Then Jesus spoke to the multitudes and to His disciples, saying: “The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. Therefore whatever they tell you to observe, that observe and do, but do not do according to their works; for they say, and do not do. For they bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers. But all their works they do to be seen by men. They make their phylacteries broad and enlarge the borders of their garments. They love the best places at feasts, the best seats in the synagogues, greetings in the marketplaces, and to be called by men, ‘Rabbi, Rabbi.’ But you, do not be called ‘Rabbi’; for One is your Teacher, the Christ, and you are all brethren. Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. And do not be called teachers; for One is your Teacher, the Christ. But he who is greatest among you shall be your servant. And whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.
MATTHEW 23:1-12 NKJV
Jesus starts by giving us an example of bad leadership. The scribes and pharisees were the recognised spiritual leaders at this time and they held great sway over society. However, they did not demonstrate shepherding leadership but were severe taskmasters instead of being liberators of the people.
Remember that a common theme in the Bible is the contrast between bad leadership and good leadership.
Jesus isn’t being nice here. He is speaking truth. Leaders must learn that being nice is not our calling. We are called to speak truth.
Jesus teaches a principle here that we should do what our leaders tell us to do but not how they do it. The scribes and pharisees sat in Moses’ seat. They had the right and authority to teach.
Rebelling against authority is not the road to change. We must honour those who lead us while refusing to be tainted with their error, unbelief and religiosity. Then we can effect change.
Bad leaders put heavy burdens on people, weighing them down with legalism and oppressive authority.
Bad leaders stand upon people to keep them down. Good leaders get under people to lift them up.
Bad leaders promote themselves. Good leaders encourage and promote others.
Bad leaders do what they do to be seen by men. This is the heart of it. This motivation shuts faith down.
How can you believe, who receive honor from one another, and do not seek the honor that comes from the only God?
JOHN 5:44 NKJV
We see from this verse that a leadership culture based on self-seeking and self-serving is not conducive to a faith atmosphere. Motives determine the culture and atmosphere. Whatsoever is not of faith is sin (Romans 14:23) so a culture of self-promotion and hubris is poisonous.
Note that Jesus had no problem in highlighting these things about the religious leaders of his day. Leaders are there to provide solutions to problems but when they become the problem, then they need delivered.
Bad leaders are all about titles, office and privilege. They like to be recognised and given prestige. Jesus says to the disciples in the passage above not to be called Rabbi, which denotes teacher but literally means “great one” or “my Master.”
Then the Lord says don’t be called teachers. These pronunciations against titles are not an absolute prohibition of the use of titles. Paul called himself a father, for example, as well as a teacher. He also continually called himself an apostle.
Titles and offices are important because God calls us to them.
What Jesus is speaking of here is hunting titles for the purposes of self-aggrandisement. We are not to seek titles to boost our ego or to Lord it over others.
The path to greatness is to serve others. Servant leadership is authentic leadership.
Your job as a leader is to serve others, not to boss them about like a master. Of course, leadership necessarily involves tasking people to do things; however, Jesus here is talking about the heart attitude of a true leader. He/she knows that leading others is to serve others.
The key to this, of course, is knowing that you are in your leadership role because God has appointed you to serve Him in that capacity. You are actually serving Him by serving the people you lead.
Leadership is not about stardom; it is about significance. Greatness is not about impressing others but about impacting their lives for good.
The heart of a leader determines the extent of this impact, either for good or otherwise. Policies and regulations flow from a leader’s heart, particularly in their implementation. If a leader is tainted by corruption, bitterness, fear or selfishness, this can powerfully affect how they lead.