Some have said that the efforts of the United Church of God for the past few years to implement servant leadership is merely the opening move to a widespread liberalization of doctrine including the acceptance of the Trinity. Other people are supportive of the effort to model Christ-like leadership but are concerned about the baggage of using certain names to describe United’s unique efforts. It is the purpose of this brief examination to answer a few questions: what form of government(s) would most indicate a relationship with the Trinity, what baggage does the Servant Leadership name have, and what intellectual attitude the United Church of God should have about initiatives such as the current Christ-Like Leadership initiative.
The Trinity Argument
Let us first examine the possible relationship between the Trinity and one’s view on church government. At first glance, there would not appear to be any particular relationship between one’s views on the nature of God and one’s views on the structure of the Church of God. Nonetheless, for the intellectually consistent there ought to be some relationship. After all, the conception of a Trinity involves a closed Godhead where there is a permanent distinction and separation between God and man, such that God can never reproduce Himself into human beings or allow them into His family. Indeed, the very concept of a God family is hostile to the Trinitarian mindset. Likewise, the belief in a God Family, if one is consistent about its implications on earth, ought to allow for some flexibility between different realms of authority, leading to a greater equality between God and man, which ought to be reflected in a viewpoint of greater equality within mankind.
Nonetheless, there are a wide variety of church governments that exist within a Trinitarian framework. There are those who believe in the power of elders, the democracy of the lay members, or the establishment of rigid hierarchies. In fact, if one considers the Roman Catholic Church to be the original Trinitarians (along with so-called Orthodox Christianity), then one can connect their insistence on a closed hierarchy with a rigid separation between the laity and the clergy to their views of a closed Godhead with a rigid separation between God and man, however they deal with the problem of Jesus Christ (and most choose the two-naturea pproach, separating the two natures so that the two shall never mix).
Therefore, to say that Servant leadership is necessarily Trinitarian is a poor argument to make, especially if one supports the sorts of hierarchies that one finds in the flagship churches of Trinitarian Christianity. Casting aside this unprofitable and worthless line of reasoning, let us move on to more substantial questions about the intellectual baggage of the concept of Servant Leadership, however one calls it.
What The Bible Says About Servant Leadership
If one strictly looks at scripture, one ought to find no baggage with the terms Christ-Centered Leadership or Servant Leadership. Let us therefore first examine the scriptures to find out what some of the scriptures that underlay any conception of Christ-like or Servant Leadership. Then, let us examine some of the ideological baggage to the terms that was uncovered by Mr. John Miller in his own study paper on the subject on June 25, 2003 (hereafter called Answer). By examining both sides of this we will see at least some of the scriptural warrant for servant leadership and the concerns over the specific language used to describe it.
The language of servants is present in numerous parts of scripture. What follows is only a very brief overview of some of the more notable occasions where service and leadership are tied together in the scriptures. Let us examine the scriptural warrant for servant leadership in light of three considerations: the express command of Jesus Christ, the connection between service and the development of offices in the early Church, and the way in which the leaders of the early church described themselves as servants. Let us remember, though, that this is only a very partial and incomplete examination, rather than an exhaustive explanation of the concept of leaders as servants in the Bible.
First, let us look at the express commandment given by Jesus Christ about the requirement that godly leaders will be servants of the brethren. In both Matthew 20:25-28 and in Mark 10:42-45, the following words are said by Jesus Christ: “But Jesus called them to Himself and said to them, ‘You know that those who are considered rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant. And whoever of you desires to be first shall be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.’ “ Jesus’ words could hardly be more plain: the heathen top-down hierarchical governments found in the Roman Empire or the Roman Catholic Church are not to be found within the Church of God. How a command that is so blunt as to be repeated twice in nearly identical language connecting the leadership of the church with the service of the brethren, and to the service of Jesus Christ himself could be ignored by those who claim to worship God is completely unacceptable. Those who claim to follow God’s commandments are to follow Christ’s own example and His commands.
Second, let us briefly examine the development of church offices to better serve the brethren at large. As we read in Acts 6:1-4: “Now in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplying, there arose a complaint against the Hebrews by the Hellenists, because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. Then the twelve summoned the multitude of the disciples and said, ‘It is not desirable that we should leave the word of God and serve tables. Therefore, brethren, seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business; but we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word.’” What we see here is remarkable. For one, a cultural clash between Greek-speaking and Aramaic-speaking Jews led the apostles to establish the office of deacon to better serve the widows. Can you imagine church offices being established today to serve widows instead of serve the interests of those who desire power and influence? If not, are we truly following in the example of the early Church?
Third, let us examine how the leaders of the early church viewed themselves through the salutations in their letters. In Romans 1:1, Paul calls himself a bond servant of Jesus Christ. In Philippians 1:1, Paul and Timothy call themselves bondservants of Jesus Christ writing to the overseers and deacons. In Titus 1:1 Paul calls himself a bondservant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ (another favorite salutation of his) according to the faith of God’s elect and the acknowledgment of the truth which accords with godliness. In Philemon verse 1, at the start of a letter about a runaway slave, Paul calls himself a prisoner of Christ Jesus. In James 1:1 the half-brother of Jesus Christ calls himself James, a bondservant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ. In 2 Peter 1:1, Peter calls himself a bondservant and apostle of Jesus Christ. In Jude verse 1, another half-brother of Jesus Christ calls himself a bondservant of Jesus Christ, and a brother of James. Here we see the evidence that the early leaders of the Church of God considered themselves to the servants and not lords. Let us therefore follow their example.
