Christianity 201

November 11, 2017

Humility – Part Two – As We Are to Live It

Yesterday and today we’re doing a rare “Best of C201” and looking at a topic which appeared several times in 2014 with each containing a key passage from Philippians 2…

Some of you know that in the last two or three years my go-to portion of scripture has been the place in Philippians 2 where Paul breaks out into a section that translators set out from the text as poetry, leading many to conclude it was either a creed or something that had been set to music as an early church hymn. This is the passage I mentally recite when I can’t get back to sleep, and if you invite me to speak at your church on less than 72 hours notice, this is the passage I will speak on.

I’ve created my own version of it, but for sake of familiarity, this is the NKJV, which is usually not my default translation:

5 Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who,being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, 7 but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. 9 Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, 11 and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

So in practical terms, how do you adopt that mindset, that attitude; or to put it another way, how do you get to be humble?

He took on the role of a servant

Of the four things the text states this is really the only one that is open to us. We have already entered into the human condition, and we will almost certainly taste death, even if it is not the excruciating form that Jesus endured. Since we have no options vis-a-vis three of the four things stated, what we must press into is the idea of adopting the towel and the basin as our personal symbols; to give up the stallion in favor of a donkey; to take a seat at the back, not the front; and to seek not be served, but to serve.

We need to remember our sin

When spiritual pride comes knocking at the door, we need to remember our sinful condition. Like David, our sin is ever before us. If you’ve mastered holiness, good for you; but I still live in the middle of two conditions, in the warfare of two wills, two natures battling for control of my mind and actions. Without making this a confessional, suffice it to say that, like my apostle namesake, I haven’t attained it, but press on to it. Remaining in Christian community will help keeps us transparent and accountable.

It’s a really big planet

We are also humbled when we consider not only our place in the universe, but that we are members of a tribe seven billion strong. No matter how large your Facebook friends list, or whether you take significance in being either a big fish in a small pond or a small fish in a big pond; on a global scale sense of personal importance fades dramatically. You may be a superstar in your local church, or your denomination, or you may have won public service awards in your community, but on an international scale you’re probably not such a big deal.

Identifying humility’s opposite

I wrote about this a few days ago and suggested that while we often name pride as the culprit that undermines a humble spirit, ambition can be equally deadly. Being able to name the players in the spiritual battle that’s always ongoing really helps us see the root of the problem. Philip Yancey, in What’s So Amazing About Grace wrote about how the larger society operates by the rules of un-grace. Probably most people equally operate by the laws of un-humility. Timothy spoke of the last days being characterized by people who were “lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy…” We certainly do see a lot of that. When I remember how contagious these attitudes are I recognize the need to guard myself from trying to ‘keep up with the Joneses.’

I have a good example to follow

The whole point of this passage is comparison. Let the attitude or mindset that was in him also be in you. Three months ago, I wrote about the classic CCM song Understudy that uses Hollywood imagery to describe us apprenticing to the one with the starring role. No wonder the early followers of Jesus were called “little Christs.” Or, if you prefer, you can think of the students of who “walk in the dust of the rabbi;” doing everything their teacher does.

What other aspects of Christian living can serve to keep us humble?

November 10, 2017

Humility – Part One – As Jesus Demonstrated It

Today (Friday) and tomorrow (Saturday) we’re doing a rare “Best of C201” and looking at a topic which appeared several times in 2014 with each containing a key passage from Philippians 2…

John 13:3 Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; 4 so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. 5 After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him… 12 When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. 13 “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.

I rather frequently return to the theme of the humility of Christ, and I honestly don’t know why I’m drawn by this so often — maybe there’s a reason I don’t see — but I hope readers here are up for another look at this.

In most of our Bibles the passage above has a subheading such as “Jesus washes His disciples’ feet.” This is true as far as it goes, but I think “Jesus demonstrates humility” would make a better focus. We often use this passage to talk about “servant leadership” and many have suggested that in addition to the cross, the towel and the basin should be the symbol that represents Christianity.

