Discipleship can be defined as the redemptive process of learning to look at the world through the eyes of Jesus. It is coming to see all of life from the Father’s point of view and for his glorious ends, as Jesus did (John 5:19-20, 6:38). We are called likewise in Scripture to view people, our circumstances and the world from an altogether different vantage point than the world does (see 2 Corinthians 4 and 5, Colossians 3:1, 2).
In the Gospels, the teaching, parables and sterling example of Jesus often challenged the disciples to see things from a completely different standpoint, one that did not come naturally to them. Old habits die hard, but die they must, if the new is to prosper.
Indeed, for us to become bona-fide disciples, we will need new eyes – bereft and healed of our myopia and blindness from the cataract-like effects of sin and self-centeredness. These prevent clear sight and right response to the will and ways of God. We need sight that Jesus supernaturally bestows and restores, not merely improves – so that we can truly say, ‘I was blind, but now I see’.
But seeing afresh with new eyes is a challenge because we have gotten so used to seeing ourselves and the world about us through bad eyes in the dark night of sin. Too many of our perceptions and underlying beliefs have been framed and informed by years of following the notions and distortions afforded by faulty vision.
A case in point is the popular understanding of leadership versus Jesus’ startling teaching about it. In this next series of blogs, I want to take a look at some biblical principles and insights regarding a kingdom understanding on the call and role of leaders in the church and mission of God. I am calling it ‘Jesus-shaped leadership.’
Jesus saw leadership very differently from the way it is viewed in our world. In our world, it is all about power, influence and achievement– how high you got in order to dominate (negatively) or command (positively) people, where the loci of influence is your leadership style, personality and competence.
Jesus taught and modeled a different way of leadership that was not simply about the use (or abuse) of power for personal or instrumental benefit or corporate profit. Instead, it had godly influence and purpose, with an other-person focus. He defined it strictly in terms of ‘servanthood’ – the helping and building up of others in love and truth.
In the church therefore, leadership isn’t about how high your performance curve extends, but how low your service stoops.
Jesus’ object lesson on this is at the start of the Upper Room discourse, the night he is arrested and sentenced to die as recorded in John chapters 13-16. In John 13:1-17, Jesus does something which stuns his disciples. We read in verses 3 and 4 that Jesus, cognizant of his divine authority and soon-coming ascension, paradoxically rises to get basin and water to wash the feet of his disciples as only the lowliest of slaves would do.
Why this lesson, and why now? Perhaps the context for his action is in Luke’s account of their time in the upper room, where we read that there was a dispute among them about who is the greatest (Luke 22:24). Even at this desperate hour, they were still thinking about who gets positions and titles. Jesus called them (and calls us) not to seek for titles, but to serve with towels.
He drives home the intended teaching in John 13:14-15: “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.”
Jesus-shaped leadership confounds the strong and mighty of our world. Humility and lowly service, not power and authority, are its hall-marks.
“But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 11:43-45).
In Jesus’ eyes, to lead is to serve. No more, no less.