I teach a seminary course on “Ordained Leadership.” Among my maxims for aspiring church leaders: “Leadership is necessary for any organization that needs to move from maintenance to vitality.” “Leaders ask the right questions believing that followers will come up with the answers.”
Leadership, so rare among us, is even more challenging when leadership is attempted in the name of Jesus. Good leaders are usually known for their gifts, self-confidence, ability to use power effectively, and skill in motivating others. In Matthew 23, Jesus contrasts worldly wise leaders with the qualities of leadership in his name as if to say, “The world’s great leaders . . . . But you . . . ”
Leaders in the body of Christ are not all-knowing teachers but perpetual students; not the powerful, dominating parents but the vulnerable children; not the great masters but the humble servants.
In the light of this week’s Gospel lesson, the greatest challenge for the Christian leader comes in not getting in the way of our true leader, Jesus. It’s tempting to think that the good things that occur in my congregation are due to my astute leadership rather than to undeserved gifts of the Holy Spirit. I too easily delude myself into thinking that my sermons are heard because of my stellar speaking rather than to God’s relentless determination to be revealed to God’s people.
Thus the theologian Karl Barth said that Christian leaders ought to point beyond themselves to Christ. Christian leaders help people be more faithful to Christ rather than more attached to them. We lead in the name of the One who taught and led by using a basin and towel and washing his followers’ feet.
Jesus, keep teaching me that I may teach as I have been taught by you. Amen.
The texts remind us that human decisions, relationships, communities must be rooted in the reality of God. In his vision recorded in Revelation, John sees all communities, all nations, shouting before God’s throne that salvation comes only from God. The story of the crossing of the Jordan in Joshua 3 illustrates this principle: apart from Yahweh’s grace, Israel’s life could not be sustained. Paul does not deny an authority due him because of his previous relations with the Thessalonians. At the same time, he can reverse the image and speak of himself as an orphan when separated from these people (2:17). The possibility of mutuality emerges out of a clear acceptance of the authority of the gospel. The scribes and Pharisees are singled out in Matthew 23 for aunting their positions and for engaging in pious activity so as to be praised and courted by others. Their craving of honorific titles illustrates their failure to acknowledge the empowerment of Jesus as teacher and God as Father.
• Read Joshua 3:7-17. What miracles have you seen God perform lately in your life? in the life of a friend?
• Read Revelation 7:9-17. How do you reconcile a God of judgment with the writer’s statement that “God will settle for nothing less than a standing-room-only heaven”?
• Read 1 Thessalonians 2:9-13. How is the word of God at work in you?
• Read Matthew 23:1-12. When have you been humbled in being faithful to Jesus’ call on your life? Is being humbled a sign of true servanthood?
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