I hopped onto Facebook this morning and read a post by a good friend about a new book he’s written. The book is Lead, Serve, Love by Gregory Lang. I heartily recommend it, as I do all of the books he has written. But something bothered me about the title when I first heard about it. I thought it had to do with the title itself—I am a book shepherd/publisher and I think about book titles and cover designs all the time.
I was wrong. What bothered me is the order of the words.
We humans naturally place things in sequence: Get Ready, Get Set, Go! Step 1, Step 2, Step 3… Ready, Aim, Fire! It helps us to “chunk” tasks into separate segments, makes jobs more manageable. But it sometimes gets us into trouble.
I rather think the order in which Jesus would have placed these words, and the actions around them, was the reverse: Love, Serve, Lead. He sure spent a lot more time talking about love and service than about leadership, and implied, at least to me, that true leadership derives itself from loving and serving.
The more I thought about it, the more I realized that this disordering may well have been the mistake of Christians from the very beginning. Even the disciples had trouble with it—worrying about who would sit where at the table, who would be invited to the banquet, who would sit at the right hand of Jesus in heaven, who got to make the laws. Jesus’ answer was always the same. Love first. Even at the end, he said, “Love others as I have loved you.”
He didn’t say, “Lead others as I have led you.” I think he meant that, too, but it was third in the progression. Think about what happens, as in the example above, if we “fire” first and think about getting ready or aiming later. We do it all the time. Our mantra is “Shoot first, ask questions later.” And as a result, people are often wounded…or worse.
I find it particularly offensive when Christians impose their brands of leadership, never thinking until later, if at all, about whether or not their plans, their decisions, their actions are out of love. You see, it’s far too easy for us when we hear the word “lead” to raise ourselves up above those we are called to lead. The ego is instantly invoked. Let somebody actually hang a title on us and we’re doomed. “King of the Jews?” asked Pilate. “You say that I am,” replied Jesus. What hangs in the midst of those lines for me is, “I didn’t say it. You did.”
When Jesus was asked who he was by the disciples, he didn’t answer then either. He didn’t have to. “Whom do you say I am?” he replied, and the answer we know. That answer didn’t come because he wore a badge or had a certificate in his robe. If I know that you love me first, that you think of what’s best for me first, and that you have demonstrated it over and over again in service to me, then when you rebuke me, or deny my requests, I trust that there is a reason that I do not see or understand behind your decision. And I will follow you to the ends of the earth, submitting gladly to your leadership whether you have a badge on your chest or not. But even if you do, I won’t, if the order of these three words is reversed.
For Lent, I’m giving up thinking about leadership and spending time on love and service to those around me—my family members, my friends, my co-workers, my colleagues, my…enemies. And I have a funny feeling that if I can crack this, I’ll never have to think about leadership again.
Join me. LOVE, SERVE…LEAD.