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I bent down in front of the Bangladeshi pastor to illustrate the act of washing another’s feet. He, like every other man in the small church building, was sitting cross-legged on the concrete floor. His feet were bare, as were mine; as were all forty-five pastors. His feet swiftly disappeared under his legs. I turned to the man seated next to him. Same reaction. The chuckles of all those watching these two uncomfortable responses added to the sermon illustration, but they, I, and all Christians must come to understand the truth of Scripture. The truth here is that servanthood, including following the Servant’s example at the Last Supper, requires a lowering of oneself as He did.

A day or two later, a thought occurred to me about that most significant foot-washing event in Christian history, the Last Supper. As the reader probably knows, Jesus, the Son of God, Savior, and Creator of the universe lowered Himself and bent down to wash His disciples’ feet like a servant. However, Peter rejected Jesus’ humble act, as the Bangladeshi  pastors had. We should note here that Peter was not the first disciple Jesus approached with the basin and the towel. This might cause us to wonder if Peter, having watched the previous disciples submit to this act, may have thought himself humbler than his fellows. When his time came he would show Jesus how true and humble he was.

“Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, ‘Lord, do you wash my feet?’ Jesus answered him, ‘What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.’ Peter said to him, ‘You shall never wash my feet’” (John 13:5–8a). 1

We’re not told if Peter’s feet disappeared like those of my two Bangladeshi brothers, but what Jesus said next was extraordinary:

“Jesus answered him, ‘If I do not wash you, you have no share with me’” (John 13:8b).

What does it mean that Peter would “have no share” with Jesus? The Louw & Nida Greek-English lexicon offers this about the word “share”: “ἔχω μέρος ἐν: (an idiom, literally ‘to have a part in’) to experience along with others—‘to experience together with, to share in experiencing.’ ὁ ἔχων μέρος ἐν τῇ ἀναστάσει τῇ πρώτῃ ‘one who experiences along with others the first resurrection’ Re 20:6.” 2

Thus, it is safe to safe to say that if Peter would not submit to Jesus’ servanthood, he would not know Jesus. He would have no experiential relationship with Him.

Let’s pause and think about this for a moment.

If we do not accept that an essential part of Jesus’ character is that of a servant, we do not truly know Him. And, since He told us that what He did that evening was His example of servanthood that we should follow, we will be “sharing with” Him as we behave as He did (John 13:12-15).

Extraordinary.

The Jews of Jesus’ day could not accept Him as the Messiah. Their anticipated Messiah was to be a holy, conquering hero, a greater David. When Jesus lowered Himself to have table fellowship with sinners, He was condemned as a false prophet (Luke 7:36-39). But the Jews greatest refusal came at the cross. This false messiah was clearly a fraud and a failure. He was being punished as a criminal. He had become a curse because He was hanging on a tree. He wasn’t going to conquer anyone or anything. He was a nothing. A dead man.

So much for human reasoning. Jesus brought the greatest truth, the greatest “success,” conquering, and victory in the weakness of the cross and His resurrection.

We Christians have too often found ourselves in the same camp as the Jews of Jesus’ day. We believe Jesus was and is a conqueror. We believe He will bring us “success” in our ministries and defeat the forces of darkness that oppose us. We have been taught for decades that we must learn how to be effective leaders to accomplish “successful” church growth as part of that victory. We like this leading stuff. It gets things done. It brings results. It keeps the machine oiled and moving. However, all of this has nothing to do with lowering oneself like a servant. Leading—Yes! Servanthood—Huh? What does that accomplish? We are not sure what do do with His statement that He came to serve, not be served (Matthew 20:20-28). We should acknowledge that Jesus didn’t say He came to lead; never, anywhere. No, He clearly told us that if we do not accept that servanthood—not leadership—is one of His essential characteristics, we have “no share with” Him and do not know Him.

Why don’t we care?

 

1All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

2Louw, J. P., & Nida, E. A. (1996). Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: based on semantic domains (electronic ed. of the 2nd edition., Vol. 1, p. 808). New York: United Bible Societies.

Gif courtesy Bing images.

 

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In the coming months, Laurie and I will be traveling to a foreign country to teach a group of pastors. One of the topics that will be addressed is leadership. I will tell these dedicated men that they should be very wary of—and even reject—many things that pastors and leaders from the West have taught them.

Please allow me to explain.

To allay any fears the reader may have, what I won’t be doing is criticizing the brothers who have traveled to this country with their digital folders overflowing with what is called “leadership principles.” These are men with hearts for the Lord and are endeavoring to instruct others what they think is good and helpful. Unfortunately—sadly—many of the “leadership principles” that they have taught contain little about biblical leadership. If moral teaching is involved concerning what a leader is, well, then, yes—they have done what is good and true. However, when we come to such topics as 14 Traits of Effective Church Leadership or 20 Characteristics of a Successful Leader,” we have strayed off the mark. What mark is that?

The biblical mark.

