Leadership in the Church: Not Like the Gentiles

Whether you read research out of the National Institutes of Health[1] or simply observe children at play, you will find evidence that humans are hardwired for hierarchy. Consequently, hierarchy feels “natural.” It seems “good.” And if we’ve learned anything from post-modern culture it’s that “It can’t be wrong when it feels so right!”[2] We even have biblical passages to which we can appeal in support of hierarchy.

Leadership norms

Yet Jesus had a few things to say about hierarchy that don’t line up with what we often see. He didn’t deny it; He just turned it on its head:

You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. (Matthew 20:25-28 ESV)

Sure, we all have the impulse to influence things in the direction we would have them to go. That’s not bad, in and of itself (unless it’s entirely driven out of selfish ambition). The real question is how we go about doing this. Jesus definitely carved out a new path for leaders in the church. And, yes, some are definitely called to lead. Hierarchy is “a thing.”

But believers are to lead with the understanding that they are accountable to Christ. They lead as their Lord did, laying down His life for others. Jesus did engage in hyperbole and sarcasm when addressing those who set themselves up in opposition. However, with His own, He taught them patiently, lovingly explaining the bits they didn’t get, and demonstrating humility by going so far as to wash their feet, literally.

A different style

Christlike leaders in the church do not do so by “throwing their weight around” like their counterparts in secular culture (as seen in both the 1st and 21st Centuries). Nor do they adopt the popular belligerent, demeaning, bellicose style of the day. Instead, they do so by:

  • Entreating others with the meekness and gentleness of Christ (2 Corinthians 10:1)
  • Pursuing righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness and gentleness (1 Timothy 6:11)
  • Avoiding quarrels and kindly, patiently enduring evil in order to correct their opponents with gentleness (2 Timothy 2:23-26)
  • Being prepared to defend their hope with gentleness, respect, and a good conscience (1 Peter 3:15-16)

The “gentile” part of me is sorely tempted to reiterate these points with lots of caps, underscores, and bold typeface. Yes, I want to yell at leaders and tell them to stop being gentile-like and to be Christ-like. But if I did that, then, I’d have to rebuke myself.

Instead, I entreat my fellow leaders and influencers (whether in official or casual roles) to calmly and quietly reason with those we identify as needing instruction or correction while remembering that these goals are best carried out in the context of fellowship.

When we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another. (1 John 1:7)


1 https://www.nih.gov/news-events/news-releases/human-brain-appears-hard-wired-hierarchy

2 https://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/leannrimes/youlightupmylife.html

Ron Hughes

    1 Comment

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    When the Lord spoke, he was addressing the disciples who were primarily Jews who had the Chief Priest, Pharisees and Saduccees lording it over them although they were only second class citizens due to the political leadership held by the Roman monarchy. As a minority group, using the gentiles as an illustration makes sense completely.

    It must be emphasized that both the Jews, the chosen people and the gentiles projected a most UNCHRIST-LIKE leadership to the fledgling church being formed in the first century.

    The title of the piece troubled me a bit because I belong to this gentile group and was saved from damnation by His grace alone!


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