Leadership. For many of us the word leaves a bad taste. For some it evokes a sense of deep disappointment, emotional pain or abandonment. And for far too many it awakens traumatic memories of spiritual abuse.
Jesus didn’t have a lot to say about leadership, except to warn the disciples that His idea of leadership wasn’t the same as theirs (Mark 10:42-45). But He did have quite a bit to say about authority¹. So, is there a difference? Sadly, there can be a vast difference.
To know what leadership should look like in the Body of Christ we need look no further than Jesus. Throughout His ministry, however, it was His spiritual authority that defined His leadership. Those He interacted with recognised in Him a different kind of authority to the self-proclaimed authority they observed in their religious leaders. Jesus did not proclaim Himself as a leader or claim a leadership title. He didn’t need to. As He regularly pointed out, it was others who gave Him titles:
You call Me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. (Jn. 13:13)
Why do you call Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say? (Lk. 6:46)
He said to them ‘But who do you say that I am?’ (Mt. 16:15)
When Pilate asked Him if He was King of the Jews, He replied ‘it is as you say’ (Mt. 27:11, Jn. 18:37).
Even when His disciples received the revelation from the Spirit that Jesus was the Christ, He warned them not to talk about it to others (Mt. 16:15-20). Could it be that Jesus preferred the Holy Spirit, rather than human opinion, to reveal who He was? Only when questioned under oath in a court of law by the Jewish elders did He verbally confirm He was the Son of God and the Messiah (Mat. 26:63-64). And to a Samaritan woman at a well He confirmed He was Messiah only after the Spirit began to reveal Him (Jn. 4:25-26)
When Jesus did talk about Himself He spoke in terms of function rather than title². He said He was ‘the bread of life’, or ‘the light of the world’ to demonstrate an aspect of His service towards people, not a position over people. His favourite name for Himself, “son of man”, highlighted His humanity rather than His divinity. He chose to identify with us to the utmost degree.
Yet anyone who spent any time at all observing Jesus recognised His supernatural authority:
Now so it was that after three days they found Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard Him were astonished at His understanding and answers. Luke 2:46-47
When Jesus had finished these words, the crowds were amazed at His teaching; for He was teaching them as one having authority, and not as their scribes. Mt. 7:29
But when the crowds saw this, they were awestruck, and glorified God, who had given such authority to men. Mt. 9:8
They were all amazed, so that they debated among themselves, saying, “What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey Him.” Mar. 1:27
And He came down to Capernaum, a city of Galilee, and He was teaching them on the Sabbath and they were amazed at His teaching, for His message was with authority. Luke 4:31,32
Now Jesus started on His way with them; and when He was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends, saying to Him, “Lord, do not trouble Yourself further, for I am not worthy for You to come under my roof; for this reason I did not even consider myself worthy to come to You, but just say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I also am a man placed under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to this one, ‘Go!’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come!’ and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this!’ and he does it.” Luke 7:6-8
The officers answered, “No man ever spoke like this Man!” Jn. 7:46
It was Jesus’ unmatched authority, not His leadership skills, that ordinary people marvelled at and religious leaders feared. His authority did not flow from any position bestowed on him by men, because He had no such position. On the contrary, it was His spiritual authority, imparted by the Spirit of God, that revealed Him as a leader.
Things have changed.
Within the organised Body of Christ leadership by authentic spiritual authority has largely been abandoned in favour of leadership by position. Church leadership is frequently assigned to those who best meet a pre-defined job description rather than an individual displaying God-given authority as Jesus did. In many cases the people assigned leadership positions carry no spiritual anointing for the position they fill, but they are chosen on the basis of education, experience, connections and even gender. Too often having a well referenced CEO style leader at the helm has become preferable to having someone with evidence of mature fruit of the Spirit.
It’s because of this reversal that titles and, in some cases, ecclesiastic uniforms have become so prominent. If men and women of God were recognizable by their spiritual authority, robes, collars and other such identifying objects would be unnecessary. So would special titles and business cards announcing ‘apostle’, ‘prophet’, ‘reverend’ and such like. Without such aids to distinguish such ‘leaders’ in the Body of Christ from the rest of us, how many would be recognised, as Christ was, by their spiritual authority alone?
Personally, I don’t care how many robes, collars or business cards people wear or carry in their pockets if I discern in them the spiritual authority that only comes via the Holy Spirit. Anyone in who that anointed authority is present, wielded with the humility and love of Christ, will have my respect. But leadership is about trust and trust should not automatically be granted based on title, position and a matching outfit. There are many of us seeking something more substantive from those who wish to be recognised among us as leaders.
What are we looking for? Just for starters:
We are looking for a genuine humility that walks unashamedly alongside us in the ordinary turmoil of our everyday lives without needing to be heralded or pandered to;
We are looking for hands and feet that will be the first to plunge into the sin-laden muck of this world so those who are trapped and covered in its filth will know they are not alone;
We are seeking those whose tears flow quick and free and whose faith is joyfully tangible;
We are desperate for leaders who love serving more than they love leading;
We are heartsick for leadership whose love is sacrificial, whose mistakes and failures are unashamedly transparent, whose intimacy with Jesus is as real as it is contagious, and who radiate a crucified Christ;
We need leadership that abandons the platform, that seeks fellowship with the weak and the wayward, and is neither threatened by our successes nor embarrassed by our failures.
And frankly we need leadership that has set its face towards Calvary rather than the nearest bank.
Quite simply, we are looking for Christ in our leaders, both His grace and His authority. We are exhausted with leadership hierarchies built on personality, doctorates, conference speaking and book authorship. Our souls ache for nothing less than authentic spiritual authority endowed by the Holy Spirit.
Jesus didn’t bestow titles on His disciples. He bestowed His Kingdom. He didn’t set rulers over His Body, He sent out servants. When He called some of them apostles it was more often than not a death sentence.
Leadership. For many of us the word leaves a bad taste. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Perhaps, as a kingdom of priests, we can begin to let go of our dependence on titles, positions and personal charisma and start discerning genuine spiritual authority in one another. By God’s grace we can then, together, move forward.
¹(Matt. 9:6; 21:23-27; 28:18; Mark 13:34; Luke 9:1; 10:19; 19:17; Jn. 10:18; 14:10; 19:11).
²Jesus called Himself the Bread of Life to demonstrate He could satisfy the hunger of the human soul (Jn. 6:35). He told Martha He was the Resurrection and the Life and then demonstrated by raising her brother from the grave (Jn. 11:25). After refusing to condemn the woman caught in adultery He said He was the Light of the World to demonstrate that the darkness of sin need no longer rule humanity (Jn. 8:210-12). He said I am the door of the sheep to demonstrate He was the gateway to eternal life (Jn. 10:7). He said I am the good Shepherd, to demonstrate laying down His life for His disciples (Jn. 10:11). He said I am the true vine, to demonstrate His mediation between the human branches and the Father (Jn. 15:1)
© Cheryl McGrath, Bread for the Bride, 2015 and beyond. Copyright Notice: Permission is granted to freely reproduce any Bread for the Bride articles in emails or internet blogs, unaltered, and providing this copyright notice is included. To permanently display an article on any static website please contact me for permission.