A new kind of swear word

The word leadership is controversial these days. Maybe even on the waiting list to be legislated as the newest swear word. Between the recent abuses of the Catholic church, the arrogance of the Evangelicals and the instability of the Charismatics, spiritual leadership is being marginalized. Maybe for a good reason. I have probably read more books on the topic of leadership than I have on any other topic. It was my college major and a subject I think about often and write about most. The topic of leadership fills my book shelves more than any other books, even more than Grisham novels. Most of my life experience is in the world of leadership. From being a part of starting a half a dozen organizations, putting together 7 different leadership teams and at one point functioning as the North American director of a youth organization. Yet, I still find myself a novice and learner on the issue of leadership. I find myself knee-deep in the river of what I will call ‘organic’ leadership, wondering how to fully wade into that river. My hesitation isn’t a result of not having clear ideas on how to lead or historical effectiveness and ineffectiveness in leading. My hesitation is because my focus is no longer on learning to lead but rather on connecting to what cultivates the leader in all of us. I am no longer interested in decision-making power over people, I am interested in releasing people and calling out the leader God sees in them. Over the last several years I have used the term a ‘Kingdom of Priests’ to describe leadership in spiritual communities. Maybe I have used the term to the point of inoculation now. Yet, I still feel like this concept spiritually endorses the invitation of leadership to all followers of Jesus.

In the scriptures the people of God are referred to as a ‘Kingdom of Priests’. This is a word picture describing people authorized to make the God connection for others. We see this picture in the prophetic invitation in Moses’ constituting words in Exodus 19. This identity is attributed to the early followers of Jesus in I Peter 2 and in Revelations 5 we further see this word picture as the mark of the people of God. This invitation to leadership wasn’t an invitation to just work in the church but rather to be connected to the work of God’s Kingdom in all domains of culture and our lives. It is individual and yet it is collective. It is personal invitation to leadership, yet situated in a larger story of leadership. This invitation is not about fame, position, or title, rather it is about influence that expresses itself in loving and serving others. Leadership is often associated with power and having power over others. Yet, Leadership in God’s Kingdom is not about lording it over others, it is about giving our lives away and calling out God’s beauty in another. Yet, few followers of Jesus seem to find their place of leadership in God’s Kingdom. Christians seem to either be looking for power over others or running from the power of those mishandling it. Servant leadership in the church feels more like an all too familiar nursery rhyme read over and over again, rather than a living reality in our daily lives. We know it but we really don’t know it at all.

The hope of seeing a ‘Kingdom of Priests’ remains in my heart, though the reality around us seems far from it. Why is it so hard for us to step fully into who we are? Why are our structures of leadership often encumbering to us instead of freeing us? Why is it so many of us are afraid of the word leadership, afraid of the idea of giving our lives away to others? What is the issue in the issue here?

What cultivates this kind of grassroots initiative in people? How do you understand this great wrestle and what are you discovering?

Todd Rutkowski

~ by blueporch on April 5, 2010.

2 Responses to “A new kind of swear word”

  1. Todd,
    Thank you for sharing your honest wrestle with all this. I too would echo many of your sentiments. I think I often feel lost in a bit of a wilderness in this area. I feel naturally inclined to ‘lead’ and yet the very concept is a scary one for most of us.
    I remember a number of years ago feeling confused about what it is to be a ‘man’ in this day and age. What are my responsibilities as a husband, a friend, a son, a ‘man’ of God. The confusion ultimately left me lost and unable to do much of what comes naturally to me as a man inside of relationships and the church.
    This question of leadership and how it’s to work is feeling very similar.

  2. I was once told that if you want to know if you are a leader, look over your shoulder and see if anyone is following. Leadership and the issues of leadership have been of interest to me for quite a few years. I always felt myself a reluctant leader and tended to understate any position of leadership that I found myself. It was only recently that God got on my case about stepping up as a leader and stop hiding from it. He also comforted me by giving me understanding that it was Ok to lead out of the person He created me to be, and not out of some false ideal I have of what a “proper” leader is.
    It’s easy to lose confidence in ourselves. The journey we need to go on is in discovering the person who God says we are. What was his inspired vision when he created us, even bothering to number every hair on our heads? It’s so easy for us to take a wrong course and lose ourselves. Fear plays a big part in re-directing our right course, lies we believe become reality and our resolve is lost. It’s a big subject and perhaps too big a subject to express all my views in this comment.
    There are many, many reasons that we can cite for not stepping up to lead. Let’s face it; we have loads of examples of leaders who have totally let us down. I think Todd is right; leadership is almost a dirty word. The comment “This invitation is not about fame, position, or title, rather it is about influence that expresses itself in loving and serving others” is what God has impressed on me recently. If we can see ourselves leading this way and from whom we are created to be then we do not need to fear it or understate it.
    I’ve always looked over my shoulder and have seen people following me. I wished they would go away and find a “proper” leader. It was too much pressure to be responsible for them. Now as I am starting to understand God’s inspired vision for my design and feel his comforting guidance, fear leaves me and I am willing to lead and feel confident to love and care for people in the way Jesus surely would have.

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