The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear,a and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them. They do all their deeds to be seen by others; for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long. They love to have the place of honor at banquets and the best seats in the synagogues, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have people call them rabbi. But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all students. And call no one your father on earth, for you have one Father—the one in heaven. Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Messiah. The greatest among you will be your servant. All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.
Follow. Don’t lead.
I would put these words forward as perhaps the most important message that Christians can hear today in the midst of our confusing world. We live in a world of leaders and influencers who try to convince us they have the insight and vision to bring about the needed changes towards a brighter future.
But, leadership is a path away from the cross. Having tried to walk that route of trying to be a leader and a follower of Jesus, I found my heart being in deep split between the two. Being a leader and being a follower are so antithetical, it is obvious just be simply the words that you can not do both simultaneously.
Notice what I didn’t say. I didn’t say “Don’t influence.” We all have influence, from those with the highest status and the most money to those who have little to give and offer in the eyes of the world. We all have the ability to influence people, although our statuses and resources will determine and shape what the nature of the influence will typically be like.
The problem with leadership is this: it sets up an interpersonal expectation that whose who “follow” will be directly influenced by the words and actions of the leader. This interpersonal expectation is then maintained by various forms of justifications and rationales that determine how one handles interaction, submission, and deviance. The more leadership becomes intertwined within the person’s sense of self and identity, the more the leader’s sense of who they are is determined by how their rationalize and justify themselves in relationship to others. This creates a feeling of perpetual vulnerability that will either drive the leader into deeper anxiety or they will learn to disconnect and dissociate from it. On top of this, as others covet those positions of leadership, there is often a competition that forms, leading leaders to need to protect themselves from would-be competitors. This results in what may ultimately may come to be a paranoid position about others in which they are highly inclined to judge and exaggerate the intentions, motives, and character of other people who provoke anxiety within them. Leadership can readily lead to the authoritarian personality insofar as leadership begins to define a person’s identity and enables a person’s well-being. In this world, all the leader can see in the world is his or her own desires, his or her own fears, his or her own expectations and is blind to see other people for who they are, both in their positives and in their blemishes.
The Pharisees were leaders. Jesus spoke of what ultimately lurked underneath their heart in the form of murder. They exaggerated the character of John the Baptist and Jesus. They reached for blatant rationalizations to explain away the exorcisms Jesus did. They schemed continuously to find a way to get rid of Jesus. They projected their own problems onto other people with great veracity. The Pharisees were leaders and they failed to recognize the goodness of Jesus and the goodness of the pathway that his disciples were following.
Leadership takes us down this pathway. It puts the world through the lens of our own eyes, our own expectations, and feels to urge to compel those under their leadership to comply simply without concern for reason, evidence, or understanding.
You can not be act as a follower of Jesus and be a leader simultaneously. You can follow and you may be put into positions where you have an influence upon others, but your influence is not about people doing as you or as you expect. Your influence is about people seeing the route you are following and ultimately finding WHO you are following. You allow God to be the potter who forms them, but it is up to the other persons to receive from God through your obedience to Jesus.
You may obtain opportunities to have a remarkable influence upon other people, but the motivations that drive and motivate you is not the amount of influence you can cast but the life of the One who you follow. You are not concerned with how well your words or your action are being directly received and put into action by others, but you are concerned that others come to see and know Christ.
This is at the core of the words that Jesus gave right before pronouncing the Woes upon the Pharisees. Do not seek to be in the various ascribed positions of leadership, authority, and honor that so many people seek. Exalting oneself in terms of one social stature above others ultimately leads a downfall, whereas those who willingly accept a lower social status will be raised up by God.
Follow. Don’t lead.