After a long day teaching on the joys of serving as a woman in the local church, I needed someone to serve me because I was tired and hungry, which is a bad combination. The event coordinator grabbed my elbow and whisked me over to a table with one seat open. As I reached for a roll, I began to get the idea my words had caused quite a stir with my dinner companions. The conversation quickly turned toward how women could have a seat at the table in terms of church leadership. It was not the first or the last time I have had this table talk.
Around the table, I saw a group of women who sincerely loved the church but were sincerely misguided in their understanding of biblical leadership in the church for men and women. Misconceptions about leadership abound. Leadership is not synonymous with authority. It has little to do with a title or role. It is not primarily about decision-making. Leadership, biblically speaking, looks radically different. It is upside down. It holds within it the potential to be life-giving or life-taking.
Positional leadership is life-taking, as it stifles the gifts and graces of others. Biblical leadership is servant leadership, which is life-giving. Servant leadership is not having a seat at the table but rather an invitation to serve at the table. Jesus also sat at a table with disciples who were zealous to serve — so zealous that they began to fight over who was the greatest. Jesus answers their question with a question: “Who is greater?” He gives the answer in His person: “I am among you as the one who serves” (Luke 22:27).
Positional leadership is life-taking, as it stifles others. Biblical leadership is servant leadership, which is life-giving.
Simon Sinek, popular motivational speaker and TED Talk speaker, wrote a book called “Leaders Eat Last.” He says, “The true price of leadership is the willingness to place the needs of others above your own. … Leaders are the ones who are willing to give up something of their own for us. Their time, their energy, their money, maybe even the food off their plate. When it matters, leaders choose to eat last.”
The night Jesus had this leadership table talk with His beloved disciples was one of the last meals He would ever eat. He was willing to give up far more than something off His plate. Jesus, our refence point for life-giving leadership, gave up His very life. “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).
Life-giving leadership is not just an invitation to serve, but, at the most fundamental level, an invitation to die. We have to die to live, and we have to die to lead. Death is sacrificial, costly, and daily (Luke 9:23). Over the years, my Savior has called me to die to my fear of failure and the unknown. Often, I have to die to my reputation when I want to defend it. I have to die to my plans, dreams, and agendas when plans get canceled. And anyone who has ever served anybody understands dying to comfort and convenience.
Life-giving leadership is the call to progressively die to my sin and lead as a chief repenter. Death is painful and scary, but it is also necessary and glorious for His life to be formed in us.
Karen Hodge serves as the coordinator for CDM Women’s Ministry, where she connects women and churches to one another and to sound resources.