Wednesday, February 05, 2003

The Choosing and Training of the Twelve -- Servant Leadership

This is part 8 of a series covering the choosing and training of the twelve disciples. To start at the beginning, click here.

Servant Leadership

Luke records this event during the Passover before Jesus' arrest.

A dispute also started among them over which of them was to be regarded as the greatest. (Luke 22:24, The Net Bible)

By this we know that the twelve discussed and disputed rank among themselves up to the very day of Jesus' arrest and crucifixion. Being in the inner circle can go to one's head. Those years that they spent alongside Jesus were full of the expectation of an emerging Kingdom. Jesus would sit on His throne in glory and they would be the upper crust of His administration. But only one of them could sit at His right; one more could sit at His left; and the remaining ten would have lesser positions. They argued, seemingly often, about who would claim the most honorable positions. Even proud parents entered the fray:

Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came to him with her sons, and kneeling down she asked him for a favor. He said to her, “What do you want?” She replied, “Permit these two sons of mine to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.” Jesus answered, “You don’t know what you are asking! Are you able to drink the cup I am about to drink?” They said to him, “We are able.” He told them, “You will drink my cup, but to sit at my right and at my left is not mine to give. Rather, it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.” Now when the other ten heard this, they were angry with the two brothers. (Matthew 20:20-24)

You can bet they were angry with this underhanded move. It is remarkable that this band of twelve men to not come apart at the seams. But who was going to leave with such opportunity looming.

In the meantime, Jesus taught and modeled a better way. Even though it did not connect before His death, it certainly became evident after His resurrection. To see this, let's continue the story of John, James, the meddling mother, and the disgruntled ten:

But Jesus called them and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those in high positions use their authority over them. It must not be this way among you! Instead whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:25-28)

This is the course on "Servant Leadership." This is leadership that oversees the welfare of those entrusted to you. John Haggai defines leadership this way:

Leadership is the discipline of deliberately exerting special influence within a group to move it toward goals of beneficial permanence that fulfill the group's real needs. (Haggai, John, Lead On. Waco: Word Books, 1986 p. 4)

Contrast John Haggai's definition of leadership with Jesus' words, "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those in high positions use their authority over them." Compare Haggai's words with "whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant." Servant Leadership is not the way the world sees things. Servant Leadership lays down its own life for the sake of the followers.

Godly leadership is sacrificial from the top down. A Leader is responsible for the welfare of a group. Authority is given as a tool to bring about that welfare. Any other use of authority is corrupting. Note John Haggai's notion that a leader "excerpts special influence within a group to move it." He uses the words "influence" and "within" to describe the kind of leadership the world desperately needs.

In spite of Jesus' teaching, the disciples argued over who was the greatest up to the last supper. At that time, Jesus demonstrated Servant Leadership principles in an extraordinary way:

Because Jesus knew that the Father had handed all things over to him, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, he got up from the meal, removed his outer clothes, took a towel and tied it around himself. He poured water into the washbasin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to dry them with the towel he had wrapped around himself. Then he came to Simon Peter. Peter said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus replied, “You do not understand what I am doing now, but you will understand after these things.” Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet!” Jesus replied, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, wash not only my feet, but also my hands and my head!” Jesus replied, “The one who has bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean. And you disciples are clean, but not every one of you.” (For Jesus knew the one who was going to betray him. For this reason he said, “Not every one of you is clean.”) So when Jesus had washed their feet and put his outer clothing back on, he took his place at the table again and said to them, “Do you understand what I have done for you? You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and do so correctly, for that is what I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you too ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example: you should do just as I have done for you. I tell you the solemn truth, the slave is not greater than his master, nor is the one who is sent as a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you understand these things, you will be blessed if you do them. (John 13:3-17)

I love how this section begins, "Because Jesus knew that the Father had handed all things over to him." Astounding! Because Jesus had all authority, He stripped to His undergarments to wash the feet of those entrusted to His care. He did what those clamoring for position expected someone else to do. This is the example Christian leaders must follow. This is the example that fathers must have in their homes. This is the example that pastors and elders must follow in their churches. We are to lay down our lives as Christ laid down His life for the Church. Godly leadership is sacrificial from the top down.

Jesus taught and modeled Servant Leadership, but at the last supper it looked like every student in the class was going to fail. They still argued about who was greatest. Did it ever change and, if so, what brought it about? Change it did for several reasons. First of all, none of the twelve made a good showing the night of the arrest. Judas Iscariot betrayed Him. Peter denied knowing Him, and all but John ran away and hid. Who was going to claim right hand rights after that? Second, Jesus appeared to several people the day of His resurrection. The women saw Him first, and two disciples walking to Emmaus spent an afternoon in conversation. Ten of the eleven remaining disciples did not see Him until the evening. So, Jesus refused to give the inner circle inner privilege. Third, Jesus death and resurrection showed them in stark terms their destiny as leaders. Jesus had asked James and John, "Can you drink the cup that I will drink." Now they knew of what they must drink. Fourth, the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost gave them power and enablement to walk the Servant Leader path.

Jesus taught and modeled the kind of leadership needed in life. As he surrendered His life, the flimsy foundation on which His disciples based their claims to greatness crashed and lay in shambles. When He rose from the dead, He sent news to them of this great event and left them to wonder about their place and position. These two actions made them teachable and with the Holy Spirit able to lead as those who lay down their lives for those in their care.

Godly leadership is sacrificial from the top down. To those with a mind and heart to do so, lay down your life and lead on.

Thursday: A Course in Advanced Faith

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