However, I feel that it’s so easy to miss the full impact of verse 3:

  • Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God (NIV)
  • Because Jesus knew that the Father had handed all things over to him, and that he had come from God and was going back to God (NET)
  • The Father had put everything in Jesus’ control. Jesus knew that. He also knew that he had come from God and was going back to God. (God’s Word)

What a contrast between that set-up and the action that follows. It’s like a symphony that is building in a giant crescendo, and just as it reaches the penultimate note of the scale and you wait for that grand chord that resolves everything, the orchestra suddenly is silent, and you’re left with just the sound of a single violin or piccolo:

  • he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet

I say all that as a setup for some verses I’ve covered here many times:

Phil 2:3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

6 Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
7 rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!

The progression is rather simple in verses 7 and 8

  • took the nature of a servant
  • entered into the human condition
  • was obedient even to experiencing human death
  • and a death of the worst kind at that

If you look at the study we did on this in May of this year, you’ll notice I switched the order of the first two clauses in these verses. Surely, God enters humanity first — that’s the point of incarnation, the season we are about to celebrate — and then does so as someone whose birth lineage is controversial, whose occupation is that of a carpenter’s son, and whose short career as a rabbi is marked by things like foot washing. Right?

But then I started thinking about it, and recognized that the humility of Christ begins prior to the incarnation. Before the moment when “he left the splendor of Glory,” he has already taken on the role of a servant inasmuch as the incarnate Christ is submitted to the Father.

So although doctrinally the Father and Son are co-equal, and equally divine, in the incarnation we see passages such as:

John 5:19 Jesus gave them this answer: “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.’

and

Matthew 24:36 “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.

not to mention the passage where Jesus prays at Gethsemane Garden for the Father to introduce a Plan B that won’t involve the torment of crucifixion.

In other words, the humility of Jesus extends even so far as humbling himself before the Father, the One with whom he co-created the universe.

That’s submission. That’s humility.

…As I was preparing this, I was also listening to a sermon by Andy Stanley on pride, which is of course humility’s opposite. Nebuchadnezzar learns this the hard way and basically says that you either are humble or you get humbled.

Daniel 4:37 Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and exalt and glorify the King of heaven, because everything he does is right and all his ways are just. And those who walk in pride he is able to humble.

In my personal life and ministry I do encounter people who are arrogant, and I also find myself having to guard against arrogance and pride. God help me and all of us to develop a spirit of humility without having to be humbled. God help us to learn from Christ’s humility that is not only symbolized by a towel and basin, but by submission to God the Father’s will.

March 24, 2016

The Tradition of Maundy Thursday

Over the past five years we’ve seen a major shift in Evangelical observance of what the Mainline Protestant and Roman Catholic churches call Holy Week. There is much more consciousness of Lent and even debates — because of the rapid shift in some denominations — as to its incorporation in Evangelicalism. While we’ve always been observant of Good Friday and Easter Sunday, there is also an increasing awareness of Maundy Thursday and Holy Saturday. This article appeared twice at Thinking Out Loud, but this is its first time here…

2The evening meal was being served, and the devil had already prompted Judas Iscariot, son of Simon, to betray Jesus. 3Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; 4so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. 5After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him. ~John 13: 2-5 (NIV)

What’s that saying? “A fanatic is someone who loves Jesus more than you do.” Today I felt somewhat spiritually outclassed.

I spoke with someone and asked what their church was doing for Holy Week. They told me that their church was doing a service on Thursday, as well as Good Friday.

Thursday is called Maundy Thursday. The theological page Theopedia doesn’t cover it for some strange reason, but the regular Wikipedia site offers two explanations for the name, of which I give you the first:

FootwashingAccording to a common theory, the English word Maundy in that name for the day is derived through Middle English, and Old French mandé, from the Latin mandatum, the first word of the phrase “Mandatum novum do vobis ut diligatis invicem sicut dilexi vos” (“A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you”), the statement by Jesus in the Gospel of John (13:34) by which Jesus explained to the Apostles the significance of his action of washing their feet. The phrase is used as the antiphon sung during the “Mandatum” ceremony of the washing of the feet, which may be held during Mass or at another time as a separate event, during which a priest or bishop (representing Christ) ceremonially washes the feet of others, typically 12 persons chosen as a cross-section of the community.

