Author’s Note: the following is sneak peak at an article to be published in the Mainliner, NCF’s ministry newspaper, within the month of September.
One Sunday morning a few weeks ago, I realized that I had worked myself out of a job for the day. The band was cookin’, and I was doing very little to make it cook. I would count off the tempo and start the song, but within a few bars of the song, I was not playing at all. That week, the sheet music was clear and easy to play, and the band was experienced and qualified to lead the music without me. When I did play, the sound was too big; it sounded better without my guitar adding to the mix. I probably could have sat down and let them completely handle it without me. Was it a waist of my time to set up my guitar gear and spend the time learning the songs? Was it a waist of the church’s budget to pay me for that Sunday when the team was essentially functioning without me? What would you think if you paid to see a band perform and the bandleader was not on stage or not even there? Imagine U2 without any Bono, The Rolling Stones with no Mic Jagger, or The Supremes with no Diana Ross. In those situations you might demand your money back, but in the church, a leader has to be able to step out of the mix. The difference is that the definition of leadership that the body of Christ uses is fundamentally different than the world’s definition.
Leadership in human terms is too often about control. Musicians are often notorious control freaks. Music groups and bands are constantly breaking up over issues having to do with “creative control” It was control issues that drove “the artist currently known as Prince” to spend years as “the artist formerly known as Prince” in order to get out of a record contract. Musicians aren’t the only ones with control issues. Battles over control break apart relationships, families, marriages and even governments. The world is full of sinful leaders who are constantly competing for control over those who will follow them. Being made up entirely of sinners, the church is full of sinful leaders, too. The history of the church has often been portrayed as one great big battle for control.
As the founder and true leader of the church, was Jesus Christ as concerned with control as most leaders are? During his time on earth, Jesus gained a large following of disciples who believed that he would rise up and crush the Roman occupation. They believed that as the Messiah, Jesus would lead a powerful insurrection to re-establish the former glory of David’s kingdom. Even the twelve disciples were plotting where they would sit in the new government when Jesus was finally crowned the King of the Jews. However, Jesus never intended to overthrow Roman control or to establish his own control over the Jews. Matthew 20: 25-28 records the words that Jesus said in response to his disciples’ plotting for control:
Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Jesus established the leadership model for his church on completely different principles than the rest of the world uses. Instead of leading by controlling, Jesus’ leadership meant submitting to his Father’s will, humbling himself by becoming a man, sacrificing everything, and becoming a servant for all people.
As the body of our Lord Jesus, we follow his example, which was a style of leadership that eventually took him to betrayal, execution, and apparent defeat. But, we know that because Jesus submitted to God the Father, he was exalted to the highest place and was given the name above all names (Philippians 2:9). As leaders in the church, those of us on the staff must pursue the same vision of a kingdom being established by servants and slaves, and not fall back into the constant battle for control.
So, on this particular Sunday when I found myself melting into the background, I got a vision for the true wisdom of Jesus’ leadership style. I saw that the more I let go of the direct control of the music the more the team responded with joy and creative expression. I saw people on our team using their gifts without me getting in the way. I saw the team communicate and interact with unity and love. I saw the different cultures in our church harmonize into one sanctified voice. I saw the team respond to my servant leadership with service. I saw the congregation respond to the servant leadership of the music team with their own service in the form of sincere worship. Soli Deo Gloria!