Follow my leader

‘Musical chairs’, ‘Oranges and Lemons’, ‘Pass the parcel’ and, of course, ‘Follow my leader’ were all games that we played at all those children’s birthday parties that we used to be invited to. The sandwiches, jelly and cake consumed we then took to the rearranged sitting room, space having been made for the twenty or so children to run around (I can’t remember ever being outdoors at these parties). The principle behind ‘Follow my leader’ is a simple one – one person is leader the rest stand in a line behind the leader and copy whatever the leader does, If they fail to do this then they’re out of the game. It’s a variation on ‘Simon says’ of course.

'Out there ahead' leadership

‘Out there ahead’ leadership

Perhaps it picks up in a childlike way of something that Albert Schweitzer said

‘Example is leadership.’

There’s a lot of talk about leadership at the moment, in society and in the church. We are all witnessing the agonies that the Labour Party is going through at the moment as they grapple with the process of determining who will lead them in the next phase of their life. As with any leadership campaign, sometimes the issues seem to be around how old or young someone is, sometimes what they look like, what they sound like, how they will appear in the media. Then, thank goodness, we get to the more serious issues of what people believe in, what they stand for, where they will be taking us, whether they have any vision for the future. Often though the arguments about any potential leader is a mixture of the two – the trivial and the substantial – and we are left with the question we have to address – would I follow this person as my leader?

Who would you follow?

Who would you follow?

The Church of England is putting a great many resources into thinking about senior leadership and what it looks like in the church. As part of that Deans are being encouraged to attend a miniMBA course. I was fortunate enough to be part of the first tranch of those who did the course immediately before Holy Week this year. It was a great course, delivered expertly by those who teach as part of the Judge Business School in Cambridge. As well as spending time on accounts and stakeholders and marketing quite a few of the sessions were focused on this whole business of leadership and what that means for us, what style of leader we would be, what models of leadership are out there.

One of the things that we are looking forward to – because we didn’t have time to do this in Cambridge – is being able to relate that thinking to the gospel and to the leadership that we see modelled in Jesus. Whilst we were thinking about Scott and Amundsen and Shackleton and the models of leadership that they exhibited in their quest for the South Pole, we were getting ready to follow Jesus who On Palm Sunday arrived on a donkey in Jerusalem, who would be betrayed by one of his chosen band of followers, would be abandoned by the rest, would find himself alone, condemned and killed. It is a very particular model of leadership and yet this is the leader I have chosen to follow, a failure on many scales and indicators of leadership and yet the one who has brought us through death to life, from slavery to freedom.

What is also so apparent from looking at Jesus in terms of his leadership style is that he taught those with him that they were to follow him as a servant leader. In the charged atmosphere of the Upper Room, just before he was betrayed, just before he was abandoned, in that place of safety where he breaks bread, where he washes his disciples feet, Jesus says to them

‘Who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.’ (Luke 22.27)

In St John’s version of the same event we get the very clear instruction that we are to’ Follow my leader’, that example is leadership.

‘If I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.’ (John 13.14)

The servant leader

The servant leader

A leadership that is based not on an authority of power but the authority of servanthood, a leadership that is not about having my way but serving your need, a leadership that means that, as in the words of John the Baptist of Jesus

‘He must increase, but I must decrease.’ (John 3.30)

This is what it seems to me we are aiming at in the church, this is what truly authentic leadership looks like in the church. It is a challenge because I am often told that people need strong and visionary leadership and I understand what they mean. But the leadership that Jesus gives is neither weak nor uncertain nor aimless. It was just so counter-cultural and remains counter-cultural. And I believe that is what must be modelled by the church rather than swallowing business and political models of leadership, hook, line and sinker – because, to be honest, they don’t look that effective or that impressive and there must be another way.

So I will watch the Labour Party with real interest. It is vital that they get the right leader who can help give them a sense of direction, of purpose, of vision for the nation; but it is vital that the church has the confidence to develop an authentic style of leadership for ourselves and that the right kind of leaders are appointed.

Pope St Gregory I took to himself the title ‘Servant of the Servants of God’. Perhaps that is the most authentic description of what Christian leadership actually is, more authentic than any other.

Lord Jesus,
where you lead I follow,
and as you wash weary feet
may I have the humility
to kneel beside you
and learn from your example.
Amen.

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