The Church is in great need of leaders who model Christ-like uses of authority that build people up into all God intends us to be. Many people are sensitive to the ways the gap between leaders and followers can be widened and exploited. This issue of Mutuality features ways Christians can rise up and counter these historical and current wrongs by using our gifts and talents as God intended.
When the mother of James and John wondered what it would take for her sons to rank highest among the disciples, Jesus didn’t answer her with a yes or no. Instead, he asked if James and John were able to drink from his cup, a reference to the suffering Jesus endured. Even if they could, only the Father had the authority to assign these places of honor (Matt. 20:20–28).
Human suffering and divine sovereignty are consistent themes related to biblical leaders. These leaders were called on to bear the burdens of their people (in Gal. 4:19, Paul uses the analogy of birth pains to describe how he felt about the Galatian Christians), and they turned to God as the source of their strength.
During the time of the Judges, God would not raise up leaders until the people cried out to the Lord as their true helper. Though leaders like Deborah and Barak successfully drove back Israel’s enemies, the true source of their strength was the Lord (Judges 2:16; Heb. 11:32–34).
Biblical leaders were commissioned in many different ways. No matter how they were eventually commissioned by the community of faith, it is clear that these leaders were first of all chosen by God. Over and over again we learn that the people God chooses as leaders do not always conform to people we would naturally be eager to commission. Cultural and personal biases against potential leaders based on gender, ethnicity, or class are illegitimate reasons to refuse to commission someone God has chosen to raise up.
Even biblical leaders who seem to fit conventional notions of leadership often turned to unconventional sources for partnership and support. For example, Moses was saved from God’s wrath when his wife Zipporah circumcised his sons (Exod. 5:24–26). King Solomon was the wisest and wealthiest man in the world, and the only person he bowed down to was his mother, Bath Sheba (1 Kings 2:19). Good king Josiah, who instituted the most thorough religious reform in Judah’s history, turned to the prophet Huldah to help him discern God’s will and interpret Scripture (2 Kings 22). While we tend to think of leaders as independent individuals, these examples show that good leaders recognize the importance of strong partnerships.
Historically, many Christian communities have refused to commission women as leaders. Yet God uses women to lead powerful ministries in spite of the opposition they have faced. The Church would do well to heed the rabbi Gamaliel’s advice to Jewish leaders who opposed the apostles: “if this plan or this undertaking is of human origin, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them—in that case you may even be found fighting against God!” (Acts 5:38–39 TNIV).
Some have argued that the meaning of headship in the Bible can be used to establish a hierarchy among believers based on gender. Perhaps a better way to recognize godly leaders is not their claim to headship, but rather the condition of their feet. Leaders’ heels have bruises that keep them humble by reminding them of their vulnerability to sin (Gen. 3:15). But they are also strong and fleet because of God’s victory over sin, death, and the devil (Gen. 3:15; Rom. 16:20; Eph. 6:15). Most of all, they are beautiful because they have been washed by Jesus (John 13:2–16) and they bring good news (Nahum 1:15; Isa. 52:7; Rom. 10:15).