As an aside, if you’re into church hopping, this is the day for you:

The tradition of visiting seven churches on Holy Thursday is an ancient practice, probably originating in Rome, where early pilgrims visited the seven pilgrim churches as penance.

Anyway, this church is having a foot washing as part of their Thursday service, and I was told, “Come and join us and we will wash your feet.”

I’ve never said that to anyone. And I’ve never washed anyone’s feet. I’m not totally comfortable with doing this or having it done for me. But the Biblical mandate to do this is quite clear. I feel like my spiritual pilgrimage is somewhat incomplete, like the person who has never been to Israel (or Wheaton, Illinois; the one time Evangelical equivalent, now displaced by Colorado Springs or Nashville; I’m not sure which.)

14Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 16I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them. ~John 13: 14-17 (NIV)

Does anyone see a loophole here? An opt-out clause? A reason why this doesn’t apply in the current dispensation?

I don’t.


We covered this topic briefly here at C201 two years ago. Here’s a link to that article, plus three others we linked to at that time, plus the video we ran that day.

For more reading:

February 9, 2016

On Being a True Servant

Today we’re paying a first-time visit to a writer whose blog was bookmarked in my computer, but I don’t believe we’ve ever featured here. Tanya Nemley blogs at God Speaks I Listen and you may click the title below to read this at its source, complete with graphics.

Are You a Servant of God?

John 12:26 If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.

I decided to write about the subject of being a servant of Jesus Christ. Why… you might ask? Because I feel that I need and maybe we all need to remember why we remain on the earth after our salvation experience. To put it simply…we are now working for God!

A servant is a…helper, follower and supporter of an important person, one who performs duties for a person in charge, a personal attendant, worker, hired help, steward, hireling, underling, an assistant.

We are not to be the one in charge but a servant to the one in charge. We are not supposed to out there making a big name for ourselves but making a name for the one we serve. Our whole Christian walk is not about us and what we can get out of God. It’s about what God can get out of us. This is for our benefit in our eternal life with Him. Some may ask… why don’t we just go to heaven after we get saved? We are servants after salvation and we assist in leading others to Jesus.

Mark 10:44-45 and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be slave of all. 45 “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”

There is a word in the above scripture verse that really quickened me down in my spirit and that word is “even”. Even Jesus who is the Son of Almighty God served. He knew His place and duty down here on earth. He knew He had a job to do for Father God. We all have a job to do for God.

The older I get and the more I pray and study God’s word I am coming to realize my purpose for my existence and reason for my earthly stay. Excuse me for putting it this way…I want to work my butt off for God! Now that I know who I am and what my whole life is about I KNOW what I need and want to do. My life is dedicated to serving my husband, my 6 kids, my parents, family, friends, acquaintances and strangers.

Galatians 5:13 You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love.

I need people to see Jesus in my life and the only way to show them is to do what He did:

John 13: 12-15 When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. 13 “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.

servant heartBeing a good servant means being keenly aware of the one that you are serving. Without knowing who’s in charge one might begin to take control of things. They might take over authority. They could abuse power that they don’t really have. Worse yet they may get puffed up and accept credit for any successes.

Paul makes it clear who he is as he makes these statements several times in the bible…” Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ.” “Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus”.

John the Baptist made this statement:

Act 13:25 As John was completing his work, he said: ‘Who do you suppose I am? I am not the one you are looking for. But there is one coming after me whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.

See people will try to follow you because John said “who do you suppose that I am.” He knew that they what they were thinking about him and that they might want to follow him. But John was a Worker and was trying to complete his job here on earth. He could have taken a little credit here and told these men to come and join his group but instead he told them of the master… his employer. He humbled himself by saying he was unworthy to even tie His employers shoes. What a servant John was!

Jesus mother Mary said this:

“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her. Luke 1:18

What a woman of God! There was no doubt that she knew what she was!

The bible says we must be a servant and the Holy Spirit will help us accomplish this task all day every day. God WILL honor you us serving. We will be rewarded too.

Don’t follow anyone who is looking for praise and adoration, but stick around with those with a humble and giving spirit. You don’t even need a lot of discernment for this…you will just know the difference between who wants to be served and who is serving.

