“I wrote something to the church; but Diotrephes, who loves to be first among them, does not accept what we say.”
~3 John 1:9
Men, beware of the lust for leadership.
I’m not speaking of our God-given and biblically-prescribed responsibility as men to lead our families and the church. Rather, I’m speaking of a man’s natural thirst for prominence, prestige, pre-eminence, and power. Men, beware of the lust for leadership.
It’s been said before that the problem with the church is that its men won’t lead. I’ve listened to ministers and preachers – myself included – almost aggressively challenge the men of their congregations to “step it up.” It’s no surprise then that men’s seminars can sound like locker room pep talks. And while I’m fully for a minister’s summoning men to step up and lead, over the years I’ve realized that the problem underlying the lack of biblical leadership amongst the men of the church is not a lack of desire for leadership. Rather, it’s a misguided passion for ungodly leadership. I’ll call it the Diotrophic disease.
It’s no mystery that men of the church have problems with biblically leading. But I’ve discerned both biblically and experientially that men don’t have a problem with wanting to be leaders. Or should I say, males don’t have a problem with leadership. Watch little boys in the school playground if you’re not convinced. Time and time again, I’ve had young men approach me saying that they want to be discipled so that they can “become better leaders.” If what the church needs is for men who have a passion for leadership, there wouldn’t be a problem – at least not in the local churches in which I’ve served.
The problem is not that men aren’t passionate about leading. It’s that men aren’t humbling themselves to serve.
The words from the journals of Jim Elliot, the renown martyred missionary to the Aucas, are worth considering:
“There is not one word in the New Testament about this ‘training for leadership.’ There, all the training is for being a servant to everyone you meet. Training is to learn to follow, not to lead…Jesus said, ‘He that is first shall be last.’ It is enough for the disciple that he be as his master. That is the sort of training that we need, to be as He is…” (Shadow of the Almighty, 124-5)
He has a point. It’s not to say that we should never have leadership training seminars; I myself have both led and participated in them. What is perplexing, however, is when the young men who tell me that they have a desire to become small group leaders, mentors and counselors, Bible study teachers, and even elders are the same men who during church functions stand around with arms-folded like pretty statues while the elderly ladies are faithfully folding chairs and emptying trash bins right in front of them, not to mention their elderly husbands breaking their backs while folding up the tables. It’s appalling and embarrassing, that so many of the young men who have expressed a passion for leadership will, at the same time, deem themselves over-qualified to mow lawns and wait on tables at restaurants. But again, it speaks to the reality that the problem with men is not a lack of desire for leadership, but that they have an ungodly thirst for leadership that causes them to neglect Christ’s call to servanthood. It’s the Diotrophic disease.
I’m calling it the Diotrophic disease because Diotrophes had it, as the apostle John warns his good friend Gaius in 3 John 9. Diotrophes, explains John, is one who “loves to be first.” It’s the Greek compound word philoproteauo. Philo– to love or desire. Proteau– to lead. A love for leadership. It was a vice, not a virtue, that produced the the controlling and domineering behavior that characterized him, of which the Holy Spirit warns the church through this letter. The church doesn’t need more men of Diotrophes’ mold.
I agree that there is a famine in the church for men who truly lead. But it’s a famine regarding a particular brand of leadership – namely, biblical leadership as Christ described in the gospels. Consider His words specifically in Luke 22:25-27, addressed to prominence-hungry apostles:
“And He said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who have authority over them are called ‘Benefactors.’ But it is not this way with you, but the one who is the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like the servant. For who is greater, the one who reclines at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at the table? But I am among you as the one who serves.”
Biblical leadership is humble servanthood. It is not a fight for prominence, but rather a commitment to relinquish it. To lead as Christ calls is not to love to be first; it is to commit to being last. It is to learn to carry out tasks that the world normally associates with the least esteemed. A man will never learn to lead like Christ until he mortifies the Diotrophic disease in him. To train a man to lead biblically is to train him to see himself as the least of men. For Christ Himself did not consider equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself to the point of taking the form of a slave. If the Son of God humbled himself to wash feet and carry His cross for the welfare of others, so should the men who follow in His footsteps.
And when you have a church full of men who are committed to foot-washing and cross-carrying, you have a church with men who can – and will – lead.