Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Prince Became a Pauper

This upcoming Easter Sunday celebrates the center of the Christian belief, the death and resurrection of Jesus. However, this week also has another holiday of great importance, namely Passover. The feast of Passover is a Jewish holiday that celebrates the deliverance that God provides for the Israelite people. For Christians, the holiday is sometimes observed in remembrance of the “last supper”. According to the gospel accounts of Jesus' days before His death, He celebrated Passover with His disciples the night He was betrayed. At Passover, Jesus did something that was radically countercultural for the time: He washed His disciples feet. In the Jewish culture, washing someone's feet was something that the women (Jewish Encyclopedia) or servants (Jackson) did. Not the host, and certainly not a rabbi! Jesus was setting a standard for the future leaders under Him. The leaders are to be the servants.
(Taken from

In 1964, businessman Robert K. Greenleaf published an essay titled "The Servant as a Leader," in which he argued that the most effective way to lead was to be a servant ( That is, the person who is most interesting in serving and caring for a group should be the one who leads it. Servant leadership is an inverted business model. The traditional view of leadership within a company might resemble the comic strip Dilbert. The employees working for a boss, the boss's job is to manage and direct what they need to be doing, and then taking credit for what they do. The inverted model of leadership suggests that the boss's job is to work for his employees that they can do their job more effectively. The boss still leads and manages, but acts as a steward of the work that goes on, instead of a director. This inverted model that Greenleaf championed was not a brand new idea, but rather the same thing that Jesus taught, the we have to serve first, lead second.

Yet, one has to ask the question: is this a practical leadership model? While in our ivory towers of philosophical musing, have we overlooked reality? Groups need leaders so that there can be consistent direction and purpose. The leader takes responsibility for those under them, and guides them to a purpose. Can a leader really do this and still serve their followers? Not everyone thinks so. According to Nathan Colquhoun, servant leadership doesn't work because the title leader, or the position of leadership, is directly opposed to serving. He argues that Jesus did not teach His disciples to be servant leaders, just servants. He says: "Our problem is that we have way too many people thinking they are leaders and not servants. Servant-leadership doesn’t count. There is no such thing. Just be a servant. Let the leadership lingo slip from your language. If people end up following you, don’t focus on that, just keep serving."

While Colquhoun has a valid point, our focus should not be on title, I disagree with his dichotomy of leadership and servanthood. To ignore the responsibility of leadership in the name of service is just as bad as not serving those whom one is leading. As I shared in a blog post a few weeks ago, leadership is a huge responsibility, and if a leader fails to recognize their position, they are in danger of neglecting their duty as a leader. It is not the title that makes the leader, however, with or without a title, the responsibility of a leader must be recognized. It seems that leadership and servant-ship have a "yin-yang" relationship. Almost like Jesus knew what He was talking about.

To answer the earlier question; does servant leadership work? According to the Navy SEALs, yes. Former Navy SEAL and author Brent Gleeson noted, that Navy SEALs understand servant leadership and can do it effectively because:
...a SEAL is trained to lead and to follow. Team leaders are strong and bold, and have the ability to make hard decisions under the most extreme conditions imaginable. But they also encourage their team members to step up, share the power, and not hesitate to take care of business without waiting for further instruction.
If the Navy SEALs, (who are essentially the Rangers of the North of the real world), along with Greenleaf, and Jesus, believe in and practice servant leadership, shouldn't we?

When Jesus washed His disciple's feet, the sheer level of humility and servanthood was far greater and grander than most CEOs or even Navy SEALs could ever imagine. The bible teaches that Jesus was not merely a nice guy, but rather God Himself, who lowered Himself to be a human. At Passover, as they celebrated and remembered the provision of God for the Israelites, Jesus was preparing to be a provision for the whole world. The betrayal, beatings, and then the brutal crucifixion all were acts of sacrificial servant leadership. If the ruler of all reality became a lowly servant for the people who killed Him, what right do modern Christian leaders have to not serve?

