Writer, editor, stumbler after Jesus

Humility and the lure of leadership

Some have greatness thrust upon them, as Shakespeare noted. And some, well, they thrust their way to greatness.

Having been involved in Christian media for many years now, I’ve seen a lot of ministries, churches, and organizations up close and behind the curtain. The picture isn’t always as pretty as it is from more of a distance. The big cheese makes you want to hold your nose, sometimes.

At one level that should be no surprise. Anyone who thinks that the people who pack meetings and sell tons of books don’t make mistakes, or have bad days, is worryingly naïve. We’re all human, after all, and that comes with an inherited flaw.

But I’m still surprised by what so many seem to find to be the lure of leadership. They’re not content to just walk in the light; they want to dance in the spotlight. They have to be out front, calling the shots, making things happen. Pick me, pick me, pick me!

That sometimes makes me nervous. I’m all for passion, vision, and zeal, but there’s a difference between having drive, and having to be in the driving seat.

I don’t see many of the great leaders of the Bible applying for their positions.

Moses tried being the man at bat once, but realized he so didn’t qualify that when he was told to step up to the plate again, he asked for his brother Aaron to be his pinch runner.

Gideon must have looked around, bewildered, to see who else was in his hidey-hole when he was addressed as a “mighty warrior.”

None of the disciples applied for their spots on Jesus’ A team. And when James and John later asked for special status, their embarrassing attempt at self-advancement should have earned them the nickname Sons of Blunder.

Oftentimes the Bible’s leaders seem to have been reluctant recruits, or at least cautious candidates, rather than assertive applicants. There’s something of a safety factor there—if you’re not sure you’ve got what it takes, you’re going to lean on God’s grace and know that, when things go well, it’s not really about you. It’s not going to be hard to be humble because, to borrow Winston Churchill’s zinger about a political opponent, you know that you have much to be humble about.

Conversely, those who are pretty sure of themselves, who are too busy looking to lead, can forget that they, too, are followers. They no longer see themselves as fellow travelers, but as those who are always—or have to seem—one step ahead. Now they have an image to preserve, rather than a life to share.

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