Leadership in the world Jesus was born into developed from the ideas of a Roman Republic into the ideas of a Roman Empire that included an emperor with an increasing absolute rule, and authoritarianism. Rome was often known for its strong military might which was a systemic outflow and a characteristic of the entire culture. Jockeying for position and vying for a place of power was not particular to the Romans, however. Even Jesus’ disciples were constantly discussing among themselves who was the greatest, and who would have power and influence in Jesus’ kingdom.
James and John (and their mother according to Matthew; how embarrassing) came to Jesus with the request to be his right and left hand guys, his lieutenants, in positions of great power and leadership. As the sons of Zebedee, they were use to being “the boss’s sons” in the family fishing business; they may have been use to a little power and privilege. Here’s Jesus answer:
Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant… “ -Mark 10:42-43
This was not the ideal of power in the Roman world, nor in the Jewish world of Jesus; what he was proposing was totally counter-cultural to any idea of power they perceived. “You see how they treat each other? It will not be so among you…” Jesus was making a sharply contrasted point.
Leadership is necessary. Administration and leadership are spiritual gifts as much as faith and mercy, according to Saint Paul. But Jesus said the pagans lord their authority over others, and that it should not be so among us. We might ask “why?” but most of us already know the answer, having experienced the kind of leadership our world offers. The world’s style of leadership can demean people, instilling a sense of fear and inferiority, while the one wielding authority may also develop a false sense of self, or self importance, and in some cases, can become quite abusive towards others. This is ugly in business or politics, but it is particularly ugly in the leadership of Christ’s church.
Five hundred years after Christ addressed his disciples, Saint Benedict addresses servant-leadership in the monastery:
“The abbot ought ever to bear in mind what he is and what he is called; he ought to know that to whom more is entrusted, from him more is exacted.”
― Benedict of Nursia, The Rule of Saint Benedict
How we lead matters
We have a responsibility to lead according to how Jesus instructed us in Mark chapter 10, and if we are in leadership then there will one day be an accounting of it. How we lead matters. 1200 years after those first disciples, and 700 years after Saint Benedict, Saint Francis instructs his brothers to emulate Christ’s leadership:
“Those who are ministers and servants of the others should visit, admonish, and encourage them with humility and love… The ministers are to receive them with such love, kindness, and sympathy that the sisters or brothers can speak and act toward them just as an employer would with a worker. This is how it should be. The ministers are to be servants of all.”
– The Rule of Saint Francis
The ministers are to be servants of all. We do not lord authority over another. Humility, kindness, sympathy, and love are the characteristics of counter-cultural leadership. This is particularly evident during election year politics. We are party to another kingdom. Ultimately our employer is Christ, and this is what he expects from us. This kind of counter-cultural leadership affects society and produces responses in our culture which we can hardly imagine. This was true for the Roman world as they watched an early church practice Jesus’ teaching to be servants. It can and should be true for us today.