Christian Leadership Myth #1.
As you know, I rant on and on about how we use language. I do that because I’ve seen the ill affects in my own life of adopting agreed upon terms and assuming we all knew what they meant, only to find out later that almost no one agreed on the definition or even understood the term itself.
“Christian Leadership” is one such term. Never mind my dislike of the term “Christian.” You’ve heard me talk enough about why I think that’s an unnecessary and unhelpful term. But when you put that word – Christian – along side the word “Leadership” it really gets whacky. But I never questioned that phrase until the last few years – and here’s why.
From the time I was 18 years old, others called me “a leader.” I was a youth group leader when I was a teenager. I was a junior high camp counselor when I was 19. I was a peer leader in YWAM when I was 21. At 23 I was leading our singles group at church. I led small groups at 25. I went on staff at church when I was 27 and got ordained when I was 29. Then was sent to Lebanon to “lead” a whole missions enterprise at 30. I was a Christian Leader.
And boy did I ever study leadership. I read everything John Maxwell wrote. I read tons of business books on management, leadership and operations. I knew how to define the Vision, The Mission and The Purpose – and I knew the difference between those three. I knew that Leaders Read and Readers Lead. So I read a LOT. Can’t remember if that’s what made me a leader or I simply read a lot because I was a leader. Maybe both.
I knew that Influence=Leadership. I knew that authority didn’t come from titles or structural position but came from God and relationships. I understood the power of clear and frequent communication with the team. I knew a ton of stuff about Leadership.
The problem was more about the expectations that this term places on the person. Christian Leadership. Wow. Think about it. Here’s why don’t like that term and much that goes with it:
1. You knew it was coming – but my first point of dislike is that the term doesn’t appear in the Scriptures anywhere. “Leadership” is a concept, for sure, but the word itself is neither glorified nor exemplified in the Bible. And “Christian Leadership” is for sure not anywhere to be found.
2. It places me at the center and moves Jesus to the sideline. If I’m “The leader,” then who is Jesus and what is he doing? He ends up helping me – instead of the other way around.
3. It diminishes the power of the team. I can talk team and friends and partners all I want, but If I (and others around me) keep referring to me as “The Leader” then it’s not easy to convince the rest of “my followers” that we’re peers and equals and Jesus is the leader.
4. There’s a fairly clear prohibition against calling myself “the leader.” Matthew 23:8 says, “But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers.” That’s fairly clear. Jesus wasn’t big on titles.
The true model, and the word that describes that model, as to who we are with each other is – Servant. That’s where we get the word “minister.” And unfortunately, we quickly turn that into a noun and make people “Ministers.” To serve is a verb. When you serve people, you do become a “leader” in a certain fashion. But as soon as we turn that into a position or a job or a title – we lose the heart of what we are taught by our One Leader – Jesus himself – who did not come to be served, but to serve and give his life as a ransom for many!
I want to serve like that.