(Pictured above L to R: Derek Engdahl, Servant Partners, me, Craig Greenfield, Servants to Asia's Urban Poor, Tim Lockie, InnerCHANGE, Chris Heuertz, Word Made Flesh.)
I gather yearly with the heads of four agencies that place men and women alongside the poor in order to bring solidarity, hope, and the love of Jesus. When I told them about the "Leadership Schmeadership" book I'm writing, Craig Greenfield responded in his awesome kiwi accent, “That’s funny. You’re writing about a leadership-crazed culture, and I can’t find anyone willing to step up to the plate to really lead.” The others nodded in agreement. Despite the cult of leadership in the western church, very few of the “friars” in their fellowships aspire to lead in places where leadership was really needed. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that their missions tend to attract those who are content just to walk alongside prostitutes, street kids and slum dwellers. Two of the four have the word “servant” in the name of their organizations, why should they expect type-A personalities to sign up?
But then I began to think about how little real, unabashed leadership I run into. With the barrage of leadership material in our bookstores and the subject of so many conferences, why am I in so many poorly led meetings? Why does there seem to be so little order in our communities and in our churches – so little significant progress benefiting all, especially the “least of these?” If God gave humans the gift of power in order to protect the weak and advance the common good, and if leaders are installed to wield that power, then why is more than a third of our planet trapped in desperate poverty? Why are 165 million children as young as five years-old forced to work? Why are there ten year old prostitutes and thousands dying daily of stupid things like diarrhea, and untold tons of grain rotting in warehouses while people starve to death? It is because the world lacks mature leadership undergirded by thoughtful submission.
If the solution to releasing unapologetic and strong leadership were a good book or a conference, then the problem would have been solved decades ago. But the thing I find implicit in at least the existence of tens of thousands of leadership books, and sometimes explicit in their content, is that we all ought to be leaders. I disagree. I believe that in our lust to bring out the leader in everybody we may have robbed leadership from the few who really should possess it and undermined the calling of all of us to follow well. The problem is not that we have too few people leading, it’s that we have too many leading who do not have the gift of leadership and not enough people offering to submit.
Why not identify the few who actually have the gift, call them into authority, invest them with real power, and follow them with all our hearts?