September 7, 2019 • Life for Leaders
Listen! A sower went out to sow.
Leadership begins with an act of generosity. And, that generosity originates from outside of us. In a world focused on our importance as leaders, that’s worth some reflection. Leadership does not begin with us. As Jesus’ seminal Parable of the Sower reminds us, the origin of the vocation of human leadership is a gift – a seed from above that interacts in various ways with the ground of our lives.
Seeing the genesis of our leadership as a seed is helpful in a number of ways.
First, it reminds us that a seed carries the characteristic genes of the plant it seeks to produce. A seed of corn produces a corn stalk, which ultimately bears many ears of similar corn. Seeds of corn don’t produce wheat, alfalfa or any other kind of grain. In fact, as Jesus might have said slightly differently, you can tell a seed by the plant it produces. So, our leadership practices reflect their source.
Second, there is an active participation between the ground and the seed in producing the eventual crop. The seed does not grow in isolation, apart from the soil. As we shall see in the coming weeks, developing a healthy way of life as leaders is a complex business, which requires our attention and engagement. But, it’s worth remembering at the start that what we are attending to is a gift from outside of us. In other words, to be a leader, we must first learn to follow.
Finally, while the soil is the natural environment for the seed to take root, the seed brings what the soil does not have. So, while we may be made for leadership, there is another sense in which we must learn from that which is outside of ourselves. Leadership – at least Jesus’ kind of leadership – does not come naturally. As this parable suggests, we must learn to receive and follow a different way of life than comes naturally for us.
Jesus radically reimagined human leadership for us. Jesus put together two visions that seem incongruent, even paradoxical: God as king and God as suffering servant. From the beginning of the biblical narrative, God is seen as an all-powerful ruler, creator of all things visible and invisible. That much is intelligible to both ancient and modern minds. However, when Jesus appeared as God incarnate, there’s much more. Not only did he demonstrate his divine power, but also Jesus deliberately embraced a wholly unexpected – and to many, incomprehensible – “lead servant” way of life. As Jesus said of himself, “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45 NRSV)
As followers of Jesus who are made to bear God’s image, we too must learn to become “lead servants.” It should not surprise us that this is not an easy or a natural process. If the biblical witness is to be taken seriously, then we should expect that this kind of leadership requires a radical transformation analogous to beginning a new life. As the Apostle Peter said to the early Christian community, very likely reflecting his own life and leadership journey, “You have been born anew, not of perishable but of imperishable seed, through the living and enduring word of God.” (I Peter 1:23 NRSV)
Something to Think About:
What has contributed to your formation as a leader? Who have been your role models and mentors? What have you learned from them?
What aspects of Jesus’ teaching on leadership do you find congruent with your own leadership practices? What aspects of your own leadership practices do you find incongruent? How did you come to develop those practices? Where do you think they originated?
What healthy leadership practices do you find the most difficult? Why do you think that is?
Lord Jesus Christ, we are grateful for the way you reconciled in your own person and life the seeming paradox of being a leader as well as being a servant. We are thankful for the gift of a new way of life and leadership that you have given to us as your followers.
We pray that this new way of being lead servants might take deep root in us. May your word and your Spirit work in us to form us into leaders who serve the common good in all the places and times where you have placed us.
We ask in your name and for your sake, Amen.
Explore more at the Theology of Work Project online Bible commentary: You Have Something the World Needs, from Ruth and Parables
During his adult life, Uli Chi has lived and worked in the intersection between business, the academy and the church. He has had the privilege of serving as past Board Chair of Regent College in Vancouver, BC, as current Vice Chair of the Board of the Max De Pree Leadership Center at Fuller Seminary, and as current Chair of the Executive Committee of the Center for Integrity in Business at Seattle Pacific University. He has also been involved in all aspects of local church leadership, including as a member of the adult ministries team’s teaching faculty at John Knox Presbyterian Church in Seattle.
Click here to view Uli’s profile.