Real Leadership: It’s Not For Girls?

Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges, he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being.When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross.

(Philippians 2:6-8)

I’ve just been reading a tiresome argument amongst evangelical Christians about whether women should be allowed in Church leadership or not. (I know, it’s 2024 and we’re still having this argument!)

It strikes me though that the whole argument is null and void really when those having it still haven’t understood what biblical leadership is. Perhaps we shouldn’t be arguing about who can be a leader, but should instead be arguing for a better understanding of what leadership is. I think if we truly understood what leadership is, we wouldn’t need these debates. I also think we’d solve a lot of other problems too.

Jesus turned all our worldly understanding of what real authority, leadership and kingship looks like on its head. As we used to sing, back in the 1990’s “This is our God, the servant king.” God doesn’t sit on a throne and rule from afar. God doesn’t wield power and authority over us, control us, boss us around, tell us what we are and are not allowed to do. God doesn’t fly into church on a private jet, stride onto stage in his designer suit to applause and cheering, stand in the pulpit and tell us what to do then stand at the back of church shaking hands and signing copies of his book whilst Margaret brews up and Desmond stacks the chairs. That’s not leadership. 

God takes all his privilege, lays it aside and takes the humble position of a slave.

A slave. 

I wonder how many pastors today consider themselves “slaves” and would be willing to be treated as such. Not servants, not paid staff; slaves. Perhaps you’ve seen images of the pope imitating Jesus and washing the feet of Catholics on Maundy Thursday? It’s not really a good imitation. Jesus wasn’t being driven around in a nice car wearing a fancy robe to symbolically wash feet.  He would have been on his knees literally scraping shit from under his disciples toenails. (imagine walking on roads where the main form of transport was horse or donkey, wearing only sandals, they wouldn’t have just been a bit dusty!) This was a disgusting job, reserved for the lowliest of the household slaves. This is leadership.

Jesus is a king who forgoes his throne and presents himself as a sacrificial lamb, he holds no power, he wields no authority, he came not to rule but to serve.

That’s what we are all called to do with any power we hold, to set it aside and use it only for the service of others. As Christians we are called to imitate Christ, and those who would be leaders have an additional duty of service. Those who would be first must become last.  Being a church leader then should not be a position of power or authority, it should come with no privileges. That’s not what Jesus taught us that leadership is.

I imagine if everyone considered leadership to be akin to being a slave, as Jesus does, then there would be far less argument that it should only be for men, in fact, I’m sure men would be happy for more women to do it. I also imagine there would be far fewer abuse scandals within the church.