In the COVID-19 crisis, through the varying approaches governors have taken, we are seeing examples of both “lords” and “leaders.” The former is provoking as we see demonstrated across the country; the latter is refreshing. We would do well to learn from all this both negatively and positively and apply what we learn in our own spheres of influence. As Christians we must not use the ways of the world, but the way of Jesus.
Mark 10:42-45 distinguishes between lording and leading:
“But Jesus called them to him, and saith unto them, Ye know that they which are accounted to rule over the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and their great ones exercise authority upon them. But so shall it not be among you: but whosoever will be great among you, shall be your minister: And whosoever of you will be the chiefest, shall be servant of all. For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.”
A conservative paraphrase brings out the practical sense:
“So Jesus called them together and said, You know that the rulers in this world lord it over their people, and officials flaunt their authority over those under them. But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must be the slave of everyone else. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Notice the contrast between rulers in this world who lord it over their people and officials who flaunt their authority over those under them versus leaders who serve their people and give sacrificially.
Lords lord it over their people by operating in a fashion that flaunts who is in charge. Leaders serve their people by leading in a way that primarily benefits the people, not the leader. Do we flaunt title, position, and authority for our own self-aggrandizement or do we focus on the needs of those under our care and become proactive for their benefit?
Lords oppress those under them by flaunting their authority over them. Leaders liberate by guiding the people they influence to that which enhances their lives, not the lives of the leaders. Do we create an atmosphere of oppressive rigidity or one of freedom available in Christ?
Lords are served, but leaders serve. Are we concerned about benefiting ourselves, our cause (in the name of God’s cause), and our agenda, or are we concerned about others, God’s cause, and God’s agenda?
Lords enrich themselves. Leaders give of themselves for the benefit of others. Who is the primary beneficiary of our actions? Do we operate for our own benefit or to benefit others?
The style of leadership that Jesus promoted in Mark 10 and similar passages is often referred to as “servant-leadership.” I prefer to call it “shepherd-leadership.” Jesus is the great shepherd. It seems a misunderstanding pervades the use of servant-leadership as if the essence of this oxymoron is performing menial tasks for others. This, however, misses the point. The cited passage reveals that Jesus’ leadership was His service, but His leadership example on earth was not after the ways of the world. His leadership was not lording, flaunting His authority over those under Him. It was true leading that served the needs of those around Him.
How did Jesus lead by serving? He taught and preached, ministering to people’s spiritual needs, and He healed, ministering to people’s physical needs (Matt. 4:23; 9:35). His leadership centered on that which was primarily beneficial to the people around Him. This unselfish leadership was His service. This is true servant-leadership. It really is shepherd-leadership because Jesus, the great shepherd, demonstrated genuine care for the sheep, ultimately giving His own life to save theirs. Shepherd-leadership truly looks out for the best interests of the sheep.
The unselfish demonstration of looking out for the best interests of those Jesus led was His service. His leadership served the people’s best interest. Its essence was not in doing menial tasks—not that Jesus was above that (and no leader should be). Jesus washed the disciples feet. Once. He was not above that at all, but the essence of Jesus’ leadership was far beyond that. He served people by leading them into freeing truth. He came to set captives free.
When the focus is on Jesus, He provides an atmosphere of rest (Matt. 11:28-30). His leadership and, therefore, any leadership empowered by His life, does not create an atmosphere of oppressive rigidity that provokes people to carnal responses. Jesus is truth personified who always sets free.
Lords force. Leaders influence. Which pattern are we following?
John Van Gelderen