John 1: 15, 29-31 (MsgB)
John pointed Him (Jesus) out and called, “This is the One! The One I told you was coming after me but in fact was ahead of me. He has always been ahead of me, has always had the first word.” The very next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and yelled out, “Here He is, God’s Passover Lamb! He forgives the sins of the world! This is the man I’ve been talking about, ‘the One who comes after me but is really ahead of me.’ I knew nothing about who He was—only this: that my task has been to get Israel ready to recognize Him as the God-Revealer. That is why I came here baptizing with water, giving you a good bath and scrubbing sins from your life so you can get a fresh start with God.”
Here He is. The One and Only. God’s Passover Lamb!
If you remember much about your childhood years, you should remember a game we all played called Follow the Leader. The game was pretty simple. One person (usually the extrovert or the one with the loudest voice) became the group leader. That person would go through a regiment of exercises and the game was to do exactly as you saw the leader doing. Another form of this game is Simon Says, where the object is for you to do only those things the leader states that ‘Simon says’ to do. In either game, the loser is the person who simply cannot or will not follow exactly what the leader commands the group to do.
Children learn quickly through these types of games that life is made up of leaders and followers. Like it or not, Follow the Leader becomes more than just a child’s game as we grow into adulthood. In truth, this popular childhood game becomes a way of life for all of us earth-dwellers, and unfortunately, we adults, who are truly serious about succeeding in life, tend to take the basic concepts taught in this game and bring it to a whole new level with our peers. In America, for example, our business model for extreme success is best defined in terms of highly competent leadership. The much-admired CEO of the Chrysler Corporation, Lee Iacocca, who back in the 1980’s led the struggling car company out of bankruptcy and back into national prominence, said it this way: “In life, you either lead, follow, or get the hell out of the way!”
While this quote might sound exciting to most proud Americans, as I see it, the men and women of New Testament times would look at such a life philosophy and warn us as Christians to never allow such an attitude to permeate our churches when it comes to describing successful ministry ‘leadership’. But many of us haven’t listened to God’s Word and now find ourselves caught up in leadership styles that are patterned more from America’s boardrooms than from any New Testament text.
In an earlier blog series (2012), To Lead or Not To Lead?, we found that the New Testament writers gave absolutely no liberty to first-century Christians to pattern their church administration styles after the traditional ways of the synagogue system found in Jerusalem nor was there any desire to adopt the ‘good-ole-boy network’ approach to leadership found in the massive Roman government system of the day.
In the NIV New Testament, for example, there are 35 separate occurrences where the Greek language, using words equivalent to our English word ‘leader’, portray the concept of ‘leadership’ as a negative action or something being done by highly-ambitious and self-driven men. Leadership styles and corresponding actions that ran contrary to the Kingdom cause of Christ.
In truth, there are only seven times in the NIV, where New Testament authors use the words ‘leader’, ‘leads’, or ‘leadership’ in any positive way when referencing the work men and women would do in overseeing the ministries of the church.
The bottom line?
John begins his Gospel story by painting a very clear picture that the church will have only one human ‘Leader’. Only one Passover Lamb. Only one God-Revealer. His name is Jesus of Nazareth. As I see it, if John had used 21st century business language to write his gospel, using definitions for top-level leadership like CEO, senior executive, team leader, visionary, etc., I’m certain he would have assigned these types of executive roles to Jesus alone. Everyone else, from the twelve original disciples to Paul to the Pope would be seen, from a first-century perspective, as followers first and foremost, prior to any assignment as an overseer of ministry. As author Leonard Sweet states in his book, I Am a Follower, “The Jesus paradox is that only Christians lead by following.”
My prayer: Thank You, Lord, for John’s gospel and for those of Matthew, Mark and Luke. Without these four letters we call the gospel writings, there really wouldn’t be much to hang our hats on when it comes to discovering the historical Leader of Your church, Jesus of Nazareth. Open my eyes and ears to the uniqueness of Christ as our One and Only Leader, for Your name’s sake. Amen.
My questions to ponder: One of the problems I believe twenty-first century readers like myself have when reading the gospels is that we’re so very familiar with all of the stories, we can actually miss the original intent as we read. After nearly 2,000 years of tradition and church-treatment, it’s hard to dig through the layers of religiousness in order to find the real Jesus-story underneath it all. How can I invite the Holy Spirit into this study in John’s Gospel, so that I can get a truly fresh reading? What traditions and pre-existing conditions need to be removed so that I can see the main and the plain of God’s Word in the midst of these very familiar stories I’m about to read?
So what is God speaking to you today as we follow Jesus the Nazarene, the Leader of the Church?
Between now and the end of 2015, we will be sharing with you a blog series we first developed in 2013. We call it Follow The Leader: Re-defining Successful Leadership from the Gospel of John. In order to keep all 46 blog sessions organized, we suggest you bookmark our Follow The Leader home page for ease of use. ENJOY!
Click here to go onto the next blog in the series.