How Not to Lead in the Kingdom of God, Part 1

Daily Reflection / Produced by The High Calling
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Jesus told them, “In this world the kings and great men lord it over their people, yet they are called ‘friends of the people.’ But among you it will be different. Those who are the greatest among you should take the lowest rank, and the leader should be like a servant.”

Luke 22:25

Last Friday, I began to reflect on Luke 22:24-27, a passage that begins with the disciples of Jesus arguing about which of them would be the greatest in the kingdom of God. Ironically, this happened at the Last Supper, only minutes after Jesus had used bread and wine to signify his imminent death. Jesus, as you may recall, interrupted his disciples’ argument, calling them to “otherworldly leadership.”

This means, in part, that those who follow Jesus will reject the way that kings and others in worldly authority lead. Jesus says, “In this world the kings and great men lord it over their people, yet they are called ‘friends of the people.’ But among you it will be different” (22:25). How are we not supposed to lead, according to Jesus?

First of all, we are not to “lord it over” those whom we lead. The verb translated here as “lord over” is derived from the Greek word for “lord” (kyrieuo from kyrios). It can be used for the ordinary exercise of benign authority, but in the New Testament it has a negative connotation. Paul uses this word, for example, when he says to the Corinthians that he does not want to “dominate” them but rather to “work together with” them (2 Cor. 1:24).

When Jesus spoke of Gentile rulers lording it over their subjects, his disciples knew full well what he was talking about, for they had ample experience of Roman emperors and their representatives using their authority in a disrespectful, self-glorifying, abusive way. I wouldn’t be surprised if many who read this reflection have had a similar experience of leadership, perhaps at work, school, in the community, church, or even at home.

Jesus does not abolish the need for leadership or the appropriate exercise of authority. Indeed, he exemplified these very activities in his own ministry. But he did not use his power in a way that minimized others or stripped them of their dignity. He did not boss people around simply to enjoy his power. Even as the Lord of lords, he did not “lord it over” people. Rather, he exercised his rightful authority in an empowering, honoring, and caring way.

Tomorrow, I’ll continue to reflect on how we are not to lead if we’re going to follow Jesus. For now, we have plenty to consider.

QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: Have you ever experienced leadership that “lorded it over” you? When? How did it feel? How did you respond? Are you ever tempted to lead in a “lord-it-over” mode? At work? With your children? What entices you to lead in this way?

If you'd like to learn more about Servant Leadership, read The Organizational Advantages of Servant Leadership by Howard E. Butt, Jr.

PRAYER: Dear Lord Jesus, you are indeed the LORD. You are God, the one revealed to Israel as Yahweh, “I Am Who I AM.” You are the Lord of heaven and earth, King of kings, and Lord of lords. If anyone in history had the right to lord it over people, you did. Yet you chose another way, rejecting the power-hungry, abusive ways of the world.

Help me, Lord, to reject the “lord it over” option. May I be like Paul, who rejected domination in favor of collaboration. At work, may I use my authority in an otherworldly way, in order to build people up rather than display my power. In fact, may I be someone who empowers others through my decisions, attitudes, and encouragements.

All praise be to you, Lord Jesus, because you chose the way of the servant. Amen.