08 January 2007

Stewardship vs Leadership

Stewardship vs Leadership

I have some issues with the idea of leadership as used in a Christian context. It is less about leading than how to manage power. Much of it seems to be concerned with justifying current business practice and theory and how it is used in the church. Most of the people that I know in a business context tend toward a "High D" personality. This is fairly important for succeeding in the world of money and power. But I’m not always comfortable with the way it is translated into practice in the church. That is why I find this passage in Matt. 20 interesting. What is the real issue concerning power? Read on, and I try to explain what I mean.

Matt. 20:24 When the ten heard it, they were angry with the two brothers. 25 But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. 26 It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave; 28 just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”

A. We find a lot of kingdom language this passage. If you are familiar with George Eldon Ladd, you know what I'm talking about. (If not, check out this link: The Gospel of the Kingdom.)

The kingdom, if course, is all about power. Stated quite simply, it is about the rule of God. It is the ultimate example of power. We think that the kingdom of God is about the place where God rules, and not about that actual rule. It is interesting to note that up until about the 13th century of this Christian era the focus of a king's power was on the people. They gave their allegiance and fealty to the king, no matter where they were in the world. Land was incidental to his rule for the resources that any good king needed to show that he was wealthy, powerful, and whatever else. It was about the time of the 13th century that French kings began to see themselves as rulers of a geographical area, and the people who lived there were their subjects. The rest is history.

Maybe this is why Jesus was a threat to the Romans, and why they bought into the accusations of the Jewish leaders. Jesus was seen as a king claiming the loyalty of the Jewish people in the midst of Rome's area of sovereignty. Rome didn’t like competition.

Having said all this, let us take a look as what Jesus says about power.

24 When the ten heard it, they were angry with the two brothers.

This is a great scene. It occurs after the story of the mother of James and John asking Jesus for special consideration for her two sons when he comes into his kingdom. The other ten were really put off by what she had done. Why? Maybe because they hadn't thought of this first?

So, what's wrong with this? Any good business person wants to secure their future and keep their options open. And how could a good Jewish boy ignore a mother's plea? (This is not a slam, but a very admirable trait that I've seen countless times with Jewish mothers). The text says that they were really angry with James and John. The word "angry" describes the irritation and vexation that someone feels toward an object or person. In the scene in Phaedo where Socrates is committing suicide by drinking hemlock, he expresses a vexation about what lies after death. He says:

And therefore, so far as that is concerned, I not only do not grieve, but I have great hopes that there is something in store for the dead, and, as has been said of old, something better for the good than for the wicked. Socrates, Phaedo

Socrates is grieved that he knows nothing anything about the afterlife; we can feel the vexation and anxiety surging through his veins; Socrates feels a real sense of powerlessness in his position. The ten disciples felt the same kind of vexation when they thought they were going to lose out on their place in the kingdom.

How does Jesus respond to this attitude in the ten disciples? Basically, he calls a huddle, saying “come here and pay attention.” Jesus is calling them to a sense of accountability.

B. Who has the juice?

25 But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them.

Jesus then begins a discourse on power and authority. The first issue is how power is wielded in this world. He uses the “…lord it over them”, which means to become lord, subjugate, or to rule. This is a power word. This is what rulers do. But Jesus goes deeper. Implicit in this phrase is the idea of this kind of lordship that personifies a sphere of power opposed to God. Jesus is focusing on the grasping for power that occurs by coercion.

Following this word is another power word: Tyrant. In the New Testament it is when one uses their power against someone or something. It is used mostly of rulers who misuse their power against the people. Here I found that the German word Herrschaft is a pretty good way to define this concept.

Herrschaft is a term that refers to a relationship that exists between two or more people in a relationship, one who is dominant and the one who is subordinate. The power of the dominant person is seen as legitimate, which functions as an institution. Here we have to understand that Institutions are structures and mechanisms of social order and cooperation which govern the behavior of two or more individuals. So, an institution refers to a recognized form of social control, not just an organization or group. Herrschaft focuses on the behavior of the subordinate party, with an emphasis on obedience and influence.

The idea that Jesus was trying to explain to his disciples that to “exercise lordship/dominion” was a trade mark of the gentile rulers and authorities. They need to control and influence their subjects to support the throne, and to give themselves wholly to it

I am reminded of Karl Marx, who said that power involves both constraint and enablement (cf. Michel Foucault) Power is the ability to make choices or influence outcomes, either by influence or by coercion.

(I should note here the difference between power and authority. Power refers to the ability to achieve certain ends; authority refers to legitimacy, the justification and right to exercise that power.)

26 It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave;

Jesus addresses the attitude of the twelve disciples and their desire for power and position in the kingdom, and how to attain it. However, he sets their expectations upside down. They could look around them and see all kinds of examples of power, but it was power that was abused, and it started with Augustus and Tiberius, the Roman emperors, and went all the way down to the Herod and his ilk.