Colquhoun, Nathan, "Servant Leadership Doesn't Work",, Sep. 16, 2010, web. Mar. 27 2013
Gleeson, Brent. "Servant First, Leader Second",, Feb. 1 2013. web. Mar. 27 2013
Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership, "About the Robert K. Greenleaf Center",, n.d., web. Mar. 26 2013
Jackson, Wayne, "Did Jesus Institute Ceremonial Foot Washing?",, 2013, web. Mar. 26 2013
Jewish Encyclopedia, "Foot Washing",, 1906, web. Mar. 26 2013

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

...Fear my power, Green Lantern's light!

I'm a pretty huge comic book nerd. In recent months I've started following Green Lantern. In the Green Lantern series, there are magical rings throughout which are powered by certain emotions. Green rings are powered by willpower, red rings are powered by rage, and so on. The rings choose people based on their strength in the respective emotion.The only problem is that a single individual cannot use two rings as once. Each lantern must focus and control their specific emotion, and use it to save the galaxy. There are also talking squirrels, emotional entities, and blood magic, but that's another subject for another day. In short, I believe that church leaders share some distinct similarities with the Green Lanterns.

When it comes to Christian leadership, most of the focus is placed on pastors, teachers, or public speakers. Yet, I would say there are three (very) broad categories of leaders in the church. As Mark Driscoll would put it, there are prophets, priests, and kings. The three titles come from the offices of leadership that Jesus has. Jesus is a prophet, that is, He speaks from God to the people. Jesus is a priest, which meant that He speaks for the people to God. Finally, Jesus is a king, who has authority over the church. Within the church, there are three different types of leaders that make up the leadership of church. I like to think of these three as different "power rings", that each leader can wield. So, what does it look like?

Prophets in the traditional sense are those who give divine revelation (Webster). Prophets in the Old Testament often warned about impending destruction, but also instructed the people, and gave wisdom. In the modern day, the church identifies 'prophets' as those gifted in teaching, preaching, and discerning. A prophet is not confined to the walls of the church, but apply to teachers at a college, people on debate teams, or even some politicians! A prophet style leader can be found in the secular world with a PR director, or any spokesmen for a company. The prophet's focus is instruction and truth, loving to read long books or articles on a seemingly insignificant topic in order to better understand it. Prophets are fueled by knowledge, but often can become self-righteous and prideful.

The concept of priest is perhaps the most alien to our modern culture of the three. A priest was in charge of worshiping God in the temple, bring the concerns of the people before God, and caring for the people's spiritual needs. Modern priests are not exactly living in elaborate temples killing animals and then cooking them as a form of worship (at least, I hope not). Instead, modern priests are found living in run down areas of town, showing God’s love for the broken, and feeding the poor. A priest leads the local people of God to love and care for the needs of the world around them. In a modern business, I supposed that a priest might be found leading the human resources department. These priests are fueled by compassion, but can ditch truth along the way of helping people.

A "king" leader is much more administratively focused. Kings like using graphs, charts, and large text files full of information. Kings set up systems to keep things running, lay down a long term plan, and organize whatever they're leading effectively. In the business world, a king might be a CFO or CEO. Last week, I did my taxes for the first time, thankfully, I didn't do it alone. A friend of a friend was a tax expert, and helped my mother and I file our taxes. What was incredulous to me was the absolute joy she found in doing taxes. She had a head for numbers, and was definitely a king style leader. Kings like her are fueled by structure and order, but can get so trapped in it that the world breaks down when things don't go according to plans.

As we've seen, each of the three have strengths and weaknesses. Now, a church, a business, or just a club might be able to handle things on their own with just one of these types of people. Likewise, in the green lantern universe, the Green Lanterns generally handle things themselves. This was the status quo for many years, the Green Lanterns being the space police and stopping ne'er-do-wells. Recently however, a new series has launched. "Green Lantern: New Guardians", which has a team of different colored lanterns, green, red, blue and more. Like the horrible cliche of every superhero team's origin story: they realize that only together can they stop their foes! I think it's about time that the church form's their own "New Guardians". Church leaders all have short comings, and can't master all three rings. What leaders can do is focus on what they're good at, and work along side of other leaders who are gifted in the same areas. Together, church can be compassionate, while not neglecting truth, structured, with grace for the craziness of life, and wise, without being hypocritical. The church can't do it perfectly on it's own, thankfully, there is a man out there who broke the rules, mastered all three, and now leads the church. Jesus is the ultimate lantern.

