Factional Leaders & Followers: Christologically Focused (Part 3)

How does 1 Corinthians 1 and Philippians 2 inform leadership and followership? First, factionalism damages the church. Factionalism creates damage by sowing pride in leaders. For someone in a position of power, it feels good to be followed by others and receive affirmation because it means people notice their capabilities. Now, being noticed and receiving verbal affirmation is not necessarily a bad thing, but it could be like Miracle Grow in a garden of weeds—the weed of pride will aggressively take over. Additionally, there seems to be a “power act” in a follower naming a leader as someone they adhere to that reflects Adam’s initial task in the Garden in Genesis when he named all the animals and Eve (Genesis 2:18-25). In Adam’s naming, he verbally exhibited his imago Dei by taking dominion over all things and cultivating God’s creation. In a similar fashion, the follower naming their “go-to” leader exhibits a similar kind of power. However, this creative power may have adverse reactions because of sin.[1]

Additionally, factionalism cultivates malice between followers. Similar to the leaders’ temptation, followers can be tempted by pride by looking down on those who follow someone else. When a follower identifies their leader, judgements are made implicitly on the follower based on their leader’s ability, actions, and beliefs. Also, factionalism among followers can lead to the ranking of spiritual gift(s) one may have, favoring one ability of another gift.

Therefore, a Christologically focused leader and follower will seek unity to stave off pride and promote love.[2] At the core of this desire is humility. As one progresses in leadership, they will gather more and more power. However, there comes a point in every leader’s life where they no longer have the ability or the expertise to carry out certain functions. A humble leader will recognize their “limitations to accomplish” their goals and will need to rely on others.[3] Humility in leadership will require a deep relationship with Jesus. The ground needs to be tilled constantly to prevent the weeds of pride from popping up. Followers also have this need. Humility in followership will look like the proper understanding of Christian liberty.[4] For example, new believers may be drawn to a particular preacher or theologian because of their simplicity in their presentations. Those who are mature and follow “more nuanced” preachers and theologians should not look down upon these believers. Instead, motivated by love and humility, they should encourage these new believers by assisting in their discipleship process rather than judging them. Additionally, followers of Jesus should not look to fellow Christians and judge based on their spiritual gifts. Each gift in Jesus’ church serve a unique function in order to equip those around them.[5]

Second, and most importantly, humility leads to exaltation, not the other way around. Ambitious leaders with improper desires want to advance quickly and make a name for themselves. This disposition can be reflected in their followers, creating the same kind of desire. This creates a culture of oppression because others are seen as obstacles to one’s goals or “tools” that can be used temporarily, then discarded after their goal is achieved. However, it seems that in God’s economy, down is really the way up. That is, in order to advance and be exalted, one must be still and humble. This seems counterintuitive to how Western civilization views advancement—if one is not moving, then they are passed. This counterintuitive structure is modeled after Jesus’ entire existence—though he was equal with God, he humbled himself to save others rather than serving himself and staying in his rightful position.[6] If one believes that they have the ability to lead others in God’s direction, then they should have no issue waiting for God to exalt them from their humility.


Living as Exiles

Factionalism corrupts the church. Leaders, whether intentionally or unintentionally, can cultivate this disposition in their followers and in turn, followers can further divide among each other. The solution to this problem is to look to Jesus’s life. Namely, that he condescended to sinful creation (humility), thus experiencing the lifting up of God (exaltation). Leaders should cultivate a disposition of humility in their personal lives and leadership, thus modeling for their followers how they should treat one another.


This post was originally part of an academic paper submitted to Dr. Bradley Matthews in Acts & Paul at Covenant Theological Seminary. It has been modified from its original version.


Endnotes

  1. Notably, this situation is not exactly analogous (as my wife insightfully pointed out) as Adam is the leader rather than the follower in the first half of the analogy.
  2. This argument is not necessarily for ecumenicalism. There is good reason for some division across denominational lines to promote harmonious worship based on biblical and theological convictions.
  3. Phil Hodges and Ken Blanchard, Lead Like Jesus: Lessons for Everyone from the Greatest Leadership Role Model of All Time (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2005), 66.
  4. 1 Corinthians 9:19-23. The Confession of Faith and Catechisms of the OPC, chap. 20.
  5. Thomas Schreiner, Paul, Apostle of God’s Glory in Christ: A Pauline Theology (Westmont, IL: IVP Academic, 2006), 353.
  6. Schreiner, Paul, Apostle of God’s Glory in Christ, 172.
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