May 22, 2019 by John Maurice
“The society in which we live suggests in countless ways that the way to go is up." Henri Nouwen Society.org
“The society in which we live suggests in countless ways that the way to go is up. Making it to the top, entering the limelight, breaking the record – that’s what draws attention, gets us on the front page of the newspaper, and offers us the rewards of money and fame.” (Henri Nouwen Society.org) Our culture does not value downward mobility, but rather upward mobility.
We love to hear stories of success, and in many ways, our culture judges people by their successes or failures. We promote education, not so much for the knowledge and wisdom to impact our lives for good, but for the ability to be successful (i.e. to increase our pay or quality of life). The homes we live in and cars we drive speak to our success or failure in society. We even judge or evaluate the success of our church or minister by the number of attendees, the offering, or the building. As president of a small Christian university, I am often asked “how many students do you have?” Often that question carries an underlying judgement of the college based on the number of students enrolled.
We speak of climbing up the corporate ladder. We are conditioned and encouraged to seek the corner office with the windows. I know some leaders that exercise domination over others through the way their office is arranged. They have a huge desk and high back executive chair while those invited into their office are sitting in a low back chair. Some leaders will make people wait outside of their office to show that they are in control. Titles, offices, prestige, salary, and power can intimidate, manipulate and control.
I hope you will not misunderstand me, but in some ways the contemporary church has become consumed with the trappings of success. In the church we encourage men and women to rise up to positions of leadership and often exalt those recognized as leaders. If we want to sound a little more spiritual, we might talk about things such as servant-leaders. In fact, the Robert Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership provides a definition for that phrase. “The servant-leader is servant first. . . . It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. That person is sharply different from one who is leader first, perhaps because of the need to assuage an unusual power drive or to acquire material possessions. . . . The leader-first and the servant-first are two extreme types. Between them there are shadings and blends that are part of the infinite variety of human nature.” [https://www.greenleaf.org/what-is-servant-leadership/]
This is not a new issue that confronts Christ followers in our generation. Jesus noted that the religious leaders in his day, as well as the rulers of the Gentiles, “exercise authority” over the people. The lesson that Jesus gave his disciples was “It is not so among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:25-28).
So, why is it so easy to desire positions of authority but avoid places of service? What makes us seek power or position? After all, even two of Jesus’ closest disciples, James and John, sought a place of prominence. They asked Jesus to allow one of them to sit on his right, and one his left, in the Kingdom of God (Mark 10:37). Jesus responded to their wish with another reminder that to become great you must become “the slave of all” (Mark 10:44).
When Jesus knelt down and washed the feet of his disciples, he was giving us an example to follow. Jesus said, “If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you” (John 13:14-15). An interesting picture – Jesus, God in the flesh, stooping to wash the feet of his disciples.
Perhaps living as Christ in the world is not found in rising to power but in stooping to serve. Does the church benefit Christ by attempting to seize political power? Do Christians exalt Jesus by exercising authority over others? Do people see Jesus in us when we try to control and direct others? Or is Jesus best glorified and exalted as we stoop to serve?
How do we best live as Christ in this world? By humble obedience and service with a heart focused upon others (Philippians 2:1-11). It is through humility, love, sacrifice, and service that the name of Jesus is exalted! Let those who wear the name of Jesus follow His example.
Build a bridge of service!