A few hands went up. He shook his head, “No, you are all leaders! Every hand should be up! Everyone repeat after me: ‘I am a leader!’”
The congregation dutifully repeated “I am a leader!”
I’m sure everyone paid close attention to the sermon that followed. After all, leaders get more attention. They get privileges the rest of us miss out on. They’re important. Don’t we look up to leaders? Think more highly of them? Don’t we all want everyone to think of us that way?
Saying we’re all leaders is really popular right now. It’s not just in the church. Books, blogs and magazine articles, motivational speakers, entire conferences… everywhere you look the claim is the same.
The problem is, it’s a lie. We’re not all leaders. And that’s okay. You can’t be a leader unless someone else is a follower.
In writing this post, I looked up “leader” in the Bible, and was astonished by what I found. The Old Testament is full of references to leaders—over 250 of them. There are leaders of families, leaders of tribes, leaders of the community, leaders over Israel. The Gospels also make frequent mention of religious leaders, usually in a critical context. Anyone want to be part of a brood of vipers?
But leaders in the early church are barely mentioned. It isn’t that leaders are lacking—clearly, the church had leaders. Acts 1:20 describes the twelve apostles as leaders, Acts 15:22 mentions Judas (called Barsabbas) and Silas as leaders among the believers, Galatians 2:2 talks about Paul meeting with the church leaders, and the writer of Hebrews writes, “Greet all your leaders and all the Lord’s people.”
On the other hand, Paul got upset because people were aligning themselves with particular church leaders instead of uniting as a single body. In 1 Corinthians 3:21, he wrote, “So then, no more boasting about human leaders!” (italics mine). And in 1 Corinthians 12, the church is likened to a body, with Jesus as the head. As opposed to the secular world, in the church leaders just aren’t that special. The glory goes to God.
The more I read about leaders, the more I realize—I don’t want to be a leader.
Hebrews 13:7 tells us, “Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.” That’s a pretty scary liability. Am I so confident in my maturity that I want others to imitate me? Certainly not all the time!
Then comes Hebrews 13:17, “Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account.” Do I really want that much responsibility?
While secular leaders may be rewarded with extra respect and deferential treatment, leaders in the church should have the opposite expectation. Remember what Jesus told the Twelve, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.” (Mark 9:35) And in John 13, “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.”
As believers, we’re all called to be servants, first of God, and then of one another. Is that what we think of when we hear the word “leader”? When you put it that way, maybe our guest preacher had it right—we all should aspire to be leaders!