Jesus tells them that this was not to be their way. Mainly, because this way just uses people as grist for the mill and then spits them out. Power is institutionalized. It is always the same, the only difference if that different faces wielded it. No, the way of Jesus was different.

Jesus starts out with a big word: If.

If, a little word used in conditional sentences to designate what is expected to occur under certain circumstances: “if, as is to be expected …”

This is not how you will acquire power, and it is not how you will exercise power in your lives. Note the dialectic about power that Jesus sets up in this passage:

  • “The great ones” (ο μεγάλοι) vs. 25, vs. “To be great” (μέγας); what is the measure of greatness? ο μεγάλοι was a title that a ruler took upon himself. This is the opposite of the phrase μέγας γενέσθαι, to be great. If you wanted to be great, it was not conferred by a title. For Jesus, greatness comes about by a change is one's very existence.
  • Serving (διάκονος) vs. 26, vs. Serving (δολος), vs. 27. The first word has the idea of serving, as in waiting on tables, etc. (cf. deacon), while the second word is usually translated as slave. Jesus says that if you really want to serve someone, you have to sell out to them, let them “own you” lock, stock, and barrel.
  • To be served, vs. 27 (διακονηθναι) vs. to serve (διακονσαι) vs. 28. The first word means that we receive the action of the verb, the second is that we initiate the action. Jesus did not come to have people serve him. Instead, he came to do the serving.

Pretty radical. What kind of power do we want?

Do I serve someone as long as it serves my interests, and I can get something out of it, or am I sold out to serving someone else totally, putting aside my own needs, desires, and even my identity.

Do I assume positions of power so that I can get my needs taken care of, or do I assume the role of taking care of others despite the cost to me.

The word Ransom (λύτρον) means that a price or ransom has been paid to redeem a person out of the servitude of which they can't get free. Someone from the outside has to liberate a person in this situation.

This is exactly what Jesus meant. He is the picture of what it means to serve others. By setting aside all his prerogatives, he accomplished what everyone since Adam has tried to do --have power.

There are a couple of phrases that I often come across, CW and CCW. CW refers to conventional wisdom; CCW is counter conventional wisdom. Jesus is definitely CCW.

I think that years later Peter had this story in the back of his mind when he wrote to the churches in Asia Minor:

1 Peter 5 Now as an elder myself and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as one who shares in the glory to be revealed, I exhort the elders among you 2 to tend the flock of God that is in your charge, exercising the oversight, not under compulsion but willingly, as God would have you do it--not for sordid gain but eagerly. 3 Do not lord it over those in your charge, but be examples to the flock.

And thus the title, Stewardship vs Leadership. I don’t think can understand what power and authority in the using current management and leadership theories. The model given to us by Peter of Christ in the scriptures is radically different. Christ is the model, the poster child, if you will, of what is expected of us. Stewardship may still not be the most useful term but it implies that we have been given a trust, and we are responsible for that which has been entrusted to us.

That’s a topic for another post.

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  1. he Lives...

  2. Jesus way of turning authority on its head reminds me of Paul's statement that "if we only have Christ to hope for in this life, then we are to be pitied." I know he's talking about the resurrection, but it seems to me that he's saying this also: we'll really look like idiots to the world if we're basing our lives on Christ's way, because if we're wrong, we've forsaken everything the world has to offer for nothing. Because the kingdom makes no sense to worldly wisdom, it's foolishness to the Greeks.
    Wouldn't it be foolishness if the American church could appoint a spiritually-wise school custodian or gas station clerk to church elder, instead of always tapping a 50-something self-made business owner that the world has already rewarded? Wouldn't that show that the new model of authority was light years from the world's standards?
    Just a thought...

  3. H!

    Man, you post nothing for two months and then... pow! You pour forth. Pace yourself, man. Give us little bits at a time.

    What struck me as I read was how power manifests in the "church culture" in the way it always trying to control things.

    The structure of the world is a ladder. We climb the ladder by looking good, achievement, and comparing ourselves to others. But churches do this, too. Go to a church conference and all you hear is how big a church's budget, building, or attendance is. Compare, compare... climb the ladder. We want more conversions, more batisms, more downloads, more book deals to prove we are successful and powerful. As you know, I've been caught in that machine.

    All I can say is, in the most theologically correct language I know, "Gack!" All the type-A, High D leaders in the church think it is their job to provide structure and produce results. But isn't that God's job?

    Would love to have you check out our little missional blog:

    Hope things are well over the pond!


  4. Hi Tom:

    It's good to hear from you. I appreciate what you have to say here. Yes, your language is theologically correct and right on target. There is a role for this type of service, but it shouldn't be confused with Christianity. I'll have to check my greek grammar to see how that translate into english.


  5. Nate,

    I don't know, sounds pretty radical. The entire church industry would have to shut down and retool. The financial loss...Wow.


  6. Markus,

    A man of few words...