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The Leading Point

Upside-Down Leadership





It's not our lack of leaders that has us awry these days, it's our understanding of what a true leader looks like.


In her 1997 Grammy-nominated hit, Paula Cole asked, “Where Have All the Cowboys Gone?” She sang of a disgruntled housewife whose husband didn’t live up to expectations. A dozen years later the world is singing a different tune about unmet potential: Where have all the leaders gone?

The question has been posed in countless public forums, talk shows and editorials like this one. People want to know what has happened to the legendary leaders who commanded situations and people alike with trustworthy authority. After the recent parade of Madoffs, Thains, Blagojeviches, Geithners, Daschles and [insert latest high-profile leader involved in scandal here], I don’t really blame them for asking.

But is that really the right question? The problem doesn’t seem to be a lack of leaders—everyone’s a self-proclaimed leader of something these days—but instead our understanding of what a true leader looks like and does. We’ve clearly encountered a crisis of leadership in corporate and government circles. Mention headline-making names such as Ted Haggard or Todd Bentley, and it’s obvious we’ve had serious problems in the charismatic church too.

I’m glad to see some of our movement’s leaders taking the first steps toward change by accepting the blame. At a recent gathering, with a room full of prominent ministers on their knees, the consensus came via a simple prayer: “We failed You. We’re sorry.” Though spoken to God, the words were equally applicable to those under their watch.

Obviously, not everyone should be lumped in with the scandalous superstars of Spirit-filled living. I believe God, through divine exposure, is making His great leaders stand out; yet we’ve been conditioned to look for all the wrong traits in all the wrong places. In today’s open-source Christianity, you’re automatically dubbed a leader if you’re a natural on the platform. Teach a few seminars, write some books and you’re suddenly an expert on the topic.

Yet consider Jesus’ upside-down model of leadership: “He who is greatest among you shall be your servant” (Matt. 23:11). He elaborated by saying “the last will be first, and the first last” (Matt. 20:16), and warned that “if anyone desires to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all” (Mark 9:35). Notice there’s no mention of charisma, stage presence, oratory or even anointing—only being a last-place servant.

The greatest leaders barely register a blip on our cultural radars because they’re stooped down, serving their fellow “least of these.” They’re in the trenches, restoring the unlovely, forgotten and abandoned rather than seeking limelight. They understand the concept of descending to greatness (p. 46), yet like Nashville, Tenn., pastor Scott MacLeod (p. 40), they’re not really after greatness in the first place—they just want to be like Jesus.

Christ could’ve established a “sexier” leadership model better suited for today’s platform-driven church culture. He knew all about drawing the masses with preaching, teaching and miracles. Yet He chose servanthood—those “lowly” acts done in the mundane—to define leadership greatness, and proved it by serving a mere 12 of the “least of these” to death. That approach isn’t glamorous and it won’t get much attention. But 2,000 years later, it’s still the most effective leadership the world has ever seen.


Marcus Yoars is the editor of Ministry Today.

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