But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” – Matthew 20:25-28
Christian Unity comes when believers are aligned horizontally and vertically. Horizontal unity refers to the harmony that abides between every brother and sister in the family of God regardless of personal background, gifting, or position in the church. Vertical unity refers to the alignment that exists up and down the chain of command in Christ’s Body. Vertical unity requires, in part, excellent Christian servant leadership.
Hierarchy is a godly thing. Many Christians today bristle at the notion of top-down leadership in the Body of Christ, but Jesus designed for His people to function in this way. The Lord chose twelve men to be His authoritative apostles (Mark 3:14), and the apostles appointed leaders in local churches to oversee and continue the work of the kingdom (Acts 14:23). Hierarchy even exists in the perfection of God Himself. The Son submits to the Father, and the Spirit proceeds from Father and Son in order to glorify the Son.
The problem with hierarchy is not the structure itself but the leaders who fail to follow Jesus’ teaching on Christian leadership.
In Matthew 20:25-28, Jesus expressly forbids His apostles – the leaders of His people – to use their authority as ungodly rulers often do. Non-Christian leaders are inclined to lord their power over their subjects, seeking selfish gain at the expense of those under their charge. Christian leaders are to do the very opposite. Great Christian leaders become the greatest servants of all in the Church. Jesus Himself, the Head of the Church, models this kind of leadership by giving His own life for us and dying in our place.
Throughout the book of Acts, the apostles imitate this same kind of sacrificial leadership. They expose themselves to mocking, social rejection, and possible death by declaring that Jesus is the only Savior and that everyone must repent and believe in Him. They deny themselves and expend great effort to seek the Lord in prayer, ministry of the word, fasting, and worship for days at a time. They make difficult decisions that do not always coincide with the suggestions of others. The apostles leave their families and personal pursuits behind in order to advance the gospel and serve the Church. Without this kind of leadership, what would have become of the early Church?
Sometimes Christian servant leadership today is misunderstood to mean that Christian leaders are to be permissive. But Christian leaders courageously call all Christians and non-Christians to believe God’s truth and live according to His standards, even though their own popularity may suffer for it. Neither should Christian servant leadership be misconstrued as passive. Christian leaders do not avoid difficult people or situations, but they confront false teachers, convey hard messages, and experience social, emotional, and physical setbacks to represent Christ accurately. They stand ready to receive all sorts of backlash for the sake of the Name and the health of the Body.
One of the primary ways that Christian leaders are called to sacrifice themselves is by seeking the Lord with great diligence and at a higher level than other Christians. Like the first apostles, the effectiveness of Christian leaders comes from being with Jesus and being filled with His Spirit, not from personal charisma or trained skills. Therefore, Christian leaders must lead the way in humbling themselves through fasting, seeking God’s face in prayer, taking in large amounts of Scripture, walking carefully in repentance and obedience, and drawing near to God on their own or with other Christian leaders for days at a time.
When Christ-like character is combined with these kinds of counter-cultural Christ-like actions, Christian Unity is not far away. Though Christian leadership demands death to self, it is an honor and privilege to serve the Lord and He will richly repay all who lose their lives for His sake.
Father in Heaven, give Your church in America Christian leaders who are willing to sacrifice great personal costs for Your sake and the sake of Your Church. Help them to lay down their own self-interest, even if it means they are ostracized, minimized, deprived, scorned, and hated because they are faithful to You and Your ways. Fill them with Your Spirit to be like You in every way. Help us to remember to pray for our spiritual leaders and to submit to their leadership. Bring about horizontal and vertical unity in every local church and throughout Your Body, in Jesus’ name, amen.
Chuck Hetzler, Ph.D.
Director, CU Day and Night
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