Personal Application: find out which of these three I am, and how I can bring others along side of me.
Also, this chart gives a good idea of what each of the three are.

"Prophet",, 2013, Web. Mar. 20 2013

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Weighty Leadership

Over the past eight weeks, I've primarily focused on reasons why one should be a leader. I have also discussed fairly non-controversial topics. Today, I wanted to break that cycle by talking about why someone should not be a leader. (I'll address the non-controversial cycle later.) The focus of today blog will be fairly religious in nature, however I will attempt to explain any Christian jargon to the best of my ability. I am not trying to dissuade anyone from becoming a leader, however my intent is to show the grave responsibility that comes with this wonderful gift of leadership.

An early Christian named James wrote to fellow Christians with a warning: "Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, because you know we will be judged more strictly" (James 3:1). James believed that leaders were being held to a higher standard than normal people. Why is this? Uncle Ben said it right: "With great power comes great responsibility". I believe that leaders are under this harsher judgment for three reasons:

1. The leader is affected by the followers
Be it in Nazi Germany, the Vatican, or even the secret service, leaders must answer for the actions of those under them. In an earlier blog post about failure I mentioned the Penn State scandal, where the former president of the school was charged for not doing anything about the sex-abuse. Though the president of the school did not commit the sex-abuse, he was held responsible for the abuser's actions along with his own. Of course, if the former president of Penn State had not known about the sex-abuse, he would not have been held to such a high standard. However, part of his responsibility was to know, and to be aware of what was happening in his school. Be it a president, pastor or CEO, the actions of the followers affect the leaders.

2. The leader’s public actions affects the followers
I was on a trip in Alaska with some other Christians, and we were putting on an event for the children of some local native American tribes. In preparation for this event, I was told something that still affects the way I lead today. My team leader warned me: "the children will be watching you, and what you watch. You need to watch what they need to be watching". Who I focused on, the children would focus on, because I was setting the example for the others to follow. Where leaders go, others follow. The past two leaders of our country have led us through a war and into a recession. This is not to comment on the good or bad nature of where we're at, but simply that the responsibility of the president is to lead, for better or worse.

3. Leading is a gift, given by God.
I voted in the last election. I'll be honest, the guy I voted for didn't win, but I really didn't care. This was not because I don't have opinions on what politicians should or shouldn't do with the nation; rather, as a Christian, I understand a principle about leadership and authority that governs my understanding of the world. Paul makes an observation in Romans 13:1, "...there is no authority except from God...". For Christians, any position of leadership that is given to anyone is ultimately because God gives it. This means that every CEO, every pastor, even every general manager of a convenience store has been given their position, not just by human superiors, but by God Himself.

Now, the question that pops into my head at this point is this: How could Paul possibly say that about leaders with such horrible people like Hitler, Stalin or even Nero, the emperor who martyred Paul? This is where James 3:1 comes again into play. Just as all leaders are given a position, they are held accountable for what they did with that position. While an irresponsible manager may avoid answering to HR, and a greedy CEO may not answer to his board of directors, eventually, all will have to answer to an ultimate manager. Even a mass murder like Hitler cannot escape it. According to the Christian worldview, every leader will be held accountable for what they did as a leader.  

To bring it back to the original point, why shouldn't someone be a leader? A leader is responsible for their actions, the actions of those under them, and they will have to face evaluation for it. Christian leaders have to recognize that their words, actions, and even private thoughts are all being assessed by the giver of their position. Being a leader means accountability, accountability to a perfect leader, who has to be just. Should no one be a leader then? Of course not! However, leaders must understand the responsibility and accountability of their position. If someone is not prepared to take on this responsibility and answer for it, they should not be a leader. Leadership is a gift we cannot treat lightly.