"The greatest among you will be your servant. All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.”
November 3, 2017, Words By: Joel Van Dyke, Image By: "The Reformers" German School of the Early 17th Century
This week marks the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther famously nailing his 95 theses to the Castle Church door in Wittenberg. The action brought attention to the rampant abuse inherent in the ecclesiastical structures of his day. While evidently not his overt intention, Luther’s actions led to what we know as the Protestant Reformation.
While many positive things came from the Protestant Reformation, it also left an indelible scar in the unity of the Body of Christ; today we have thousands of different Christian denominations that, at times, are drowning in competition and rivalry with one another. In a captivating article published in the Washington Post entitled, “The Reformation is over. Protestants won. SO why are we still here?” Stanley Hauerwas lamented,
There are great reasons to celebrate the anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. But if we’re honest, those are accompanied by lingering concerns. Why is there so much fragmentation and brokenness in the very Body of Christ that Jesus had prayed would be unified in John 17? And perhaps more poignantly, what has the failure of leadership, in all denominations, contributed to this reality?
In our Gospel text this week (Matthew 23:1-12), Matthew begins an entire chapter devoted to the call of Jesus for the re-formation of religious leadership; he is fed up by the abuse of power in the religious institutions of the day. He calls out the hypocrisy of the teachers of the law and the Pharisee’s that, while “sitting in the seat of Moses,” demonstrate no continuity between their words and actions. They heap heavy burdens upon the shoulders of the people they are supposed to serve and, driven by pride, are constantly seeking recognition, favoritism and applause.
The Pharisee’s represented a type of leadership that affirmed inequity of social classes. Their posture supported systems and structures that upheld the privileges of those in power and maintained the powerless position of the under resourced.
Unfortunately, the situation in Jesus’ day has far too many similarities to the atmosphere of Christian Leadership today. His call for a re-formation of that leadership is just as timely for us.
This past week, I had the privilege of participating in our annual training institute of the Urban Training Collaborative in Grand Rapids, MI. The middle day of the institute was set aside for a deep dive into our host city. The vision trip was facilitated by a local team whose leadership style sits in radical contrast to the teachers and Pharisees in Matthew 23. We saw local leaders who displayed humility, vulnerability and radical openness to one another extending. The UTC Institute participants from around the world were themselves grace filled instruments of peace to one another, embracing open and honest dialogue in the midst of potentially explosive topics.
The prophet Isaiah proclaimed an image of leadership exemplified by our gathering in Grand Rapids (and in striking contrast to what Jesus described in our passage this week). “The Lord GOD has given me the tongue of a teacher,” Isaiah writes, “that I may know how to sustain the weary with a word. He wakens me morning by morning, wakens my ear to listen like one being instructed” (Isaiah 50:4).
That is a vivid picture of servant leadership “re-formed” into a shape of humility and vulnerability where the greatest becomes servant and the humble are exalted. Leadership re-formed into that shape fosters holistic transformation of person and place. May God grant us all the gift of this kind of continual re-formation for the sake of our neighbors, ourselves, and the places where we live.
Joel Van Dyke
Director | Urban Training Collaborative
Guatemala City, Guatemala