Leading from Behind

Real leaders don’t try to be the boss.

One day two of Jesus’ disciples, John and James, who also happened to be brothers, got their mom to ask Jesus for good jobs in his kingdom. “Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom.” (Matthew 20:21).

Jesus denied the request, but unsurprisingly, the other disciples still didn’t take kindly to their attempt. Jesus then turned the event into a learning opportunity, explaining that among Christians, leadership is not what it is out in the world, with bosses lording it over those beneath them. Instead, just as Jesus himself came to serve people and die for them, so those who wish to be great must become servants. The way of leadership in the church is not the way of leadership in the world. Certainly you can take modern business practices and have a well-running, prosperous organization. It’s just that it won’t be doing things the way Jesus wants. Success in the kingdom is not necessarily the same thing as success in the world.

There’s an old story about a young man who wanted to be a minister. Joseph had only recently begun attending the church. One day, he approached his pastor and told him that he believed that God was calling him into the ministry. “I’d like to become a preacher. Is there some job here at the church I could do? Maybe lead a youth group, or teach a Sunday School class?”

The pastor studied the young man’s earnest face and scratched his head, then asked him, “Yes, we do have some jobs here that you could do that would help you learn the ministry. Come with me.”

Excited, Joseph followed the pastor down the hall. The pastor stopped in front of a door, opened it and pulled out a toilet brush. “Here, the bathrooms need to be cleaned.”

Joseph’s eyes went wide. “But I wanted to do something worthwhile.”

“Then you should get to work on those toilets. They’re looking mighty skuzzy.” And he thrust the brush into his hand.

Joseph tossed the brush back into the closet and stormed out of the building, never to be seen again.

“Well, I’m glad we got that settled,” sighed the pastor.

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About R.P. Nettelhorst

I'm married with three daughters. I live in southern California and I'm a deacon at Quartz Hill Community Church. I spent a couple of summers while I was in college working on a kibbutz in Israel. In 2004, I was a volunteer with the Ansari X-Prize at the winning launches of SpaceShipOne. Member of Society of Biblical Literature, American Academy of Religion, and The Authors Guild
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