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Going Horizontal


Servant Leadership is the focus of the April 2014 issue of Conversation but let’s start talking about it now…

When it comes to careers and organisations we instinctively think in terms of ladders. There is the ‘person at the top’ with all the power and control and the managers ‘below’ him’ and then the workers ‘below’ them. Whether we would admit to it or not, most of us, deep down, have a ‘ranking’ of different jobs – cleaner, farmer, teacher, banker, doctor, lawyer, accountant – we put some as higher status, some as lower. Schools too are ranked from the least to the most desirable. The aim of the game seems to be to go to the ‘best’ school you can to get the ‘best’ job you can – i.e. highest earning, highest status – and then climb up the rungs of the career ladder from intern to CEO. It’s all vertical.

Over the last 15 years a lot of people, and not necessarily from a Christian perspective, have been questioning this vertical mindset. If you Google “horizontal leadership” or “horizontal career development” you’ll see the vast amount that’s been written on this. It’s been recognised that leadership is not just about power and control and that companies work best when leaders put themselves on the same level as those they lead and ask for their input and feedback.  It’s been recognised that the single-minded focus on getting the highest status, highest paying, ‘top job’ ignores and wastes individual passions and aptitudes (you might not be very well suited to being a lawyer or have any interest in accounting but you might have a different niche expertise) and is not well suited to the modern, out-sourcing, temporary-contract economic world.

Jesus was talking about horizontal leadership a long time ago:

The teachers of the law and the Pharisees… love the place of honour at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues;  they love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and to be called ‘Rabbi’ by others. But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers.  And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven.  Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one Instructor, the Messiah.  The greatest among you will be your servant.  For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted. (Matthew 23:7-12)

There is no career ladder in the kingdom. The Father and the Son have the only ‘top job’ and then there is the brotherhood of believers. As Harrison Mungai put it once, “You’re never going to be promoted to be God.” There is only one Teacher, Father, Instructor, Messiah. Does that mean there’s no leadership or teaching or instructing in the church? There is, but it is of a completely different order to Jesus’ authority and teaching of us. When we teach and lead one another it is horizontal. We are all depraved sinners and we are all justified 100% by Christ. At the foot of the Cross we are all on the same level. We lead as brothers encouraging brothers to follow Christ’s leadership. We teach as brothers pointing brothers to Jesus and his words. And those who are not doing the leading or the teaching are equally valuable members of the body. The mouth is not greater than the feet or the ear. The manual worker is of equal value to the office worker.

The problem is… our hearts. We love the place of honour. We love to be called ‘Teacher’. We love to exalt ourselves. We do want God’s job. While the management gurus may have something helpful to say on horizontal leadership and horizontal career development it often sounds like a clever, subtle way to exalt myself, to get people on board with my plan, to promote my personal brand. For genuinely horizontal leadership what we will need is our hearts to be humbled by the Cross; to be filled with joy in the God who is not raw power and control but who has come down to genuinely be one with us; so that we would have a sincere love for our brothers and compete not to climb the ladder but to go lower.

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