Leadership! It’s a fraught word, describing an even more fraught set of ideals. Leadership, in the final analysis, is neither good or bad. It is amoral. Like the notes on the musical scale and the letters of the alphabet, the essence of leadership, according to John Maxwell, is influence. When people are gifted as leaders, or in some way attain a leadership title, they walk in positions of influence.
And therein lies the rub, because a culture is set according to the heart of the leader and those they surround themselves with, for good or evil, for strength or weakness. Someone whose influence leads people where they otherwise may not have gone, be it morally just or morally reprehensible, is setting or changing a culture for the duration of their leadership and beyond. That is, technically, good leadership, be it ever so terrible in its outcome. Nations, churches, organisations rise and fall on the way in which they’ve been led. In 2019 the various modes of leadership across the planet denote that we, as citizens of the world, are in serious trouble.
In the face of drastic climate change in which the earth is vomiting the symptoms of its travail in torrents of floods, droughts, bushfires, cyclones, hurricanes, earthquakes, tsunamis, famines, mud slides, volcanic eruptions and other ‘un’natural catastrophes across the planet, one group stands as the voice of reason, crying out for the influencers of the world to pay attention and change course before it’s too late. The other group, like the people in Noah’s day, keep working, consuming, using, spending and playing as though there’s no tomorrow – which one day may be true.
We’re witnessing overwhelming waves of human wretchedness as millions of refugees leave the destruction of their homes in war torn nations, risking their lives to take refuge in what they hope will be places of safety, only to find the doors slammed in their faces.
We fear Muslim terrorists but the overwhelming majority of massacres in Western nations are by white “christian” terrorists (the word christian used in this sense to denote those who espouse a certain lifestyle rather than any true faith in the Creator God).
The outrage of sexual abuse scandals proliferated by clergy in even the most senior roles has meant that Church, the place where safety should be a certainty we can embrace, has become an object of scorn and derision, and ministers, once among the most trusted professions, are now among the least trusted.
We need leadership, but the difficulty is that the leaders we get are the leaders we really want. Every time we vote for ourselves rather than for the good of the nation, business, family, corporation, charity, gang, or club, we slide that bit closer to a world in which everyone votes for themselves. That’s ok when it’s just me and you who want that bit extra, and we can justify it easily with various good reasons, but it’s never about just you and me.
The common mindset in most societies is that for someone to win, others must lose… and we’re determined not to be in the losing camp. We have become comfortable with that kind of motivation because it’s the one those who influence us have enculturised us to believe to be the norm. Jesus understood that kind of leadership, and that kind of followership.
Matthew 20:25-27 The Passion Translation:
Jesus, knowing their thoughts, called them to his side and said, “Kings and those with great authority in this world rule oppressively over their subjects, like tyrants. But this is not your calling. You will lead by a completely different model. The greatest one among you will live as the one who is called to serve others, because the greatest honour and authority is reserved for the one with the heart of a servant.
A famous verse in the Bible says that we will know each other, not by what we say or even what we do, but by the kind of fruit our lives produce. Yet we judge ourselves by our intentions and everyone else by their actions.In this way, we all lose. Our world is overwhelmed with disaster, violence, and despair; people wrangling with each other to make sure if someone is going to lose, it won’t be them.
That’s such a short sighted way of leading and following, because when one loses, everyone loses. The great philosopher, John Donne, encapsulated our situation perfectly, writing:
No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were: any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore, never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee.”
The bell he refers to is the ringing that signals someone has died. When we read of 50 New Zealand Muslims being gunned down while they were at worship, of scores of Nigerian Christians being slaughtered, of a cyclone so savage in Mozambique that hundreds of people are dead, it’s too easy to turn the page, change the channel, keep scrolling.
Something has to change regarding the ‘influencers’ we choose to follow. Prime Minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern is being celebrated internationally for the humanity with which she has comforted her nation and for the swift leadership with which she took action, banning assault weapons within a week of the attack, and refusing to speak the terrorist’s name, thereby robbing him of the notoriety he craved. Underestimated and undervalued as a world leader, she has shown our world a different way of leading, and in that, she is influencing people all around the world.
Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old climate activist, is leader of a movement of young and old protesting their governments in over 1500 marches in 100 different countries last week. Last August, when she began her lone protest vigil outside the massive doors of the Swedish Parliament, she appeared to be a very unlikely influencer/world leader.
A teen blogger who at 15 used her writing to advocate for girls to be allowed to go to school, rather than discussing new make-up trends, survived an assassination attempt. Ironically, it was that which catapulted this remarkable influencer to an audience she never dreamed of. The youngest person ever to receive the Nobel Peace Prize for her services to the girl child, Malala Yousafzai is, like Ms. Ardern and Ms. Thunberberg, an unlikely but highly effective influencer.
Bizarrely, what these three have in common is their anonymity. In the eyes of the political agendas of the world, most of which are dictated by men in suits, these women had no worth or significance in relation to the important matters of world affairs. Oh! And, yes… none of them has a penis.
A scripture often quoted in Church but one that most Christians, especially leaders, don’t really believe, is found in 1 Corinthians 1:27 where the apostle Paul writes that God chooses the weakest people in the world to astonish the experts. These new influencers and the many others that join them, be they male or female, are not weak because of their inherent characteristics. It is their status that has caused them to be disregarded by the politicists with their own agenda. Yet God has other plans and He will not be refused.
We choose our leaders by the beliefs we hold dear, and as a result we produce the fruit that befits our choices. Don’t be confused by Group Think and don’t take it at face value. Look at the issues. Read your Bible and see what Jesus thinks about the marginalised and the oppressed, choose the leaders who are truly following His ways, regardless of the labels they wear.
Top image: Photo of Greta Thunberg by Jan Ainali, and Malala Youzafzai by DFID.