First of all, we should define a leader according to Jesus’ terms. The world often thinks of leaders as individuals who are given positions of authority. When worldly leaders shout, their people jump out of fear of losing their jobs. When worldly leaders demand, their underlings bring them whatever they desire. But Jesus distinguished those who would be great among His disciples from the leaders of the world:
“You know that those who are considered rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant. And whoever of you desires to be first shall be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” (Mk. 10.42-45)
To Jesus, a leader equals a servant…or a servant equals a leader. Bow the knee first to the Father, and then kneel before your brothers and sisters with a towel around your waist and a washcloth in your hand. Scrub those dirty feet! True leaders get their hands dirty along with the troops. They are not above their people; they are beside them and under them.
Jesus’ explanation of how to be great shows how every one of us can be great! We don’t need a massive mob of followers, nor must our name be outlined in flashing lights. Many times the true leader is not the guy or gal who heads up the project but the quiet person who gets things done and encourages the team.
True leaders are often simply recognized for who they are. They don’t run for office; they don’t push and pull and demand that others respect them. They just work hard, inspire others to work, and become cornerstones for the team.
The great ones in marriages are often wives. Without usurping authority over their husbands, they faithfully take care of the family business with a gentle and quiet spirit.
The great ones in churches are often women. Paul commended “Poebe our sister, who is a servant of the church in Cenchrea” because “she has been a helper of many and of myself also” (Rom. 16.1-2). He sent greetings to Priscilla and Aquila in the next verse, listing the wife’s name first. Paul was concerned about Euodia and Syntyche, two women who he said had “labored with me in the gospel” (Phi. 4.3). We could go on and on regarding the wonderful women of scripture! None of these women tried to step into a man’s role, but each shines as a true leader.
Perhaps we should redefine our concept of leader. Truth be told, the New Testament uses the term “leader” only a few times. The clearest I could find is in Romans 12.8, which exhorts the one who leads to lead with diligence. Often we think of our elders as our leaders–and so they are–but their leadership is characterized by serving the flock. They don’t live off the fat of the flock, as worldly leaders do; they spend their lives for the flock.
So who can be a leader in the church? You can! It has nothing to do with earning a title–in fact, Jesus teaches us not to use titles. It has to do with character, humility, service.