I have always loved Dr. Seuss’s story, Yertle the Turtle. In it, he tells of an arrogant turtle-king who aspires to be above everyone and everything else. Yertle oppresses all the other turtles, thinking they exist only to exalt him to an ever-higher position. It resonates, doesn’t it? I’ll bet you have had some experience with Yertles in your own life. I know I have!
The funny thing is, although none of us want to be trampled by Yertles, most of us feel naturally inclined to be one — if we can only get away with it. It’s that old fallen nature we deal with. And, if we don’t put some concentrated effort into discipling the Yertle out of our kids, it is what they automatically gravitate toward.
Jesus had to teach His disciples not to strive for the top position. You no doubt are familiar with the story, found in Mark 10:35-45, of James and John asking if they could be the guys who were second in command, once Jesus came into His glory. When the other disciples heard about it, they were quite offended (probably mostly because they also wanted to be at the top of the heap!) Jesus sat them down and corrected their wrong attitude: “You know that those who are considered rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you …” (vs. 42, 43). He went on to explain that those who desire to be great must become servants to everyone else, and that He Himself came to serve and to sacrifice Himself.
It’s a hard concept to get into our noggins. Jesus had to repeat the message more than once, and the disciples never did quite get it until He had empowered them with the indwelling Holy Spirit, after His resurrection and ascension. Even at the last supper, with Jesus telling them that He was soon to die, “there was also a strife among them, which of them should be accounted the greatest” (Luke 22:24). Once again, He patiently went through the whole talk about serving, rather than lording it over one another. That tells me that we have to diligently teach, and frequently re-teach, this concept to our children.
So, what should we teach them about leadership?
Real leaders are first and foremost servants. Jesus, although He truly was Lord of the whole universe, “made Himself of no reputation, and took upon Himself the form of a servant …” (Philippians 2:7). At our house, we thoroughly memorized Philippians 2:3-15. It nails the nitty-gritty details of humility, putting others’ interests before our own, not clawing for position, and generally acting as sons and daughters of God ought to.
Servant leadership is even catching on in the secular business world, with some of America’s most prominent and successful corporations now shifting in this direction. Why? Because they found out it works. When people are treated well by management, production is better because morale is better.
Leaders care about the people whom they lead. Unlike the corporate servant leadership model, in the Jesus model, leaders don’t serve so that they can squeeze more production out of people by boosting morale. They serve because they love. Besides using Philippians 2 to teach this concept, we incorporated memorization and detailed discussion of 1 Corinthians 13, especially verses 1-7 and 13, to get the message firmly planted in our children’s hearts.
Leaders rejoice in the successes of others, rather than feeling threatened by them. Reading and discussing 1 Corinthians 12:12-26 is a great way to instill this idea. To begin with, try narrowing it down to immediate family for easy application, and expand outward from there to the local church and beyond:
In our family, we all belong to each other. We are one. Just like when your stomach hurts, none of the rest of your body feels well, when one part of our family is hurting, all the rest of us feel it, and when one of us has happy things happen to him, we are all glad together.
Some of you are older, and you can be stronger, like the shoulders or legs, while little brothers and sisters are the weaker, more tender parts, who need more protection. We take care of each other and are not jealous of each other.
It would be silly for you to stamp on your own fingers with your foot, or for your finger to feel jealous of your eyeball, wouldn’t it? We work together as a family unit, just as all the body parts work in unity, and we are meant to share each others’ joys and sorrows.
(Etc. You get the idea.)
We’ll continue next time with a few more qualities of leaders, and ideas for how we can build them into our children.