III. SERVICE AND SACRIFICE
Perhaps the strongest distinctions of Christian leadership are service and sacrifice.
A. Jesus was a Servant
The concepts of service and sacrifice go back to Jesus who served and sacrificed for the people he led. In his article, “Leaders as Servants: a Resolution of the Tension,” Derek Tiball writes, “Christian leadership is meant to be different from other forms of leadership because Christian leaders are called to be servants.” Serving others while in leadership is definitely different than the world where power and influence are held closely by those who have it and desired and envied by those who do not have it. This concept of serving others is difficult because “our fallen human instincts seek power, wealth, status, and influence. Servant leadership is thus quite unnatural for fallen human beings. Thinking like a servant-leader requires a new mindset; acting as a servant-leader requires empowerment by the Holy Spirit.” One of the most controversial and countercultural things Jesus said while on earth was as he responded to his disciples’ question of which of the 12 of them was the greatest and most important. Jesus responded,
In this world the kings and great men lord it [power] over their people, yet they are called ‘friends of the people.’ But among you [the 12 disciples] it will be different. Those who are the greatest among you should take the lowest rank, and the leader should be like a servant. Who is more important, the one who sits at the table or the one who serves? The one who sits at the table, of course. But not here! For I am among you as the one who serves. (Luke 22:25-27, NLT)
B. Leadership in Jesus’s Time
Much like American culture, the leaders and rulers of Jesus’ time lorded power over others. They used their power to dominate others and maintain control over them. However, Jesus calls his disciples out of the culture they are living in and announces a new order for Christian leaders to follow. He instructs these 12 men, who will lead the new Christian religion, to be different than the world by saying, “Those who are the greatest among you should take the lowest rank, and the leader should be like a servant.” Christian leaders can only “teach out of what they know and live,” and Jesus definitely knew personally what he was teaching when he says, “I am among you as the one who serves.” Jesus is saying to his Christian leaders that he has come to serve.
C. To Lead Is to Serve
The Greek word used in Jesus’ statement above and used throughout the New Testament is the word, “διακονέω / diakoneo” which means “act as go-between/agent, be at one’s service, help, serve, minister” (BDAG, 229). With Jesus’ statements and use of this word, “Leadership was not to be a matter of privilege and special status, but of service. All social status is leveled out by these remarks. Jesus himself is the prime example of the servant leader.” Jesus shows this principle of a leader being a servant by strategically saying after washing his disciples’ feet:
And since I, your LORD and Teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash each other’s feet. I have given you an example to follow. Do as I have unto you. I tell you the truth, slaves are not greater than their master. Nor is the messenger more important than the one who sends the message. Now that you know these things, God will bless you for doing them. (John 13:14-17, NLT)
D. Jesus’s Followers Followed His Example of Service
The good news is that this message was successfully passed on and practiced by Jesus’ disciples and others within the early church. Just as “Jesus presents himself consistently as a model of service” the apostle Paul “describes himself in a number of ways (‘apostle’, ‘teacher’ etc.) but most persistently as a servant. . . . Paul describes several of his fellow workers as servants. . . . Paul describes himself and Apollos as ‘only servants (diadonoi).” The message is clear: Christian leadership is about service. But with that also comes sacrifice.
E. It Won’t Always Be Easy
Along with service in Christian ministry comes pain and sacrifice. The Apostle Paul endured tremendous sacrifice during his ministry as a Christian leader of the early church. Paul was ship wrecked, snake bitten, physically disabled, imprisoned, and eventually killed because of his service as a Christian leader. Jesus also endured tremendous pain in his ministry for his followers. Henri Nouwen comments on the relevance of sacrifice in ministry stating, “The most important quality of Christian leadership in the future . . . is not a leadership of power and control, but a leadership of powerlessness and humility in which the suffering servant of God, Jesus Christ, is made manifest.” With this understanding that Christian leaders are to be servants who sacrifice, it is important to note “Christ’s approach to leadership and the approach he commended to his disciples is one that glorifies God and serves the welfare of others. It does not seek personal glory for acts of service or manipulate subordinates to achieve the leader’s self-interest.”
