The Otherness of Leadership: Part Two

jim-sharonThe Otherness of Leadership: Part Two
Service: What is behind Jesus’ Leadership

“I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.” –John 13:15

Recently, I took a still-life, oil-painting workshop for rest and recreation. For two full days, my eyes were taught how to see, and my hand learned how to reproduce a complexity of color and hue. This is an art never fully mastered, mixing color to produce light and darkness, reflection and shadow in a variety of brush strokes that create life-like, three-dimensional depth, all on a flat canvas. My instructor called it, “painting the space in-between,” the ability to see and replicate the air and depth in-between objects. To make the glass jar look like it really is behind the red apple, and the red apple behind the orange, one must “paint” the space in-between. The art is seeing, understanding, and communicating what is there, but not seen.

I’m wondering if leading like Jesus might require a similar way of training my eyes, and hands, and feet? Is the Jesus I present to others flat and one-dimensional? Does my leadership lack depth and color because I have not taken time to reflect upon and reproduce Jesus standing in the space between?

Perhaps we need new eyes and more imagination. We know what Jesus said and did. For example, John tells us that Jesus served by washing his disciple’s feet. “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so,” Jesus states, “for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.” (John 13:12-17)

We can read the story, draw a lesson, and apply a principle of leadership: leaders must serve as Jesus served. All this may be accurate and good. But is it enough? Can we really understand what service means armed with facts and principles alone? I do not think we can. We need to see Jesus walking with the very disciples whose feet he now washes. We must learn ways of service that incarnates Jesus love in our life with others.

Jesus is Lord of love, and servant of others. He calls us to be the same. But our leadership falls flat and one-dimensional when we fail to see and reproduce the Jesus behind the text, the love behind his words, and the service behind his actions. With Jesus, there is always more behind the scene. More to see. More to discover. More to grow into. This is art, more than science. It requires imagination as well as logic.

For example, biblical scholars estimate that Jesus walked about 3,120 miles with his disciples during his three-year public ministry. That is a lot of walking, and a lot of time for talking, mentoring, and serving. Three thousand miles is a lot of space in-between. Have I included this kind of time and space for my walk with Jesus? Have I walked this far with others I am leading?

In the 1982, best-selling author, Tom Peters, wrote, In Search of Excellence, a book that made popular a common practice at Hewlett-Packard coined Management By Walking Around. The idea was simple. To better communicate with and motivate others, leaders needed to get out of their offices and walk around. Be accessible. Mix with people. Like many business fads, managing by walking around became immediately popular. But the practice was neither new nor innovative. Jesus led, and served, by walking around.

Walking by the sea of Galilee, Jesus saw Simon and his brother Andrew fishing, and called them to “be fishers of men.” (Mark 1:16-18) As Jesus walked along, he saw Levi, son of Alphaeus, sitting at the tax-collector’s booth and said “follow me.” (Mark 2:14) The disciples walked for miles with Jesus. Imagine the conversations they must have had walking along the Jordan River, up to the Temple, from Capernaum to Galilee, Bethany to Jerusalem, and Jerusalem to Gethsemane. Imagine how much deeper our life with Christ could be if we learned to walk with Jesus behind us, before us, and beside us?