By Gustavo Crocker
Since our childhood, we are predisposed to believe that authority and command are the hallmarks of good leaders. We grow up valuing a leader’s ability to command and control. We learn to reward decisiveness and assertiveness, and we celebrate leaders who stick to their plans and agendas. Exercising authority and direction, we have been told, defines a good leader.
God’s ways, however, are not humanity’s ways. Every time God called someone to lead His people, the first qualification that He demanded was not a person’s skills, charisma, or even ability to lead and to command followership. No! Quite the contrary. Throughout Scripture we find that obedience is the primary qualification for service and leadership.
Obedience is the enabler of the authority of a servant leader.
When God affirmed the priesthood and royalty (authority) of the people of Israel, His affirmation was conditional to their obedience and faithfulness to the covenant that they had entered. “Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession…you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (from Exodus 19:5-6 NIV).
Jesus Himself chose to be obedient to the Father as a way to model the essence of servanthood. The same Lord who said “all authority is given to me” is the One who, on the eve of His sacrifice on the cross, told the Father, “not my will but yours.” The Apostle Paul writes about such an authority-enabling obedience in his letter to the Philippians:
“In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who… humbled himself by becoming obedient to death – even death on a cross!
Therefore, God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name” (from Philippians 2:5-9 NIV).
Further, John reminds us that just as love is the most sublime manifestation of Christ in us, such love is demonstrated as we walk in obedience to His commands (2 John 1:6). In other words, Christlike leadership that is reflected in our love for Him and for others is enabled by our obedience to Him.
Leadership is preceded by followership. To be servant leaders we must first be obedient followers.
I remember the story of one of my closest friends in the mission field. He tells me of his calling to be a missionary while he was serving as a youth pastor in his home church in the U.S. For years he had been training to be a local pastor and he had attended seminary to fulfill that very purpose, but being a missionary was not part of his plans or training. Being a missionary did not make any sense.
He went to his childhood Sunday school teacher and told her of his dilemma: He didn’t understand why God had prepared him to be a pastor while He was now calling him to be a missionary. Her answer set my friend straight: “God doesn’t demand our understanding; He demands our obedience.”
And on he went. This friend became one of the best missionaries I have met — all because of his obedience.
Obedience enables us for the long journey to lead others by serving them.