Sunday, March 18, 2007

Servant Leadership?

I have been talking for a few weeks on some aspects of what it takes to be a good leader. I know the topics may have seemed a bit strange but still, being a leader isn’t always about the glory or about the headlines. Being a really good leader involves so many things other than that. Last week, we talked for a while about the need to be transformed and how we as a congregation are a catalyst for the transformation of the world. We are the ones God has called to lead the way to a new creation.

In connection with leadership, I have been thinking about Jesus. I do occasionally think about him, after all, he is the one I work for. Jesus is our leader – my leader – and as I thought about him, I realized that leadership isn’t always a lot of fun. Looking at this prophecy about Jesus and then realizing that we are coming up on Easter week, we must realize that being a leader – being THE leader is sort of like putting a red and white target on your back and singing the leadership theme song: “Hit me with your best shot!”

Isaiah talks of the suffering servant leader. It describes him as not being very good looking but as one who takes on himself the sins of the world and gives himself so that the rest of us can have a better life.

A suffering servant? The passage in Isaiah 52 and 53 is usually reserved for Advent but perhaps it deserves a fresh look since we are so close to Easter.

I have been wondering what most people in the world think about when they hear the church talk about Jesus as the suffering servant. What image does that convey? The first one that comes to my mind is that of victim.

Jesus was a victim of the power struggle that was going on in Palestine. Jesus was the victim of the struggle between the religious leaders and the political leaders. Jesus was the victim of the greed and hubris of the religious leadership of his day. Jesus was the victim of those who were too cowardly to stand with him and for him – those who ran away at the first sign of trouble.

So what is the advantage of being a servant-leader? Right now we are in the beginning of our eight-year election process for president. And one of the characteristics that many people look for in a candidate is this: do they look presidential? Do they look like they are in-charge? Do they look powerful and sure of themselves? Do these candidates possess the characteristics of leadership that we need to guide us out of the distress we have gotten ourselves into? That’s what being presidential seems to mean.

I don’t think Jesus could have been elected president. He didn’t look very presidential. He didn’t come across as one who is in charge. No, Jesus is seen as a victim; a poor peasant teacher who traveled around on foot and was even seen washing the feet of his followers.

Leadership is about serving. Leadership is about transforming our minds to see things differently so that we can provide salvation to all who hear the good news we have to share. According to the prophesy, Jesus wasn’t anything much to look at. He wasn’t beautiful by the world’s standards. He wasn’t particularly powerful. He expected no one to bow and grovel at his feet – he even corrected those who referred to him as good. There was no pretense in the man. He barked no orders and carried no sword. And yet, people came to hear him, to see him, to learn from him by the thousands.

He was not the kind of leader who looked presidential or who would command a great army because of his stature. Yet, people followed him and people have died for him.

We have our image of what it takes to be a leader. We want our leaders to be, well, - presidential.

As I was thinking about leadership and Jesus, I came across the following quote from an article in the Methodist Reporter. This person was writing about the problems in the church and discussing the decline in membership that the church as a whole has been experiencing.

Here is what he said that got my attention: “we are losing members because we practice a lukewarm faith: our preachers preach a lukewarm gospel and our lay people practice a lukewarm discipleship.”

How do you react to a statement like that? In a recent pastors meeting, this statement got the dander up of most of the pastors in the room. None of us saw our church, our message or our members as being lukewarm.

What about you? Do you think of the church as lukewarm? So we discussed worship and sermons and other things. We discussed the fact that people want excitement in worship and courageous leadership in the church. Ah, there is that word leadership again.

What do you want in a leader? What do you think the world is really looking for in a leader?

To those questions, the church answers that our leader is a suffering servant. Our leader went to a cross and died. Our leader fed thousands and stooped to take care of a bleeding woman and wash the feet of his dusty, dirty followers. Our leader even said that we should also do as he did.

I’m not sure how you feel about someone calling your church lukewarm? When I think about Jesus and the price that was paid for this church, I get upset. I get passionate about telling the story of Jesus and I have given my life to encourage you to do the same.

The world is looking for a church that is a leader. The world is looking for a church that will go the extra mile and stoop down to wash its feet. The world is looking for a savior who isn’t afraid to get in the trenches with them.

But the world is also looking for a leader who makes bold and brash moves to bring people into God’s presence. Do you think of Jesus only as a victim – a suffering person who looks pitiful and weak? Or do you see the Jesus who marched into the temple with a whip in his hand and rage in his eyes to cast out those who made a mockery of his father’s house? Do you see the weakling man who spent time with the sick and the afflicted, or do you see a courageous man who was not afraid to touch a leper and walked up to a local politician to invite himself to dinner?

Yes, we present to the world a suffering servant. We present to the world a savior who faced death along with the rest of us and who walked into that death confident that he was going to overcome it.

There is a lot of talk in different church circles about how to present Jesus to men. It is a sad fact that only about 40% of men are active in any church. So now, there are “man-churches” springing up around the country. Churches who say they aren’t church. Churches who say they are tired of the feminine side of Jesus – that we sing too much and we hold hands too much. They are looking for a macho Jesus. They want to see the He-man Jesus – the one who kicks over tables and casts out demons.

Okay, there is that Jesus. But he is also the man who loved the unlovable and who walked willingly to his own death on a cross.

What kind of leader do you want? What kind of savior are you looking for? I’m sure the church is going to see changes made in the way we present the gospel in the next few years. We have seen changes before – changes are important to help us reach new generations.

What doesn’t change is this – we still offer to the world a brave, leader who suffered with us and who still calls us to travel with him to a lost and dying world.

What Jesus wants, it seems to me, is for men and women to be willing to follow him down the same road. Are you willing to go where he went? Are you willing to go where he sends you? The road may be rough and there may be suffering along the way.

But if you go- if you follow – if you lead and spread the gospel, the a world can be transformed again into what God wants it to be. Want to talk about it some more? Then come on by next Sunday and let's see what God would want. Allen

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