Who’d be a leader? As General Hopper declares in the great animated film ‘Ants’: ‘The first rule of leadership is – it’s always your fault.’ And we are all too painfully aware of the damage that can be done by leaders who are corrupted by power.
Which is why the Christian perspective on leadership is so refreshing. Jesus began a revolution in our understanding which has been our pattern ever since: ‘Whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant.’ To lead we must serve. The very concept of ‘public service’ which still prevails even in secular government models could not exist without the Christian tradition from which it originates. It was unknown before the first century AD.
And it’s also clear that the earliest Christian leaders adopted Jesus’ model from the word go. St Paul here talks very personally about his own leadership journey, and describes it as follows: ‘I have become its (the church’s) servant by the commission God gave me.’ (v25) And this servant leadership was hugely costly: most of us will be well aware of the suffering that Paul endured in order to fulfil the commission God gave him. Here he rather cryptically describes these trials as follows in v24: ‘I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions.’
It’s worth stressing that Paul is not saying that Jesus didn’t suffer enough. But what he is saying is that to follow the pattern of Christlike leadership involved trials which were not unlike Jesus’ own.
This reflection is certainly challenging for me to write. Many of us leaders are fortunate not to have been called to the same level of suffering to fulfil our particular callings. And yet leadership remains costly. And we are all called to live lives of service, after the pattern and example of Jesus.
So do take a few moments to pray for leaders today – outside the church, but especially within it. In particular, remember those leaders around the world who have to pay a similar price to the one Paul refers to here – but even for those who don’t, may we all continue to fulfil a pattern of servant leadership, ‘for the sake of his body,’ and for the glory of Christ. Amen.