Discipleship vs Leadership

Being in the organisation that I am in, it is not difficult to be exposed to leadership development materials. After all, my organisation is entering into leadership development for tomorrow and hence we do a lot of leadership work around. And a lot of teaching materials are directed to the leaders, both in churches and marketplaces. However, I just wonder if there is a need to differentiate between leadership principles and common Christian living principles, as if they are meant for different people at different stages holding different positions. My answer is an emphatic No.

My first ground of argument for this is based on what the Scripture says about leadership. Actually on reflection, the Scripture does say about leadership, but the more explicit didactic texts are always directed at church overseers.

Here is a trustworthy saying: Whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task. Now the overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full respect. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?) He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. 7 He must also have a good reputation with outsiders,so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap. - 1 Tim 3:1-7

To be sure, we have some Scriptures directed at the employers as well:

And masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Do not threaten them, since you know that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with him. - Ephesians 6:9

Or even the parents, who are supposed to be the leaders in the family household:

Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord. - Ephesians 6:4
But as one can argue, most of what we do as a 'leader' in church, work and family are mostly an extension of our personal being. We become the 'leader' whom our person becomes. So even when the Scripture talks about leadership, one will realise that it is really about spiritual formation of the person more than just leading. Moreover, in addition, the Old Testament tends to use OT kings and leaders as a 'type' for the people in general - meaning that what we learn from those characters apply to everyone, regardless of position. 

Another case is that the Scripture never explicitly mention about 'being a leader'. We will not find texts that say that 'a leader must do this and that'. This is understandable. But even in the OT, can we say that the Bible talks about leadership? I once read a book by John Goldingay, titled "Key Questions about Christian Faith: Old Testament Answers" and in one of the chapters, 'Is Leadership Biblical', he dealt with the knotty issue that we are addressing right now. He makes the observation that “while scripture rarely describes people as leaders, it often describes someone we would call a leader as a servant of God”. He concludes, “In the world we will continue to need leadership. But the church’s job is to be an alternative community that embodies God’s vision for the whole world”. What he is not bringing up in this book is that while we can talk all we want about leadership in the Bible, we ought to focus more on the servanthood exhibited or not exhibited in the characters within the Scripture. 

So, in this short reflection on leadership, I would say that the Scripture is more about discipleship, us living the Christian life as a whole, complete and matured Christ follower. If the principles can be applied in what we call 'leadership' today, it is mainly because the same principles applied to leadership are normally equally applicable to non-leaders. So when people say that 'everyone is a leader' and that 'we lead ourselves' and that 'these leadership principles apply to you because you are a leader too', we can actually flip this around - the reason why we can apply these principles is because these principles are grounded principles for living and for people in general. Just because we couch it as leadership, it does not mean that it is a 'higher principle.' What we are doing, in actual fact, is really applying the principles to a person in leadership. 

And that is the reason why discipleship is more key than leadership development, especially in the church. 

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