I’m seeing a vision right now: I see Jesus high and lifted up and there is a very long line of people standing in front of Him.   They have servant’s outfits on with a towel on one arm and the other behind their back. They are saying…. “What can I do for you my Lord?” Jesus says something to each one and they leave Him. I asked Jesus what did He say to them and He said He told them to obey the word. He said He has told everyone what to do already. He said everyone was born with gifts and talents and then when we accept Him as Lord and Savior the Holy Spirit has been leading us from day one. We must obey God.

Checklist for our job as a servant of God:

  1. We all have a gifts and talents naturally given to us by God. Think about yours.
  2. The bible gives us clear instruction in what we are to do for the kingdom. If we don’t know what to do start by finding out what the bible says we should do.
  3. Walk with God so you will find it much easier to hear Gods voice when He by way of the Holy Spirit gives you direct orders for His divine purpose or mission.
  4. Make sure you are always prepared and ready to serve. Know your word, have tracks and bibles available, have your testimony ready and be prepared to share it, have a sharp eye for those divine appointments…in other words look for opportunities kingdom work.
  5. Make sure your house is in order. Have you ever seen a beautician with her hair looking busted and she wants to do your hair? We represent the King of Kings. You don’t need a Louis Vuitton handbag to witness to someone but a clean, humble, willing and dedicated heart.
  6. Be willing to do dirty work. God may not start you at the top. He may want to see if you’ll be faithful with smaller task until He sees that He can trust you.
  7. Let love be your motivation in all that you do for Him. Have love for Him and love for others.

Looking back over the past day, week, month year(s) can you really say what you’ve done for the Lord? Maybe a little, a lot or nothing at all. We need to take our Christianity seriously. Being a servant is what a Christian is and who a Christian is. I pray this blog today will cause one to ponder and make adjustment if necessary. God bless you!

 

November 30, 2014

To Whom Jesus Submitted

John 13:3 Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him… 12 When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. 13 “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.

I realize that I rather frequently return to the theme of the humility of Christ, and I honestly don’t know why I’m drawn by this so often — maybe there’s a reason I don’t see — but I hope readers here are up for another look at this.

In most of our Bibles the passage above has a subheading such as “Jesus washes His disciples’ feet.”  This is true as far as it goes, but I think “Jesus demonstrates humility” would make a better focus. We often use this passage to talk about “servant leadership” and many have suggested that in addition to the cross, the towel and the basin should be the symbol that represents Christianity.

However, I feel that it’s so easy to miss the full impact of verse 3:

  • Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God  (NIV)
  • Because Jesus knew that the Father had handed all things over to him, and that he had come from God and was going back to God (NET)
  • The Father had put everything in Jesus’ control. Jesus knew that. He also knew that he had come from God and was going back to God. (God’s Word)

What a contrast between that set-up and the action that follows. It’s like a symphony that is building in a giant crescendo, and just as it reaches the penultimate note of the scale and you wait for that grand chord that resolves everything, the orchestra suddenly is silent, and you’re left with just the sound of a single violin or piccolo:

  • he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet

I say all that as a setup for some verses I’ve covered here many times:

Phil 2:3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death—
        even death on a cross!

The progression is rather simple in verses 7 and 8

  • took the nature of a servant
  • entered into the human condition
  • was obedient even to experiencing human death
  • and a death of the worst kind at that

If you look at the study we did on this in May of this year, you’ll notice I switched the order of the first two clauses in these verses. Surely, God enters humanity first — that’s the point of incarnation, the season we are about to celebrate — and then does so as someone whose birth lineage is controversial, whose occupation is that of a carpenter’s son, and whose short career as a rabbi is marked by things like foot washing. Right?

But then I started thinking about it, and recognized that the humility of Christ begins prior to the incarnation. Before the moment when “he left the splendor of Glory,” he has already taken on the role of a servant inasmuch as the incarnate Christ is submitted to the Father.

So although doctrinally the Father and Son are co-equal, and equally divine, in the incarnation we see passages such as:

John 5:19 Jesus gave them this answer: “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.’

and

Matthew 24:36 “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.

not to mention the passage where Jesus prays at Gethsemane Garden for the Father to introduce a Plan B that won’t involve the torment of crucifixion.

