True Leadership Is Followership (Reflection)

#4 - Incarnation of LeaderDo Not Be Called Leaders
Did you know there is actually very little written in the Bible supporting hierarchical human leadership? In fact, Jesus was extremely cautious about, if not totally opposed to, humans having power over other humans: “Do not be called leaders…” (Mt 23:10).

In spite of this, a cottage industry of leadership resources has been produced by U.S. “Christian” publishers to develop, train, and multiply hierarchical leaders (not to mention the myriad leadership books published by “secular” booksellers.)  Ironically, I too wrote a leadership book called The Great Commandment Leader (2011). However, my book focuses much more on being a servant than being a leader, and my second book, In Search of Jesus the Anarchist (2017), further calls for the dismantling of the systems that create the sinful divide between leader and follower.

Over the last fifteen years or so I have tried to emphasize a new way of organizing life and society that promotes a leadership structure that is similar to the upside-down triangle popularized by various “servant leadership” models. Unfortunately, most of the servant models I have seen focus on individual leadership style changes, and not on transforming societies. Simply put, Western education and Christianity does not really teach a servant leadership or followership model of societal or economic life. So, what might it look like if we taught followership instead of leadership? Could we have a course (or, better yet, a course of study) called “Followership Studies?” Maybe there is one, but I have not seen it (and even the many new books on followership don’t address the misguided systemic hierarchical construction of almost all of our social and cultural institutions).

Thus, if I were to develop a course on followership, the outline might be something like: (1) Follow Down: An Incarnational/Non-Hierarchical Model (self-emptying); (2) Follow Up: Multi-Level Communication (self-sacrificing); and, (3) Follow Through: Finishing Well (self-denying). Though these three topics could engender a lot of sub-topics, my reflections today are on just a few overarching ideas.

Follow-Down
In my book on leadership, I challenged the prevailing definition of leadership as influence. Though, I do not necessarily say that “leadership as influence” was wrong, but how that influence was applied. For most leadership authors, influence is defined as the process of how a leader uses his power, privilege, and resources to get others to do what the leader or the organization thinks is best. My definition flipped the script and said that leadership is incarnational—it is the giving away of the leader’s power, privilege, and resources to enable followers to become leaders themselves. Jesus said, in reference to his followers, “Students are not greater than their teacher. But the student who is fully trained will become like the teacher.” (Lk 6:40, HCSB).

Follow-Up
So, Follow-Down is the humble (down-to-earth) movement towards recreating a society of equal and dignified human beings through self-emptying. Follow-Up, then, is the process by which people continually divest themselves of their privilege and resources through self-sacrificing for the sake of others. Unfortunately, the top-down, hierarchical, and neo-liberal capitalist system will always reassert itself, because that is how it is designed. Thus, the new flat/non-hierarchical society must be fought for continually; it must be perpetually communicated (followed-up) in different ways, primarily through loving, self-sacrificing actions matched with repeated words (e.g. Repent, the Kin-dom of God is near”). Jesus was the exemplary teacher/healer in this regard.  Like Jesus, we must follow-up with a ceaseless demonstration of the Good News of God’s Kin-Dom for all people.

Follow-Through
Lastly, as we incarnate by following down, and follow-up through a demonstrable program of the Gospel, then we follow-through by being consistent with our program of societal change. Accordingly, we recognize, as fundamental, that the oppressed and the poor will not follow if we do not follow-through. And by following-through, I am talking about knowing that we as “servant-leaders” are called to die to self (self-denying), not once in some mystical way, but through continually dying to self so that others may live. This can only be done through the Spirit of Christ coursing through our very being.

Final Thoughts
I have to admit that I don’t do this well. I am a work-in-progress. This is partly due to my own psychology and familial/cultural influences. Nevertheless, I refuse to beat myself up and see myself as the primary problem when the entire system of hierarchy, competition, and power that we all have been raised and currently live in (neo-liberal capitalism and hierarchical church systems) is opposed to what Jesus called for in his inauguration of the Kin-dom of God.