Some Ideological Baggage
Nonetheless, as the Answer notes, the term Christ-Centered Servant Leadership carries with it ideological baggage of two types. One type is the baggage contained within the Church of God culture, and the other type is the baggage contained by the terms as they are explained and defined by Robert Greenleaf. Both types of baggage present difficulties in properly understanding what United Church of God means by servant leadership. Let us examine both types of ideological baggage in turn.
The first type of ideological baggage is what people with a background in the Church of God bring to the table with regards to hearing the words servant leadership or anything with the word servant in it. Are we offended to be called servants? Are we offended to wash the feet of other believers because of concerns about their rank or title. Do we think of ourselves as lords and masters over the brethren of God or as fellow sheep under the loving rule of the Good Shepherd who is our head, Jesus Christ. To the extent that we see ourselves as servants whose gifts are given to us by God to serve the brethren (and world) at large, we will not be offended by labels which use the word Servant that Christ used in Matthew 20 and Mark 10. To the extent that we view ourselves as the lords and masters over our brethren (and do not see our brethren as our equals), we will be offended by terms which call us servants and not lords. In that sense, part of our offense about terms and concepts relates to us. Are we, like our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, here on this earth to serve others, or are we here to be served? Only we can answer these questions for ourselves.
Nonetheless, as Mr. Miller notes in his answer, there is notable baggage in Robert Greenleaf’s premises that make an adoption of his terminology problematic. Greenleaf views the Ten Commandments as troublesome because Moses claimed they were from God rather than being justified rationally. We affirm the Ten Commandments as being applicable for Christians today and as being the unvarnished and direct word of God. Greenleaf believes that growing edge churches must abandon any kind of ministers and have a Quaker-style leaderless flock,while the United Church of God and its members support the biblical offices of service such as deacons and elders. Greenleaf believes that the hierarchical leadership model Moses established on the advice of Jethro (his father-in-law) caused his demise. The United Church of God, and the Bible, would indicate that his failure to enter the Promised Land was due to his own disobedience to God at Meribah in Kadesh when he struck the rock instead of speaking to it in his frustration, and contrary to the direct command of God (Numbers 20:1-13). I would argue personally in addition, contrary to both Greenleaf and the Living Church of God, that the model set up by Moses on the advice of Jethro in Exodus 18 was not a top-down hierarchy but was rather a bottom-up appeals court designed to settle disputes on the lowest level possible and to develop the capacity of ordinary Israelites for judgment (in the form commanded for the Church in Matthew 18 and 1 Corinthians 6). Greenleaf argues that superior wisdom is demonstrated empirically through experimentation, while the United Church of God believes that the truth is revealed by God through His scriptures.
Clearly, there are some substantial differences between the flawed and unbiblical premises of Robert Greenleaf and the conception of Christ-Like or Servant Leadership within the United Church of God. In light of these substantial differences in worldview, Mr. Miller in his Answer argues that we should adopt our own name to describe the Matthew 20 model of leadership we wish to adopt and practice in harmony with the scriptures so that we are not falsely assumed to be hopping on the bandwagon of a deeply flawed paradigm. Furthermore, the Answer envisions that United Church of God rather should be on the tip of the spear in defining a biblical view of leadership rather than be seen as copying the trends of the evangelical Christian world. This is sound advice, advice that I have given myself (in the first of my Modest Proposals relating to the support intellectual activities, which I wrote five or six years ago). Therefore, I support the efforts to choose a name that is distinctive to United and allows an understanding of a view that is in support of the biblical command for leaders to serve the brethren (rather than lord it over us) without the baggage of Greenleaf’s errors (or that of any other contemporary heresies).
What To Do
I felt I could do no better with my own prose than to provide Mr. Miller’s closing to his own Answer as I close this note:
“Does it not seem reasonable that a task force, which was able to ferret through this whole body of material and assemble a concept that appears biblically sound, would also be able to find name for the definition developing people that will give it the uniqueness it deserves?
Finding a name for the definition developing people must become our task! Then and only then are we prepared to move forward and implement this most valuable material about the life-changing transformation that God is developing in all His people.”
Hopefully we have found such a name with Christ-Like Leadership. At any rate, it is important for us first to determine a proper name that avoids confusion about our own doctrinal beliefs, whether in sincerity or with the intent of derailing any kind of biblical servant leadership model under false premises. Once we have determined the proper name that allows for this distinctive and biblical understanding to be recognized without confusion, the more important and more difficult task of adopting and practicing the biblical model of leadership remains. Let us do so, for we will not rule in God’s kingdom if we cannot serve our fellow brethren here and now.