D.A. Carson is in town this week for the Toronto Spiritual Life Convention. He’s also speaking at other events. Thanks, by the way, to Ken Davis for chairing the Convention and bringing Carson to town.
On Sunday night Carson spoke tangentially about leadership from Matthew 20:25-28, a passage that’s often quoted on the subject. In this passage Jesus says:
You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 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 your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.
I’ve often heard these verses used to argue against all hierarchy in Christian leadership. It’s tempting to accept this interpretation. If we believe this it has all kinds of implications. Churches must be flat. Leadership is arrogance. I’ve heard these arguments made.
Carson argues that Jesus is not arguing against leadership, nor is he saying that Christian leadership means being told what to do by everyone.
What Jesus is tackling here, Carson says, what generally happens to leaders. In this fallen, broken world, people love power for selfish motives. After some time, they give the impression that they are serving only themselves. Christian leadership cannot be like this. Jesus exercised his authority in service all the way to the cross. It was a revolutionary idea of kingship. “All Christian leadership,” Carson said, “must follow down this road.”
I think Carson is right. This passage isn’t about abolishing leadership or hierarchy. Instead, Jesus is speaking of a kind of leadership that is not motivated by self-interest, that exercises itself in service, even to the point of death.
I’ve been thinking: how many structures have been completely dismantled by a wrong interpretation of this passage? But more importantly – what an amazingly high bar and example to set for leadership.
(Still waiting for a good Christian theology of leadership – it may be out there, but I still haven’t found one that’s as comprehensive as I’d like.)