This was the motto of the Academy where I trained and studied from the age of 19 to 22. After graduation, I spent three years at sea in the Navy and served in ministry in my local church while ashore. Those six years were foundational for my sense of leadership in the church and in the world.
Studying alongside others is a great leveler, those who I served with at the Academy will forever be my classmates, no matter what rank or heights of achievement they attain. At Bible college, where I have been studying for 10 years now, the students and lecturers place themselves at Jesus’ feet, in submission to God’s word and will. When a student surpasses their master, it is often considered an honour and expression of the master’s teaching skill. However, we cannot forget Darth Vaders’ words to Obi Wan Kenobi: ‘When I left you, I was but the learner, now I am the master.’
Both the students and lecturers at bible college are ministry leaders in their own church. When students consider me to be one of their peers, or when lecturers speak to me as a fellow learner and a brother or sister in Christ, it is dignifying and yet commands great respect. We all experience similar trials and temptations in ministry and life and are accountable to the same God. We search the scriptures and pray fervently for God’s guidance and direction. This also is a great leveler.
My experience of church leadership has at times been reminiscent of the military, reliant on rank, with the domination and control of subordinates; and yet many Christian military leaders I’ve observed would excel as ministers of the gospel, because they are humble and show respect for the professionalism of others. They also have a strong sense of identity, calling and wariness of the ‘sins’ of the institution.
The leadership style that uses rank for authority tends to resort to domination and control and does not consider self-reflection or care of others a necessary part of their role. This leadership may be captured in the phrase ‘He will punish you with a warrior’s sharp arrows’ (Psalm 120:4) This phrase is speaking about God’s justice exercised on those who deceive and accuse God’s people. Yet, for those who equate a leadership rank with ‘being God’, submitting to their authority may lead to some arrows being fired. This is spiritual warfare.
It is not the vocation of ministry or military leadership that commands respect, but their submission to God’s will and their treatment of others. The vocation of the church is to live out the gospel, but what does this look like? In the eyes of society, its status is a non-profit and charitable organization; that is to provide support to people, to encourage, to help, to seek justice and serve. Our leaders must model this vocation and be willing to hand on the baton to the next generation through this same encouragement, help, and service to others.
I joined the military and the ministry to be a peacekeeper, yet even in peacetime, people feel threatened and attack others, in these situations submission to authority can lead to distress.
Listen to this: God is the one who answers those in distress, we know this because of the suffering, death, and resurrection of Christ. He is also the role model, empowerer and enabler of leaders in the church and has dominion over all worldly authorities. Rather than seeking to be God, as leaders we must come alongside God’s people and sit at Jesus’ feet. The way toward growth in leadership points toward the task of discipleship and the encouragement of one another, we grow by lifting up others. Our spiritual direction is to be a follower and a leader, that is, to point to Christ.
Reference: reflection on Psalm 120 by Michael Jenson, St Mark’s Darling Point Sydney.