Excerpt from Mark 9:30-37
"[Those who] want to be first must place [themselves] last of all and be the servant of all."
Reflection by William C. Green
Who’s in charge in your family? You as a single parent? You and your spouse or partner? Do you make joint decisions? Is the whole family involved? And what about at church? Is it the pastor? the Church Council? the congregation?
Jesus spoke of being first by being last and "the servant of all." Some take this to mean “leadership from behind” where the focus is on forging consensus or training and moving others up front. Others think it’s about not coveting prominence and finding greatness in humility—don’t sit at the head of the table.
We miss Jesus’ point if we focus on the style and display of leadership rather than its purpose. Jesus speaks of that purpose in terms of welcoming, embracing, and protecting the most vulnerable, those without standing—in the case he gives, children. He could have spoken of anyone powerless and marginalized by the status and authority commonly accorded leaders.
Anthony Robinson speaks of the purpose of good leadership in a book with application beyond the church, Leadership for Vital Congregations: "She or he provides direction, protection, orientation, deals with conflict, and pays attention to norms." But then Robinson adds, "How those functions are fulfilled may vary depending on time and place."
There's more than one way to be a good parent, pastor, and civic or political leader. There's more than one way to conduct a good meeting to serve all, not just a few. Too often fixed ideas of leadership become more important than what needs to get done. Wanting everyone in the discussion we can forget why there's a discussion except that nobody should be left out. And wanting to be good parents of happy and successful children we can forget that this, too, confuses means with the greater end of maturity which includes dealing with hard times.
Jesus calls us to look beyond conventional ideas of success and what it means to be in charge. Good leadership is fluid and flows to the needs of others. Success is resilience in the service of that goal.
God, may our leadership focus less on right ways of doing things and more on what needs to be done in the spirit of Christ. Amen.