had just stepped up and led. So leadership is important if something is going to move forward, have purpose and meaning, and accomplish what it is meant to accomplish.
But that also reminds us that leadership is an important issue because...
2. Have you ever worked for a bad boss? Worked or served under a bad leader? Have you ever worked for someone was more concerned for their career or the authority than for people? If the church is going to move forward it requires leaders, but it requires leaders who care more for the Jesus’ vision of the Kingdom of God and for the people than for authority and power and their own concerns.
As we look at Scripture we see Jesus calling people to follow him and be his disciples...out of that he calls 12 men to be Apostles...out of that 12 he calls 3 men, Peter, James, and John...and in Acts we see that Peter steps up and takes the lead. Leadership is important. But as we learn to live in this new way of the Kingdom, we are called to have a different understanding of leadership than the world around us.
This morning we are going to look at two different passages that will help us. Our first passage is
33 They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the road?” 34 But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest.
35 Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.”
36 He took a little child whom he placed among them. Taking the child in his arms, he said to them, 37 “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.”
Welcoming a Child
In our first story, the disciples argue about who is the greatest. They want to know the pecking order...who gets to tell who what to do...how respected and valuable am I. Most of us, if we think about it, know where we stand in our organizations. Maybe at work you are somewhere in the middle, and at home you are at the top. Maybe you are at the top in both places. Or you are at the bottom in both places. I have been at the top and I have been at the bottom.
Notice, though, when Jesus asks them what they were discussing...they just know something is wrong with what they were doing. They have been with Jesus long enough to know He isn’t running things the same way as everyone else around them. He keeps talking about this Kingdom of God and how it is different...and they know their maneuvering for position is out of touch with Jesus’ vision.
Jesus says, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.” And that doesn’t sound like any leadership advice they have ever heard.
Then Jesus does something no one expected. He brings a small child into the center of the group and says, “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.” He takes an individual from society, a child, who has no rights, no standing, nothing...someone who is at the bottom of everything, and makes this little child the standard for leadership.
While the disciples jockey for position and respect and control...Jesus says the person willing to welcome those on the bottom of society not only welcomes Him, but also welcomes God the Father. True leadership in the Kingdom rests in serving others and welcoming those whom no one else cares about.
Let’s read our second passage:
35 Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. “Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask.”
36 “What do you want me to do for you?” he asked.
37 They replied, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.”
38 “You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said. “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?”
39 “We can,” they answered.
Jesus said to them, “You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with, 40 but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared.”
41 When the ten heard about this, they became indignant with James and John. 42 Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 43 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Servant of All
Our second story is similar to our first...except this time James and John go secretly to Jesus to jockey for position. Jesus didn’t give a good enough answer. In fact, He didn’t give an answer at all about who was in charge so there is an opening.
They ask Jesus to let them sit at His right and at His left hand when He establishes His kingdom. These were positions of power. Have you ever heard someone called a “right-hand man”? That comes from a day when the King would have someone sitting on his right who wielded the power of Kingdom. When they spoke it was as though the King himself spoke. Sitting on the right and the left is like being number 2 and 3 in command.
They have visions of grandeur and power. They get to be Jesus’ right and left and put others in their place. But Jesus knows leadership always costs something. There is a price to pay. Leadership is difficult. For Jesus, it means sacrificing His life on a cross. James and John have their eyes on the authority and respect a leader receives, but true leadership requires the leader to sacrifice.
The other Disciples are furious when they discover what James and John have done. But Jesus has a teaching moment with them. His Kingdom, the Kingdom of God, has a different set of values. The leaders of this world love power and control and authority, and they lord it over those under them. But those who lead in the Kingdom of God do not seek the position of authority, but the position of a slave. The true leader is a servant. Greatness is determined by who serves, not who dominates and overpowers.
A Different Kind of Leadership
Jesus is doing something completely different from what we see in the world around us. His expectations for leadership are based on serving and loving rather than domination and power.
That is the vision Jesus has laid out for us, and while the church is meant to be the example of Jesus’ style of leadership, it has often reverted to authority, power, domination, and control. Rather than serve our way into people’s hearts, we have sought political office and power. Rather than preach the example and holiness of Christ, we create rules. Rather than wait for the Holy Spirit, we use guilt.
Our world sees too much of the wrong kind of leadership, and it is time they see Jesus’ kind. We are part of a new Kingdom, a new way of functioning in our world. We are called to be an example of the Kingdom of God...an example of Heaven and earth meeting and functioning as God designed. That is why Paul says, “your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit...” The temple was the residence of God on earth. It was the place where the heavenly realm and the earthly realm touched, and because of the cross the place where heaven and earth meet is you...it is me.
So when Jesus starts applying this to us and to our leadership He means something very different from what the world around us means when it speaks of leadership.
So what does it mean for us to be leaders?
1. Leadership is about serving not position or title.
It took me a long time to realize this. True leadership doesn’t need a position or title to support it. I foolishly believed that having the title of pastor meant people would follow and I would receive their support and love...and was I wrong. They will love you when you are leading in a direction they like...but try to do something they don’t agree with and you lose some skin.
Having a position and title are very different from leading people. They can overlap, but they are not the same thing. We all know the person who believes their title or position makes them a leader. I have worked for bosses who rather than lead depended on their title to boss people around. I did what they said, but they did not lead me.
We have seen people who assume their role of leadership at the church makes them better or more important somehow...rather than seeing it as a responsibility of service. So they sit on a church board and assert their position to keep an entire church from participating in the vision of the Kingdom of God.
