I grew-up with the image of Jesus working alongside the disciples. Yes, he spoke in front of crowds, but he also washed their feet. He did the “dirty work” of touching the religiously unclean, having conversations with the socially outcast, and he himself, slept on the ground.
Jesus was with them, demonstrating what it was like to live in the new kingdom.
I do not see him lazily basking in the sun with a distant smile of approval as the disciples distributed the multiplying bread and fish, but he too, helping and being in the moment. He too actively partaking in the miraculous picnic.
I see Jesus taking off his own sandals, preparing his own bed by the fire, helping the old woman stand who had just been listening to him speak.
He did not wait for others to do it for him. He did not expect them to.
I see this in Jesus, as my Jesus wouldn’t just ask for water from the woman at the well, but also give water back in return. He would not be too proud to do the work himself. He would not ask others to do the work he wouldn’t do.
And then finally, when he commissioned others to go forth, they knew what to do because they had been watching him.
They saw in him a servant of servants.
And this is how I have always seen the church as set-apart.
Jesus came not to rule, but to serve – and in only showing us, teaching us, and pointing towards God was he a leader. Servant by commission and purpose, leader by human necessity.
And in his commissioning of others, we are to do the same.
We are to be servants first, and out of the necessity to get things done, we find the need for organized leadership. But that leadership is not to be focused in one individual, or a certain group, but spread among all God’s people.
The servant-leaders, like Jesus, and there to equip others, so that they may too become servant-leaders and in their turn equip others. It is a messy business, but the work that God – Christ – has called us to.
Servant-leaders are those who do not see themselves above others, but realize that their experiences, knowledge and lives are as valid as those of others. That their life and faith journeys are no more special than someone else’s. That what they have to say is no more important than the voice of others. Servant-leaders provide space and opportunities for others to grow, participate, and flourish, even when – maybe especially when – that means the servant-leader needs to set-aside their pride, assumed knowledge, and organizational control. The servant-leader leads by serving…serving God’s people, as Christ did.
But along the way, I’ve come across another model, that of servant/leader. They are a servant to God, to Jesus Christ, and a leader to God’s people.
Perhaps semantics, but in application, a huge difference. Servant/leaders are dedicated servants to God, they also take seriously their leadership role in decision making for the people of God. They refrain from bringing all voices to the table (especially those who may be on a different place on their life/faith path), deny equipping people with the skills and abilities to serve others in the ways those people feel called (only permitting them to grow in ways the servant/leader needs them to), and ultimately determine who is under their leadership (rather than letting the individuals themselves determine if they want to be part of the community).
Any leader has responsibility, a role in making final decisions. But how they go about it, their process, what their end-game is…where their heart is…makes the difference.
Are they servants to God’s people as Jesus was, or are they a servant only to God, and a replacement for our politicians, CEOs, and other worldly leaders?
Jesus made a point of not being a replacement King, but a new kind of leader. And in that, we are commissioned, in our fallible humanity, to strive to do the same.