Thus, my emphasis now on followership focuses more on the societal possibilities of Jesus’s incarnational model. And though it may seem that this idea is not possible, that, overwhelmingly, people are always going to be followers and not desirous of leadership, even if this is true in our current reality, it is not true of human potential. Jesus’s Kin-dom of God, or what I have called the Commonweal of Love, is not unrealistic, it is simply focused on the potential of humanity, not on its current oppressed state.

A life full of meaning will be marked by our struggle for fulfilling our own potential as individual human beings and our struggle for a society where all people can fulfill their potential in intersubjective and interdependent mutuality.

© Paul Dordal, 2018

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Jesus: Healer of False Consciousness (Reflection)

Fat Cats“Jesus said, ‘You cannot even see the Kin-dom of God unless you rise above your false consciousness’” (John 3:3).

Introduction
Yes, I have taken some liberty with the original text, but not the original meaning. Jesus proclaimed that to live by the Spirit, one needed to be “born again”—to see through the blindness that the “world” (or the empire) has imposed on the common people. This blindness or false consciousness is what Jesus came to heal (Luke 4:18).

False consciousness is the imposed and erroneous beliefs of the oppressed as they adopt the ideology of their oppressors—when the poor and working classes believe that the elite class deserves to unjustly rule over them by virtue of their place of power. False consciousness also manifests itself when the poor and working classes falsely believe that all individuals have the ability to become a member of the elite class.

False consciousness is often violently (verbally and physically) acted out by the poor and working classes in their misguided attacks on other poor and working-class people (e.g., blaming the poor or the victim, union busting, police brutality, participating in imperial warfare, etc.). Only when the poor and working class awaken (are born again) from their false consciousness can they be “set free” and begin to overcome their oppressors (Luke 4:18).

Jesus was assassinated by the Roman Empire because he preached class-consciousness (e.g., “blessed are the poor”) and he healed those blinded by false consciousness. Jesus healed through his preaching rebellion by the poor and working classes over the political and religious elite (“Do not be like the hypocrites…”). Jesus’s preaching took place in three arenas: the personal, the institutional, and the imperial.

Personal, Institutional, and Imperial False-Consciousness
In the personal arena, Jesus challenged the prevailing religious-elite imposed attitude that a poor or oppressed person was that way because of personal sin. “Jesus’ disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ Jesus answered, ‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened so that the works of God would be displayed in him’” (John 9:2-3). Jesus flipped the script on false consciousness which wants to blame the victim of poverty or disability. Jesus declares that poverty or disability are actually the means by which the goodness of God can be demonstrated.

In the institutional arena, Jesus challenged organized religion that regarded itself as a power to be obeyed, rather than as a vehicle by which the oppressed and poor could be served and set free. “Jesus said, ‘Tear down this evil temple which represents corrupt religion and in three days I will raise it up.’ ‘What,’ the blind disciples replied, ‘This temple took forty-six years to build and you think you can rebuild it in three days?” (John 2:19-20). Jesus, again, in healing the false consciousness of the working class, shows that any institution that doesn’t serve the poor and working classes is evil and must be destroyed.

Finally, in the imperial arena Jesus took on the Roman Empire, yet the religious elite (or labor aristocracy) of his time opposed him because of their false consciousness and desire to hold on to their own limited power. When Pilate, the representative of Rome, said he had the power to crucify him, Jesus replied, “You have no power over me, other than the power I give to you” (John 19:11). And then when Pilate presents Jesus as the “King” or “Emperor” of the poor and working classes, it is the co-opted religious elite who betray Jesus. “Pilate said to the religious elite, ‘Here is your King!’ At this, they shouted back to Pilate, ‘Crucify Him!’ ‘Shall I crucify your King?’ Pilate asked. ‘We have no king but the Emperor,’ replied the religious elite” (John 19:14-15).

Conclusion
Our function as liberated and transformed spiritual individuals, people who have come into class consciousness, is to help heal other individuals trapped in false consciousness, to dismantle the corrupt institutions of the ruling elite, and, ultimately, to replace imperial, capitalist rule with the truly just rule of and by the proletariat (the poor and working classes).

© Paul Dordal, 2018