The Republican National Convention is about to get started, and we will hear from some of our neighbors about the kind of leadership they yearn for in our country. The Democrats will do the same next week.
I’m actually intrigued as this could be a fruitful backdrop to our conversation on Sunday about servant leadership.
Regardless of where you stand in the political spectrum, leadership is a necessity for any organization or government. The best leaders tend to transcend partisanship and cast vision on a direction forward into an uncertain future. We definitely need that here in the USA. I know other nations are struggling with leadership vacuums, so it’s not just a local issue.
But there are different kinds of leaders.
From a Christian perspective, the most central to which we are called as people of faith is servant leadership. And boy, this is a tough one. Servant leadership is not necessarily intuitive in a culture that emphasizes individuality, ambition, and consumerism. Servant leadership is Jesus, taking a bowl of water and a linen towel, kneeling at his student’s feet and washing them one at a time, wordlessly. It is firm but quiet, strong but humble, empowering but vulnerable. It is Jesus saying that if you want to be first, you must be last.
I’m wrestling with the idea that servant leadership could be an antidote to a chaotic, me-first, divisive culture and world. Instead of drowning out our opponents or bringing the biggest stick to the fight, we’d bring different kinds of tools – towels, brooms, open ears, and gentle hands. That may seem soft, and yet it was the Jesus way.
Henry Nouwen once wrote in A Reflection of the Christian Life:
“Our God is a servant God. It is difficult for us to comprehend that we are liberated by someone who became powerless, that we are being strengthened by someone who became weak, that we find new hope in someone who divested himself of all distinctions, and that we find a leader in someone who became a servant.”
Would I like to see a servant leader as president? Sure. Will it likely happen? No. Do I meet servant leaders in my church and community everyday? Absolutely. In fact, I wonder if their work may be more impactful than any servant leader president could ever hope to be.
Dom Hélder Camara, late Brazilian Archbishop, put it this way, in another great quote:
“…Let no one be scandalized if I frequent
Those who are considered unworthy
Or sinful. Who is not a sinner?
Let no one be alarmed if I am seen
With compromised and dangerous people,
On the left or the right,
Let no one bind me to a group.
My door, my heart, must be open
To everyone, absolutely everyone.”
(Don’t be surprised if you find some of these quotes in my sermon on Sunday!)
To sum all of this up, Jesus as a servant leader is fascinating and mystifying. May such an image challenge us as followers to be servants to those we meet. May it shake us from seeing leadership as only about well-written speeches, perfect hair, well-groomed campaign positions, and youthful running mates. May it move us to align ourselves to the way of Jesus and the way of the cross.
See you Sunday!