What is leadership? What is leadership not?
In a scathing criticism of the Pharisees and teachers of the law, Jesus gives us insight into what true leadership is about.
He first warned the disciples and the crowds,
The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must obey them and do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. (Matthew 23:1-2)
Here, Jesus tells the people that though they were to respect the offices of authority, nevertheless they were not to do what the teachers of the law and Pharisees did because they didn’t practice what they preached.
Oh, they kept all the minor details of the laws, as well as the traditions of the elders, but when it came down to what was most important, justice, mercy, and faithfulness, they failed miserably. And it showed in how they treated the people, and how they related to God.
It also showed in how they viewed leadership. They saw it merely as telling the people what to do, not serving them. Jesus said of them,
They tie up heavy loads and put them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them. (Matthew 23:4)
These men poured out law upon law, rule upon rule on the people. But when people started to crumble under the burden of guilt for not being able to keep all these things, they didn’t encourage them; they didn’t pray for them; they didn’t think how to help them. Rather, they condemned them.
They also saw it as a point of pride to be in that position. Their phylacteries (boxes that held writings of scripture in them) were wide and their tassels which also had scriptures written on them were long so that all the world would be impressed by their spirituality.
They then abused their position for financial gain. Jesus said, “They devour widows’ houses,” probably meaning that they used the respect they gained from their position to get money from the widows.
They also gloried in being called “teacher” or “father” by those around them because it showed their high position among the people. But Jesus said,
But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have only one Master and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. Nor are you to be called ‘teacher,’ for you have one Teacher, the Christ. (Matthew 23:8-10)
And that’s what a leader is to remember. Titles are nice to have, but in reality, all of us are equal, and God is the only one who is truly above all.
Yet even God came down to earth as a servant. He healed the sick, he brought good news to the poor and downtrodden, and then he died on a cross to take the punishment for all of our sins. And that is the attitude that leaders are to take.
The greatest among you will be your servant. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted. (Matthew 23:11-12)
True leaders are servants. They don’t look for what they can gain in terms of respect, pride, or money. Rather, they are willing to sacrifice all for the sake of the people around them.
What kind of leader are you?