Humble Leadership

John 12.12-19

Everyone rode donkeys into Jerusalem, no big news there! So what’s so extraordinary about Jesus on a donkey? The answer is revealed in the cry of the people “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the king of Israel!” This changed everything! Kings don’t ride donkeys! They ride horses! A king on a donkey is the equivalent of your country’s president arriving in a common delivery vehicle; driving it himself of course! But the people loved it! They cheered it! Well wouldn’t you? If my president arrived driving a common delivery vehicle I would say “Wow, a man of the people, a man of humility, someone down-to-earth. I’d like to know this guy!” This was Jesus; very different, so refreshing, so real!
If Jesus was the humble king, John the Baptist was the humble prophet. In Luke 7.24-28 Jesus questions the people who met John asking, “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed swayed by the wind? If not, what did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? No, those who wear expensive clothes and indulge in luxury are in palaces. But what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written: ‘I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.’” Interesting questions; I wonder what Jesus would have asked us? Perhaps, “When you went to church what do you expect to see? A man swayed by religious expectation? A man dressed in fine clothes? No, those who wear expensive clothes and indulge in luxury are in parliament buildings. But what did you go to see? Someone who hears from God?” I hope that’s what we go for! I certainly hope we don’t insist on fine clothes! Churches don’t do that do they? Na; we all think jeans are fine, right? Ahem. Good old John, I like him. He wasn’t just prophetic in speech.
Well Jesus set an example with humble transport and John set an example with humble clothes, but let’s not stop there; what about humble positions? In Luke 14.7-11 Jesus is visiting a religious leader’s home and notices how his guests, who are probably religious too, are grabbing all the most important places. Clearly they wanted to be next to those who were most honoured to appear important. So Jesus used the occasion to teach them something about humility saying, “When you are invited, take the lowest place…For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” I am sure his words left quite a few red faces in the room.
People that visit our church often think the front seats are reserved for special people “like pastors and choir members” they say. Special people! No way! We are all equal in God’s eyes! All this business about fancy pastor’s chairs – thrones in some cases – come on folks, let’s hear Jesus loud and clear, “those who exalt themselves will be humbled.”
Ok that was the easy part, now for the hard bit. In Matthew 23.7-12 Jesus taught something which we religious leaders have conveniently forgotten. He said the Pharisees “love to be greeted in the marketplaces and to have men call them ‘Rabbi.’ “But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have only one Master, and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. Nor are you to be called ‘teacher,’ for you have one Teacher, the Christ. The greatest among you will be your servant. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” In other words; you are not to have religious titles. Hmmm … tick, tick, tick; think on it. I know leaders will want to fight and debate this, but that only proves Jesus’ point; religious leaders like their titles, they like being called Rabbi in the market place or wherever they may be. The equivalent of Rabbi today is Pastor or Reverend, or similar. I’m talking about the equivalent not the translation. Ouch! I know its pride piercing, but it’s true, and Jesus taught it! He wasn’t saying there are no rabbis or pastors, there obviously are. He was saying we are not to be called ‘Rabbi’ or ‘Pastor.’ Why? Well he makes it clear in verse 12 “Those who exalt themselves will be humbled.” Religious titles exalt us, using them is conceding ground to pride!
Note that Paul was never addressed as ‘Apostle Paul.’ No one in scripture ever says something like ‘excuse me Apostle Paul,’ he is only mentioned as ‘The apostle Paul’ where the word ‘apostle’ describes the kind of function he has. It’s like referring to ‘The mechanic George.’
When talking about Paul, Peter says “our dear brother Paul” (2 Peter 3.15), when addressing Paul directly Festus said “You are out of your mind, Paul!” (Acts 26.24). Likewise when mentioning Simon Peter, James said “Simon has described to us how God first intervened” (Acts 15.14). All of these men were called by their first names; none of them had titles.
Is what I’m saying really so important? Well, Jesus seemed to think so. In fact he said it more strongly than I have. He said “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites” seven times in the same conversation! Jesus does not like this behaviour! Let’s be delivered of our titles. I always tell our congregation, “My name is not Pastor, its Gary!”
Now, we cannot finish a post on humility in leaders without looking at the example Jesus set with washing feet in John 13.2-16. It’s Passover and Jesus and his disciples have gathered for the meal. Usually a servant would wash everyone’s feet before they ate, but no servant was present, so Jesus started washing everyone’s feet. They were obviously embarrassed; none of them had thought to wash each others feet and now their Lord had lowered himself to the status of a servant. Peter initially refuses to allow Jesus to wash his feet, but accepts when he realizes there was more to this than the washing of flesh.
Feet-washing is no longer cultural; well, not where I am. Some churches practice it as a ceremony but it was never intended to be a ceremony. Genuine feet-washing is about being a humble servant in real life situations, and like Jesus, leaders must set the example, going ahead of their followers. This is why it is important that leaders are humble in their use of transport, clothing, seating, and what they are called. If we can’t get it right in small things how will we get it right with bigger things. May the last be first.

Illustrations: A President in a Pro-box | Conference Leaders – a refreshing model | The Political Hat | A Pastor sits halfway back | The Washing Show | Washing is Forgiving

Listen to Brenton Brown singing Humble King:

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