IV. KNOWING YOUR DARK SIDE
The fourth distinction of Christian leadership is acknowledgement of the dark side.
A. Dark Side?
What is a dark side? “The dark side . . . is actually a natural result of human development. It is the inner urges, compulsions, and dysfunctions of our personality that often go unexamined or remain unknown to us until we experience an emotional explosion.” Downfalls and pitfalls of a dark side can provide a stumbling block for any leader regardless of her faith. However, because much of Christian leadership rests on a leader’s moral character, the negative impact of the dark side of a Christian leader is greater. Christian leaders are not perfect (and they should not be expected to be), but the simple fact of acknowledging the dark side and working to combat it will help to prevent a leader from the potential downfall and failure a dark side might bring.
B. Why You Need to Know Your Dark Side
Because the dark side is a natural result of our human development (mostly during childhood when we had to navigate experiences we had no control over), Christian leaders must actively acknowledge the dark side and combat it. Knowing about the dark side is extremely important for biblical Christian leaders because much of their influence comes from strength of moral character. If they lose that moral character and the influence that comes with it, they lose all ability to lead. Part of acknowledging the dark side of Christian leadership is to know “the chief characteristic of a Christian leader must be submission to Christ, and only those who have learned that submission is the key to power can be effective Christian leaders.” Submission to Christ and identity based on him help to shed the dark side because “when the leader learns to submit to Christ as the Leader, that is, when he learns to fly ‘the white flag of victory,’ that he becomes an authoritative Christian leader.” Once a Christian leader has learned to submit to Christ, overcoming the dark side is easier.
C. How To Overcome Your Dark Side
Thankfully there are several things Christian leaders can do to actively combat their dark side in addition to submitting to Christ. Two practical steps taught by Ronald A. Heifetz and Marty Linsky are “Transitional Rituals” and “Rekindle the Sparks.”
1. Transitional Rituals
Transitional rituals are practical things Christian leaders can do to separate themselves and their identity from the professional work they do. This goes back maintaining one’s identity in Christ. Christian leaders are able to keep their identity based on God and not wrapped into their job when they have a transitional ritual such as a drive from work to home, intentionally changing clothes when they arrive at home, or exercising after work. All of these are intentional “transitional rituals” that allow a Christian leader to transition from mission focused work to resting into the person she is.
2. Rekindle Sparks
“Rekindle the Sparks” keeps the relationship at home with a spouse strong. The best way for a Christian leader to guard his heart is to keep it close to his wife. Too many times a Christian leader has led himself into destructive habits of adultery, pornography, or money laundering because he allowed his heart to drift way from his wife.
D. Steps to Redeem Your Dark Side
McIntosh and Sima also provide some great steps for Christian leaders to practice to “redeem their dark side.” Those steps are: acknowledge your dark side, examine the past, resist the poison of expectations, practice progressive self-knowledge, and understand your identity in Christ. When Christian leaders know their dark side they are able to positively work on it. Even if they do not actively work to combat their dark side, the knowledge of it will help them prevent it from taking over their life and causing moral failure in the future.
With these four distinctions about what makes Christian leadership distinctly “Christian” and what makes Christian leadership distinctly “leadership,” the key is for Christian leaders to live it out.
Due to the fact that leaders are often out in front, everyone has a clear view of them. That means leaders are often judged more harshly and more strictly. Thus, when they fall, it is more severe. While engaging others on Twitter and Facebook about the topic of this paper I felt a tension from others that Christian leadership does not exist because it is not practiced.
This is an issue that must be addressed.
Often people’s only interaction (that they realize) with Jesus is in the observation or interaction with the lives of leaders whom they may or may not personally know. This means Christian leaders must make sure they live out the four distinctions. Christian leaders do not have to be perfect, but they do need to make a conscious effort to live out what Christian leadership is: an identity in Christ, part of the flock, serve and sacrifice, and knowing the dark side.