by Layton Friesen
Have we perhaps tamed Christ’s teaching on leadership? Christ is a member of the Triune God, the One by whom and for whom all things were made. Yet in a surprising move he decided that the best way display of that divine glory in human life was a slave, destined for a slave’s execution.
Jesus did not come as anything the world calls a leader. He saved his strongest words to say that any questions among his disciples about who among them was the leader, who among them was authoritative, or who among them was first, were tone-deaf to everything he had been living.
Our world has secularized God’s incarnation as a slave by devising a principle: servant leadership. This is a buzzword in boardrooms and is certainly better than non-servant leadership. Essentially it means leadership that is not tyrannical, has integrity, makes costly sacrifices along with the employees, and encourages teamwork rather than a my-way-or-the-highway approach.
But Jesus did not just advocate nice, or friendly, or team-oriented, or humble leadership. He advocated slavery. A slave is not a leader—she’s the opposite. Jesus submitted to the mission of the Father, and eagerly poured out his life-breath in love for his brothers and sisters. He showed such a service for his friends and disciples that the only name for it in that culture was slave.
And please, notice that Jesus does not say, “expect your fellow believers to be slaves.” He says, “You, voluntarily, out of your own humanity and dignity, lovingly honour your brothers and sisters as their slaves in surrender to God, like I do.” That’s not slave-holding, but it is slavery.
Yet here is the amazing thing. When someone lives a Spirit-filled slavery and radiates this ability to be like God in human form, people follow. When Spirit-filled slavery appears among us, we lift our eyes from our navels and start walking towards it. It attracts us. It sparks our imagination. It stirs thoughts about taking our cross, laying down our lives, dying at the stake. It’s not leadership that sparks this attraction, it’s Spirit-radiated slavery.
This is why we follow Jesus. We don’t follow him because he was a great leader; we follow because we can’t look away from his Spirit-driven slavery towards the world.
And so when churches choose slaves to follow, we do not look for whom the world calls a leader. We ask rather, who in our churches has demonstrated the kind of servant work that people follow? That people should follow. Who in our churches has the humility, self-transcendence, and others-centred work ethic toward the lowliest among us that inspires people to do the same?
Who is quietly leading a Bible study at work over lunch hour? Who is discipling young believers in her spare time without being asked to do this? Who is helping a neighbour renovate his basement without posting it on social media? Who happily leads the service at Sunset Manor on Sunday afternoon during the Grey Cup? With no fanfare or fake-humble announcements, who quickly steps up their game when the church goes through a crisis? When others run for the exits at the sign of trouble, who quietly increases their financial donations, gathers the seniors for lunch, organizes the food distribution, and cleans the church toilets?
Find those people and follow them to Heaven. They are following Jesus and so they will not lead you astray.