A previous general secretary of the United Nations once declared that the greatest challenge to face Africa is one of leadership. He maintained that the greatest crisis in Africa is not one of poverty, disease or corruption – but one of leadership. One might argue that this is true not only of the larger continent of Africa but also of the rest of the world. The daily headlines of every news media outlets echo this worldwide, desperate need for authentic and transformational leadership. But where do we start?
The answer lies in preparing tomorrow’s leaders today. How do we do this in an increasingly spiritually corrupt world? Christian thinkers going back to the Apostle Paul have described human history as involving a struggle between two opposing spiritual forces. The African Church leader, Augustine of Hippo, writing in the 5th century, describes these two opposing forces as the City of God and the City of the World: the Civitas Dei and the Civitas Mundi. The City of God is dedicated to serving others and to God’s will and to His glory. The City of the World is dedicated to the pursuit of worldly ideals – commercial systems of rampant and competitive self-seeking, cities of debilitating selfishness. Most of us feel this spiritual tension in our interactions in our world: to which city or world system will we belong?
Christians globally are faced with this sacred challenge: Training authentic Christian and Biblical leaders that could change the world. How do we do this? How do we ensure that we do not follow the road of shallow worldliness taken by so many leaders that have come before us? How do we balance the Gospel call to humility and holiness with the desperate need for firm and clear leadership?
As Christians we do not walk blindly. Albert Schweitzer once made the point that, “example is leadership.” We have a wealth of deeply spiritual and authentic Christian leaders that have walked this difficult road before us, the ultimate being our Lord and Savior, Jesus of Nazareth. The Apostle Paul in his letter to the Philippian church (2:5-11) faced similar cultural values of pride and abuse of power and in response to this used the example of Jesus in an early hymn as the perfect model for how Christians should behave as leaders. This beautiful confession of faith and early worship song of the church reads as follows:
“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:5-8 ESV)
Note how this hymn in Philippians proposes five distinct leadership values rooted in the example of Jesus:
- The value of self-emptying: “emptied himself”
- The value of becoming a servant: “taking the form of a servant”
- The value of humaneness and compassion: “being born in the likeness of men”
- The value of humility: “he humbled himself”
- The value of obedience: “became obedient to the point of death”
It is interesting to note that the Philippian hymn completes the list of leadership values in describing the radical obedience of Jesus. Christian leaders are marked by a different set of behavioral values and leadership measurements than the world. True leadership is not measured by the mere effects of our activities to lead, it is ultimately judged by our intentions to obey God’s Word. Our world can be changed by Christian leaders that are willing to emulate the radical obedience of Jesus.
I am increasingly persuaded that an authentic Christian leadership can only be formed by turning our eyes once again to the example of Jesus. Only when we have what the Apostle Paul called, “this attitude of Christ”, then our leadership will be marked by self-emptying, servanthood, humaneness, humility and obedience. Nothing less would be Christian leadership that can change our world. Let us rediscover the example of Jesus and lead on.