“You know what, Nana? Leaders need helpers. A leader needs helpers cuz if they don’t have helpers they don’t have anyone to lead.”
I was playing dolls with my four-year old granddaughter when she said this out of the blue. I don’t know where it came from; perhaps she was processing what it meant to have a turn being “the helper” at preschool, but knowing the Lord’s love of revealing wisdom to children he may have just been joining us on the living room floor.
I have myself been processing what leadership and helpership mean in the context of learning to submit to one another (Ephesians 5:21).
Am I the only one who has images of whips and ridiculous leather costumes or Inquisitor’s tools pop unbidden into my less than pure mind when I hear the word “submission?”
Am I the only one who is embarrassed by what non-Christians must see when they look at competitiveness and ambition between “ministries” seeking more bums in seats?
Am I the only one who tires of authoritarian-style leadership where the gulf between platform people and audience people grows wider?
Am I the only one who groans at the disrespect and harsh criticism of people in the public eye lobbed by self-labeled experts who have no actual relationship with those they seem to need to fix?
Am I the only one who cringes when I hear another stern message that lords anatomy over character and calls for people making up half the population of the world to sit down and shut up without mentioning their own obligation to submit to one another and to love sacrificially like Jesus?
Am I the only one to sigh with disappointment when members of that population lob scathing incendiaries right back?
Am I the only one who tires of arguments about who merits the role of leader -or leader of leaders- in a hierarchical system that places official credentials above the ability to love -or on the other hand, the ability to demonstrate well-intended kindness above both knowledge of the scriptures and the character of God in an intimate relationship with the Holy?
Who is a leader in the big C Church?
Perhaps a leader is someone who helps his or her helpers.
No doubt there is a need for leadership. In the days of Judges when everyone “did what was right in their own eyes” not many people “did right” by others and me-first divisions resulted in all sorts of nastiness. Paul wrote that not many should strive to become teachers realizing that a higher degree of accountability would be applied to teachers, but implied that some definitely should become teachers like Priscilla and Aquila whom he honoured. He also gave lists of qualities to look for in leaders and the kind of gifts needed in leadership (none of which were of any use without the essential qualification of the ability to love). The Bible states clearly that consideration, honour and respect (including, in some cases, financial respect) ought to be given to leaders.
I heard a recognized leader (one who promotes others above himself) say that all sorts of people from unexpected (usually anti-Christian) backgrounds were showing up at their gatherings. His response? “Everyone is welcome! Not everyone gets to preach.”
A man I admire asked me to proof-read his resumé when he applied for a position as lead pastor of a church. I was impressed that he said, essentially, “These are my gifts, and these are not.”
“When it comes to [one area in particular],” he wrote light-heartedly, “I believe in the priesthood of believers and raising up others ready to use their gifts.” He went on to say, “I do not own the pulpit and if someone in the congregation is demonstrating a gift for building up others through public speaking, I will encourage them to do so.” Then he added, “I believe in the priesthood of all believers, but not in the leadership of all believers -until they are equipped.”
Who determines when leaders are ready? A board of examiners from the school for hoop-jumpers? Well for some this might be the process God chose for them to learn to give up their own desires and to go the second mile. For others such methods become a way to disqualify those not intellectually-oriented enough to attend seminary, but who still have a lot of wisdom to share. While recognizing and respecting a dire need for teachers with the calling to study and to teach accurately, I seriously wonder if the Lord meant leadership to be confined to those with the ability to be sermonizers.
I don’t know who said this (care to help me here?) but I love this quote: A man who leads when no one follows is going for a walk.
I wonder if a true leader is chosen by those who, by a willingness to help him or her, demonstrate the willingness to follow. I wonder if a willingness to both lead and follow is the result of the willingness to be helped. I wonder if recognizing a leader is recognizing in someone the ability to raise others up to become leaders themselves by helping to develop whatever gifts God has placed in them.
My little granddaughter taught me to play a new game I was not familiar with. I helped her set up the board and the cards when she showed me where they went. She had no problem respectfully correcting me when I did something wrong. I had no problem submitting to her leadership. She was the expert here. When we were finished the game, she submitted to my expertise and helped set the table to get ready for a meal featuring her favourite entré , macaroni and cheese. Helpers helping helpers. Leaders submitting to each other.
A little child shall lead them.
Thank you, Abba, that You reveal yourself in whomever You choose. No wonder Jesus did a happy dance when He saw You do this.
At that moment Jesus himself was inspired with joy, and exclaimed, “O Father, Lord of Heaven and earth, I thank you for hiding these things from the clever and the intelligent and for showing them to mere children! Yes, I thank you, Father, that this was your will.” (Luke 10:21 Phillips)