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, â€śWhere Have All the Cowboys Gone?â€ť She sang of a disgruntled housewife whose husband didnâ€™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 donâ€™t really blame them for asking.
But is that really the right question? The problem doesnâ€™t seem to be a lack of leadersâ€”everyoneâ€™s a self-proclaimed leader of something these daysâ€”but instead our understanding of what a true leader looks like and does. Weâ€™ve clearly encountered a crisis of leadership in corporate and government circles. Mention headline-making names such as Ted Haggard or Todd Bentley, and itâ€™s obvious weâ€™ve had serious problems in the charismatic church too.
Iâ€™m glad to see some of our movementâ€™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: â€śWe failed You. Weâ€™re sorry.â€ť 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 weâ€™ve been conditioned to look for all the wrong traits in all the wrong places. In todayâ€™s open-source Christianity, youâ€™re automatically dubbed a leader if youâ€™re a natural on the platform. Teach a few seminars, write some books and youâ€™re suddenly an expert on the topic.
Yet consider Jesusâ€™ upside-down model of leadership: â€śHe who is greatest among you shall be your servantâ€ť (Matt. 23:11). He elaborated by saying â€śthe last will be first, and the first lastâ€ť (Matt. 20:16), and warned that â€śif anyone desires to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of allâ€ť (Mark 9:35). Notice thereâ€™s no mention of charisma, stage presence, oratory or even anointingâ€”only being a last-place servant.
The greatest leaders barely register a blip on our cultural radars because theyâ€™re stooped down, serving their fellow â€śleast of these.â€ť Theyâ€™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), theyâ€™re not really after greatness in the first placeâ€”they just want to be like Jesus.
Christ couldâ€™ve established a â€śsexierâ€ť leadership model better suited for todayâ€™s platform-driven church culture. He knew all about drawing the masses with preaching, teaching and miracles. Yet He chose servanthoodâ€”those â€ślowlyâ€ť acts done in the mundaneâ€”to define leadership greatness, and proved it by serving a mere 12 of the â€śleast of theseâ€ť to death. That approach isnâ€™t glamorous and it wonâ€™t get much attention. But 2,000 years later, itâ€™s still the most effective leadership the world has ever seen.
Marcus Yoars is the editor of Ministry Today.