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Monday, January 10, 2005

Submission and Leadership

Dory of Wittenberg Gate has some great thoughts on what she calls the "S" word. Submission. In some circles, this word is not too popular. Reading Dory's reflections inspired some ideas in me about this whole aspect about leadership, submission and mutuality.

I remember when the huge uproar within the worldwide Anglican Church when they were debating women's ordination. The debate spilled over to the non-Christian public and some were critizing the conservative Christian position for being anti-feminist. Christians countered with the Biblical injunction that wives (and by extension, all females) are to submit to their husbands. Someone cleverly pointed out that those who are unmarried are exempt from this injunction and therefore there is no priority of males over females in the Church. Yet, for those who quote Ephesians 5:22 happily, they seem to have missed the point made by the previous verse: "Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ."

The concept of biblical submission in a faith community is mutual submission as we all submit to the Lord. There is a beautiful picture of this in Ephesians 5:21. John 13 is another demonstration of this Servant Leadership model.

A leader will find it difficult to be effective without an attitude of submission to the team and to Christ. In the example of the Quarterback and the football team that Dory cites, if the Quaterback does not submit to the team, he would be inflexible and will be ineffective in leading the team. If, after calling the play, he sees a different defensive play coming up, a submissive Quarterback will submit to the needs goals of the team to respond to the play and call another. The principle is no one individual is greater than the team. In the community of faith, no one individual is greater than Christ, the Head of the Church, and each member of the Body, the Church must submit to one another and to the Body, as they all submit to Christ.

The theme of the servant as a leader-servant is not only a profoundly Biblical concept but it has taken root in management circles as well. In The Servant as Leader, Robert Greenleaf, a long-time management reasercher for AT & T, proposes that the leader is more than just someone who sets the tenor of an organization and leads from the front, but she is also involved with the team and in fact acts as a servant to the team in order to impart direction, motivation, encouragement and sustenance to the group in advancing the groups’ objectives.

Greenleaf cites Herman Hesse’s short novel, The Journey to the East, which inspired his theory of Servant Leadership. The novel tells of a mythic journey taken by a group in which the servant of the group, Leo eventually went missing. With Leo gone, the group found itself in disarray and confusion and realized that all along Leo had been the leader of the group, even though he was the servant. Greenleaf extrapolated and developed his theory of Servant Leadership as a model for all business leaders, arguing that the only way for leaders to cast their vision and to engage the team in development of its goals, values and purpose is to serve the team first of all.

Christian leaders and Business leaders, and I propose, leaders in all spheres, will be more effective when they truly understand what it means to submit - submit to the members of the team, submit to the goals and mission of the team, and in the case of the Christian leader, submit to the Lord. In so doing, the Christian leader models submission to the community, who mutually submit to one another and to the Lord. That is the way of the new community that Christ has come to establish - a community of mutually submissive members living in love and peace with Himself and with each other.