One of Donald Trump’s campaign mantras is that he’ll “get things done”. While many times there is no substantive explanation of exactly how he intends to do so, the way he constantly hearkens to his ability to broker deals points to one way in which he thinks he’ll be able to get things done. The image of a boardroom meeting with powerful agents is the dominant metaphor Trump is using, and he’s promising to be the man at the helm who will preside over it all.
Donald Trump’s boardroom metaphor is representative of the way most people think of leadership. In this conception, power is the central force at play, and coercion is the way you use your power. So, whoever has the most power is the person that is most able to get things done, and, by extension, lead.
I’d like to contrast this conception of leadership to a model of leadership championed by Jesus. The boardroom metaphor of leadership is by no means exclusive to Trump, but instead represents something the general public truly believes about leadership. It can be summed up as the Art of the Deal versus the Art of the Meal.
A leader has to answer three basic questions: 1) Why am I leading? 2) How will I lead? 3) What will I use to get there? Every model of leadership addresses these basic questions. In the Art of the Deal conception of leadership, the leader is leading to get things done (and, presumably at a deeper level, to become more rich, famous, acclaimed, satisfied, etc.). How they lead is through coercion (a soft way of putting this is persuasion), and what they use is power.
In the Art of the Meal model of leadership championed by Jesus, leaders are motivated by Kingdom purposes (chiefly to bring God glory). How they lead is through invitation, and what they use is influence.
The Art of the Meal comes from Jesus’ propensity to lead through sharing meals with others. In the book of John alone, three significant passages show Jesus eating meals with others. First, in John 12 we see Jesus eating a meal with friends where Martha anoints him with expensive, fragrant ointment. Second, in John 13, Jesus gathers with his disciples to eat a meal before being betrayed by Judas. This “last supper” is where Jesus institutes the Lord’s Supper (traditionally known as the Eucharist), which Christians around the world observe as part of congregational worship. The third instance of Jesus eating a meal happens after the resurrection, in John 21, where we find Jesus appearing to several of his disciples while they are out fishing. He invites them to breakfast, and they eat a meal together.
There are many other instances of Jesus eating meals with others, especially in Mark’s gospel, but these three highlight several significant things about how Jesus led.
First, he doesn’t have to assert his authority; it is always recognized. Many Christian leaders operate out of fear, and thus spend their time as leaders in attempts to show that they are the boss. But the portrait we get of Jesus in the gospels is that he was secure in who he was, and he didn’t have to “lord it over” others.
Second, he led by invitation, asking people to join with him. That’s why the image of meals and the table fellowship that they imply is so powerful, because a meal requires an invitation to be extended from a host to a guest. He didn’t twist people’s arms to do things for him, he gave them a mission and purpose higher than themselves and asked them to join.
When we reduce leadership to “getting things done”, we turn it into a mangled version of manipulation and power games. Good leaders inevitably get things done, but they look to the means as well as the ends. They invite people to a way of life, include others, and give their followers a purpose that is higher than themselves. They reframe the end results to never be simply about personal achievement but work to show how individual contributions impact the larger holistic purpose.
Too many Christians today in America want the benefits that Jesus gives but do not want to take up their own crosses in daily living for him. They want a Jesus who will let them do things as they please rather than call them into a way of living and leading that is ultimately redemptive. Leadership in the way of Jesus, though, is a process of sanctification that draws us away from doing things our own way and into a new way of grace-filled service.