Speaking Change: Over/Under to Among

May 14, 2008 — 3 Comments

Yesterday’s post on Initiation generated some excellent discussion among the comments. Thanks. Here’s an insight from Dave G: Well, who we are seems to be dealing with character. Is humble, servant leadership dealing with character? If so, I am ashamed to say that I so often see circles of leaders as “good ole’ boy” clubs where one is entitled to certain perks and levels of respect. I’m sure most people would not say that directly, but it seems to be how we live leadership out in our organization. I would love to hear some thoughts on this.

OK, here you go. New Testament leadership language contrasts greatly with most every culture’s normal perspective. Think about the words we use: I’ve always appreciated being under your leadership. He’s over me. She’s under the HR director. He’s over everyone in this four-state region.
When Jesus was challenged by James and John (and their mom!), two of his closest men, to place them in positions of authority over the other 10, sparks flew. Jesus basically said no.
And when the ten heard it, they began to be indignant at James and John. And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:41-45, ESV)
Note that Jesus addresses two types of leaders who rule or exercise authority over: those who are considered leaders, and even their great ones. Christ then turns the org chart upside down and strongly states in contrast: But it shall not be so among you.
I confess I didn’t expect such teaching from the ruler of the universe. Did his words stick? Did the disciples get it?
Fast forward 25 years later. Peter, arguably the most forceful personality among the disciples, whose name showed up first on most of the leadership rosters in the gospels and throughout the New Testament, wrote some great advice to church leaders. Let’s see what Peter said:
So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. (1 Peter 5:1-4, ESV)
Yep, I think it stuck.
Lesson for change agents: Take the next 7 days to listen for the leadership language of over/under or among. What do you hear others saying? What do you hear yourself saying?

3 responses to Speaking Change: Over/Under to Among

  1. Hey Ken, thanks for the good word. I confess too that I’ve struggled at times w/ being a leader that is among the people. But, how do you do that when our structure is so hierarchal? And when my staff needs to ask me for permission for sick leave, extra days off, etc. And then, I’ve had staff who did things like not reporting to campus when they’re supposed to, and I had to exert my authority and talk to them about this, and implement the consequences of such actions. I feel things like this reinforces the reality that I’m a leader “over “them. So, how do you truly be “among” them? Or am I off on what you’re saying? You have any thoughts/feedback on this??

  2. Stephanie Raquel May 14, 2008 at 11:02 pm

    In business circles, this principle of ‘among’ is called “MBWA,” or “Management by Walking Around.”

    Even in the 21st century, this leadership style is still very rare for CEOs, middle managers, or even shift leaders at the local fast-food joint.

    I think you raise a very good point in that God calls His leaders to abide with HIM (or be among) first and foremost. In modern church circles, we encourage small groups to “do life together.”

    The most transparent, life-changing experiences I’ve had with godly leaders were when I could see them in the most day-to-day life circumstances.

    Clearly, servant-leaders would do well to learn more about exactly what having a servant heart means.

  3. Ken – this is good insight – any more thoughts on your org chart comment? I am wondering if Jesus was simply saying ‘lead like servant’ or if it was a broader statement on how the kingdom is structured and organized.

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