In other words, the humility of Jesus extends even so far as humbling himself before the Father, the One with whom he co-created the universe.

That’s submission. That’s humility.

…As I was preparing this, I was also listening to a sermon by Andy Stanley on pride, which is of course humility’s opposite. Nebuchadnezzar learns this the hard way and basically says that you either are humble or you get humbled.

 Daniel 4:37 Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and exalt and glorify the King of heaven, because everything he does is right and all his ways are just. And those who walk in pride he is able to humble.

In my personal life and ministry I do encounter people who are arrogant, and I also find myself having to guard against arrogance and pride. God help me and all of us to develop a spirit of humility without having to be humbled. God help us to learn from Christ’s humility that is not only symbolized by a towel and basin, but by submission to God the Father’s will.

August 1, 2014

Humility Reminders

Today’s post appeared jointly with the blog Thinking Out Loud.

 

Some of you know that in the last two or three years my go-to portion of scripture has been the place in Philippians 2 where Paul breaks out into a section that translators set out from the text as poetry, leading many to conclude it was either a creed or something that had been set to music as an early church hymn. This is the passage I mentally recite when I can’t get back to sleep, and if you invite me to speak at your church on less than 72 hours notice, this is the passage I will speak on.

I’ve created my own version of it, but for sake of familiarity, this is the NKJV, which is usually not my default translation:

5 Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who,being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, 7 but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. 9 Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, 11 and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

So in practical terms, how do you adopt that mindset, that attitude; or to put it another way, how do you get to be humble?

He took on the role of a servant

Of the four things the text states this is really the only one that is open to us. We have already entered into the human condition, and we will almost certainly taste death, even if it is not the excruciating form that Jesus endured. Since we have no options vis-a-vis three of the four things stated, what we must press into is the idea of adopting the towel and the basin as our personal symbols; to give up the stallion in favor of a donkey; to take a seat at the back, not the front; and to seek not be served, but to serve.

We need to remember our sin

When spiritual pride comes knocking at the door, we need to remember our sinful condition. Like David, our sin is ever before us. If you’ve mastered holiness, good for you; but I still live in the middle of two conditions, in the warfare of two wills, two natures battling for control of my mind and actions. Without making this a confessional, suffice it to say that, like my apostle namesake, I haven’t attained it, but press on to it. Remaining in Christian community will help keeps us transparent and accountable.

It’s a really big planet

We are also humbled when we consider not only our place in the universe, but that we are members of a tribe seven billion strong. No matter how large your Facebook friends list, or whether you take significance in being either a big fish in a small pond or a small fish in a big pond; on a global scale sense of personal importance fades dramatically. You may be a superstar in your local church, or your denomination, or you may have won public service awards in your community, but on an international scale you’re probably not such a big deal.

Identifying humility’s opposite

I wrote about this a few days ago and suggested that while we often name pride as the culprit that undermines a humble spirit, ambition can be equally deadly. Being able to name the players in the spiritual battle that’s always ongoing really helps us see the root of the problem. Philip Yancey, in What’s So Amazing About Grace wrote about how the larger society operates by the rules of un-grace. Probably most people equally operate by the laws of un-humility. Timothy spoke of the last days being characterized by people who were “lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy…” We certainly do see a lot of that. When I remember how contagious these attitudes are I recognize the need to guard myself from trying to ‘keep up with the Joneses.’

I have a good example to follow

The whole point of this passage is comparison. Let the attitude or mindset that was in him also be in you. Three months ago, I wrote about the classic CCM song Understudy that uses Hollywood imagery to describe us apprenticing to the one with the starring role. No wonder the early followers of Jesus were called “little Christs.” Or, if you prefer, you can think of the students of who “walk in the dust of the rabbi;” doing everything their teacher does.

What other aspects of Christian living can serve to keep us humble?

 

 

January 2, 2011

The Biblical Concept of Leadership

Jamie Arpin-Ricci is founding co-director of YWAM Urban Ministries in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada; a vocation which combined with his writing on the Missional Church would never catch you guessing that he’s also a third order Franciscan.

