Jesus said, “Do not be called leaders; for One is your Leader, that is, Christ” (Mt 23:10). The Greek word here is kathēgētēs, which means to be a master of or have rule over another. Jesus was keenly aware of humanity’s sinful propensity to desire to have power over others. So, He says to us, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them [katakyrieuō: to have rule over], and their great men exercise authority over them. It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Mt 20:25-28). Pretty clear isn’t it? We are called to servanthood, not leadership.
But then St. Paul says, “It is a trustworthy statement: if anyone of you aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work you desire to do” (1 Timothy 3:1). The word overseer is clear. This is a Christian who is in charge, who has ‘super-vision’ of others, or if you want to really parse this out, has rule over others.
How do we reconcile these seemingly opposing notions of Christian leadership? Well, for one, Paul emphasizes that the qualifications for being an overseer (Bishop/Pastor/Elder) include radical humility and holiness. Seeking to be a humble, holy, quiet, patient leader is quite different from the Gentiles (worldly leaders) who want power.
Thus, seeking to be a ‘powerless leader’ is in view here. Or, as in my definition of leadership: a Christian leader is one who uses his or her own influence or power to serve the needs of others, not influence (use) others to serve their own (or even God’s) agenda.
© Paul Dordal, 2014