Before we proceed, I call your attention to the words “effective” and “successful” in the titles above. What is meant by these two words? Both spin within the galaxy of numerical church growth. Biblically, “successfully” and “effectively” growing and bearing fruit have nothing whatsoever with numerical growth informed by leadership principles. Growth, as Paul told us in 1 Corinthians, comes from God alone. Many of us live in an evangelical world where churches are just not up to snuff if they aren’t growing. The meme: A healthy church is a growing church. Thus, pastors are shepherds no longer. They are corporate leaders who run organizations which must “succeed” and be “effective” according to measures of the world, not of the Bible.

If you are skeptical about my claims, I invite you to peruse the New Testament to discover what biblical leadership is. What did these people do as leaders? How did they lead? And if you want to get down to the core of leadership, consider Jesus, our example. Was He a leader? How did He lead? Would He be a leader today?

In light of that inquiry, let’s look at one of Jesus’ commandments concerning leadership. When James and John approached Jesus and wanted to sit next to Him, ruling in His glory, Jesus replied:

“You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:42–45).1

This event is included in all three gospels. Luke added the characteristic of becoming “as the youngest” to be leader: “But not so with you. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves” (Luke 22:26).

It is right and proper, don’t you think, that we as Christians should ask the following questions?: “Do I as a pastor or a person in a position of authority, lead like a slave?  Like the youngest among us?” If not, why not?”

Secondly, “Do I lead like the Gentiles, exercising authority over others?” “Why?”

These are questions we as a group of pastors will be considering. They are very poor and perhaps have not been infected with church “success” and “leadership effectiveness” but rather have managed to emphasize fruitfulness and discipleship. We will look at Jesus, our example of leadership, who said, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” That “for even” indicates that if even Immanuel, God Almighty in the flesh, led like this, serving to the point of the sacrifice of His life, not as one exercising authority over others, it is obvious that we should, too.

You are invited to check out my book, Leadership on the Brink: The Church’s Confrontation with God’s Word, in which the topic of biblical leadership is addressed in depth.

 

1All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Gif courtesy giphy.com

 

 

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I tip my hat to the prophet Jeremiah. It will be interesting meeting such a man in God’s heavenly dwelling places. I wonder what that will be like. Of course, we have no way of knowing. But Jeremiah was so—strong. He is such a model—as all the prophets are—of dedication to the Lord God Almighty and the truth of His word.

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Leadership. It seems impossible to talk at any length about the Bible or the Church without the topic of leadership being discussed at some point. Rightly so. The men and women in Scripture who did great deeds for and with God were, indeed, leaders. Therefore, it is imperative for us to investigate the thoughts concerning leadership from a man who, except for Jesus Himself, is justifiably considered the greatest leader in the New Testament: Paul. From his perspective, what was the position and function of leaders in the Church of Jesus Christ?

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From time to time, I pray that the Lord will bring down the hierarchical structure of the Church, wherever it exists. Does this sound radical? Well, after studying the concept of leadership in the New Testament, I’ve come to very oppositional conclusions about what we so easily today call “leadership.”

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If someone were to broach the idea of starting a church with us, I would ask them to do the following research in the Bible and supply scriptural answers before we had a serious discussion about how to proceed:

Do a study in the Gospels about what Jesus taught about leadership. How did He tell us to lead? How did He tell us not to lead? How does what Jesus taught about leadership compare with what we teach?

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How about Paul? Did he have authority? He had abundant positional authority as a Pharisee—so much authority that he authorized the death and imprisonment of followers of the Way. However, he completely lost all of that hierarchical power when he became a Christian. Subsequently, however, he came into enormous spiritual authority. This authority was evidenced in the miracles that had been performed through him as well as in his suffering for the Lord and His Church, which he points out in his apostolic defense.

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What did Jesus teach His disciples about leadership? We know the answer. He taught them to lead by being servants, not as those who had power, position, or were seeking a following. “But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers. And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. Neither be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Christ. The greatest among you shall be your servant” (Matthew 23:8–11).

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What did Jesus teach His disciples about leadership? We know the answer. He taught them to lead by being servants, not as those who had power, position, or were seeking a following. “But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers. And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. Neither be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Christ. The greatest among you shall be your servant” (Matthew 23:8–11).

Jesus teaches us that the greatest among Christian is a servant. Is that how we lead today in the Western Church? Well, we say we do, by virtue of the fact that pastors and leaders give themselves sacrificially for the church and the staff, by teaching, counseling, working hard, and building teams and programs. However, that isn’t what Jesus meant when He talked about servant leadership. He was clear. Let’s look at what He said in Matthew 20:25-28.

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Leadership has been the most taught and discussed topic in the American church in my lifetime. When I did a search recently on Amazon, there were 15,758 hits on the topic of Christian leadership. It makes sense. It doesn’t take much reading in Scripture to find leadership being manifested in one form or another by notable individuals in the Bible. Yet if we do a word search through the Scripture, we find a paucity of references under that word. Why is that? I think the reason we find so little use of the word “leader” in Scripture is because that aspect, that virtue, is secondary in God’s view. Perhaps not even secondary. Therefore, it’s troubling when we have made it our number one emphasis for so many years. If we read about God’s leaders in Scripture, we’ll find, overwhelmingly, an emphasis on only two traits: godliness and obedient, active faith in the power and ability of God.

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