I really like the way he has come to understand what we can — and can’t — infer from leadership models in scripture.    This appeared just before his Christmas on his blog, A Living Alternative: Our Missional Pilgrimage, under the title Godly Leadership.

When I consider leadership in the Church I am deeply convinced that God calls His people to a politic of communal and absolute submission to the Lordship of Christ alone.  So what does that mean about leadership?  That word, “leadership”, comes loaded with baggage from the wider culture (for better and for worse).  In response to the worst aspects of leadership models that come from the world into the church- namely the pastor as CEO- some have pushed back against the very concept of leadership, questioning whether it is even biblical.  A few (and I believe a very few) reject leadership in toto.  Sadly, when legitimate concerns about leadership are raised, some respond by citing the dangers of this minority perspective, thus failing to recognize the more immediate and prevalent problems that were being addressed.

In considering “biblical leadership” I must always begin with Jesus, the perfect example of human leadership.  Jesus is the King of Kings, the leader of leaders.  So much can be gleaned from Him that we can only barely brush the surface here.  However, a few aspects emerge centrally for me.  Interestingly, Jesus does adopt the title “king”, drawing from the surrounding culture in respect to the nature of His leadership.  However, Jesus leads like no other king in human history- from His birth through to His resurrection and ascension- modeling a humble, servant posture that subverted the very system He draw the name from.  From this we can then recognize that when Scripture borrows from other examples in the world (such as “presbyters”, which translated as “elder”, etc., used widely outside of the Church), we cannot presume that the function of those roles are in anyway similar to their namesakes.

Jesus modeled a leadership that was absolutely submitted to the Father (”Not my will, but Yours be done”).  If the King of Kings functions in complete submission to the Father, then we too must only embody leadership that is in complete submission to Christ.  And when we submit to leadership in the Church (and I believe there are times where such leadership is right and godly), we are practicing leadership in that very act of submission.  Too often we read reference to submission in Scripture as an affirmation of specific authority when in fact God is teaching us that submission is the greater good, the ultimate point, not the leadership it is submitting to.  Any role and opportunity of leadership must, in itself, be an act of submission to God, making humility the primary condition for all leadership.

The New Testament talks about those to whom we are meant to submit to, such as in 1 Timothy 5:17.  The word “rule”- “proistēmi” in the Greek- share the same root as the word “first”- “prōtos”- from Matthew 20:16, when Jesus promised that the last shall be first.  In other words, those who might be in positions of leadership are not the point in and of themselves, despite how our culture celebrates and especially honors such leaders.  They exist for the purpose of those they are serving.  Leadership, while essential, is ultimately meant to serve the community of Christ in the same way a buttress supports a cathedral.  The buttress/leadership is designed to lend support, stability and even boundaries for the cathedral/community.  They have a specific and essential role, but no more important than the whole.  In fact, they are to be “the least”.

A more powerful image for how the community of faith is meant to function is the Church as the Body of Christ.  In the function of any body, there are parts that function in more apparent prominence, such as the mouth or hands.  It is easy for some to view such roles as more important, more valuable.  Few Christians would deny this truth, yet functionally we continue to treat those roles with greater honor.  Yet the truth is that the most critical parts and functions of the body (and the Body) are unseen, hidden, even intentionally covered.  This truth has to move beyond a conceptual, espoused conviction and shape the very nature of our communities, relationships and leadership.  Further, like any body, certain circumstances require different aspects of the body to take leadership.  Thus, leadership should be more situational, circumstantial and mutual, as the dynamic realities of life and service to God require genuine and intentional submission to others in some situations, while requiring initiative and sacrificial service in others.

We must also recognize that all communities, like all the individuals in those communities, are moving towards wholeness in and through Christ.  Therefore, the role and the nature of leadership in communities are shaped by the circumstances.  In my inner city context, there is a greater need for my more intentional, directive pastoral leadership.  However, my commitment in that role is to work myself out of such centrality- not completely out of leadership, but rather as one of many uniquely gifted leaders in a community of submitted disciples of Christ, equally submitted to His servant Kingship.

Jamie Arpin-Ricci