When we look at history the greatest leaders were not leaders because of a title, they were leaders because they served and loved and cared and were working toward an important vision. There is a difference between the leadership of a Hitler or Stalin and the leadership of Ghandi and Nelson Mandela.
Long before he received the title of President, Nelson Mandela was a leader. He was imprisoned for 27 years because he believed white and black South Africans should work together. He envisioned a day when South Africa could be a place free from apartheid and ruled by democracy. He worked hard to fight poverty and inequality...and most of the time he did this without title or position from prison.
For Nelson Mandela, for Jesus, and so also for us...true leadership begins with a vision for something better that leads us to serve...for Jesus and for us that vision is the Kingdom of God. In order for us to make that shift in our thinking from ordinary disciple to leader we must recognize the power of the vision laid before us.
Imagine a world where forgiveness and love and real justice and mercy rule! Where God’s presence is active and working in people’s lives. Where people pursue God’s holiness not because of rules, but because of love.
What could our world look like if the Kingdom of God were present and functioning? What would our world look like if we really prayed, believed, and lived out the line from the Lord’s Prayer, “Your Kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven...”?
When we have that vision in mind...when we are captured by its power...no sacrifice...no cross...no cup or baptism is too much to bear in order to see it realized in our world.
That is the vision that inspires me to plant this church...believing that as a church we can do our part to extend the Kingdom of God into our community. To love and forgive and serve as Jesus did. That we can be a place where thousands of people come to know Jesus and learn to live out the Kingdom of God in their everyday lives. And we get there not with power and authority and position...but by serving and loving and caring for people.
2. Leadership is about sacrificing for the Kingdom of God.
I mentioned it briefly a minute ago, but this truth is an important part of leadership. When we have been captured by the vision the Kingdom of God...no sacrifice...no cross...no cup or baptism is too much to bear in order to see it realized in our world. You can tell those who are captured by the vision and willing to lead because they are willing to sacrifice and put up with a lot of tough things in order to see the vision accomplished.
Andrew Carnegie once said, “Anything worth having is worth working for.” We could rephrase that to say, “Any vision worth accomplishing is worth sacrificing for.” If something is really important to us...we will go after it no matter the cost.
Athletes and business owners know this. It is no fun to show up day after day and workout in a gym or on the track. It is no fun to risk your entire life savings and work 16 hours a day. But when you are captured by a vision you are willing to assume some risks and endure some pain to achieve it.
God has a vision far greater than a gold medal or the next big business idea...He calls us to experience the Kingdom of God and then witness its power to others. We are asked to live in such a way that others recognize the Kingdom of God at work in us. We help change the eternal destiny of people. That is something worth sacrificing for. We are here not because we want recognition or power over people, but because we want to see lives changed.
We are starting a church because people need Jesus. They need the power of God’s Kingdom at work in their lives. Marriages need saved. Reconciliation needs to take place. Forgiveness needs to happen. Hurts need healed. People need Jesus’ salvation. That is worth sacrificing for.
3. Everyone is a Leader Somewhere.
I don’t want to water down the idea of leadership so it becomes a meaningless term. Even in the Early Church there were positions and titles. The Apostle Paul recognized leadership as a spiritual gift given to some, and he appointed elders and deacon and bishops.
But rather than diminish the idea of leadership this reminds us that we are all given a place of leadership. When we remove the ideas of position and title as the mark of leadership...we see that everyone of us is a leader somewhere. We have a responsibility to lead through our service where God has called us to lead.
For some of us that position is more visible and outfront...for others more behind the scenes. Some of us will lead as pastors and teachers and elders in the church. Others will lead as ministry directors and others as people who set up the chairs and equipment. Others of us will lead as Business owners and teachers in our communities. We will lead as husbands and fathers and wives and mothers. We will lead as employees. But everyone of us will lead somewhere.
And, as disciples, we are given the responsibility of leading those around us closer to the Kingdom of God.
It is tempting to think that a leader who serves is a weak leader or a pushover. Servants are seen as being at the whim of those they serve. But I would argue that being a Servant Leader requires strong leadership because while we serve others...ultimately we serve God first. Jesus was not a weak leader. He was able to serve and hold people to account.
Leadership at any place on the spectrum requires courage. It takes courage to see a vision and do what needs done in the face of hardship and resistance. People will resist and fight against you. They will support your leadership and then disappoint and betray. But that is why leadership is about pursuit of a vision and not the consensus of the people.
Jesus calls us to serve and love and forgive...and to extend those even to our enemies. I don’t know if you have heard how others think we should treat our enemies, political opponents, and people who have hurt us...but they don’t reflect the vision that Jesus has laid out for us. A vision of love and forgiveness extended even to those who have hurt us and disagree with us.
So it takes courage, in the face of opposition, to lead...to extend the Kingdom of God.
People have been fired from their jobs, imprisioned, called names, lost their standing in the community, rejected, and even killed...all because they believed the vision laid out by Jesus was worth pursuing...and that takes courage.
For us as a church, I see some great things ahead as we pursue the Kingdom of God here in Huber Heights. I see thousands of people being saved and becoming part of our church, marriages healed, forgiveness and reconciliation taking place...but I also see resistance and push back from people inside the church who want church as normal and don’t want to change and push back from people outside the church who think that a church should stay in its place and pushback from people in other churches who think we don’t preach the Gospel because we believe in the radical ideas of grace and forgiveness and acceptance.
But just as you and I need courage to lead in our everyday lives...we, as a church, will face these challenges with courage...believing that what God thinks of us is more important than what anyone else thinks of us.