When Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came forward to Him, appealing to Him, “Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, suffering terribly.” And He said to him, “I will come and heal him.” But the centurion replied, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I too am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” When Jesus heard this, He marveled and said to those who followed Him, “Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith.” (Matthew 8:5-10).
The nature of being a servant of Christ is being under authority. I am convinced that the best description of a “leader” or “servant-leader” or whatever we want to call him or her, is they are a person under authority. The centurion used this description to talk about Jesus because it was the same as his situation. “I too, am a man under authority” – this gave him the power or right to command men under his “leadership”. However the nature of his position is defined by those who chose him for that role and the purpose for that responsibility. He saw the same thing in Jesus, which Jesus affirmed as amazing spiritual insight to the nature of Jesus’ mission in the world.
The basic idea of this statement is he had authority. Every commentary you read will acknowledge that this statement is simply a different way of saying the centurion had authority or power to make decisions and command others. In our language this made him a “leader” (officer or commander) in the military and he was responsible to mobilize his men to do what he was ordered to get done; in any other terms, he was given responsibilities that were defined, not by him, but by someone who had more power and authority than himself. He recognized that Jesus had incredible power or authority to heal his servant. The nature of that authority was something entrusted to Jesus by a higher authority or power. That power would have limits and parameters defined by the nature of his relationship to the Father. It would also be defined by the purpose of that stewardship. While we like to think in terms of how much authority we have, it is more about what responsibilities have I been asked to fulfill.
The Great Commission was primarily about Christ’s authority not our authority (Matt. 28:18-20). Of course this discussion will be accused of “begging the question” – we have authority because Christ has authority; yes we love our authority for sure. But Christ did not say that the disciples had been given “all authority” – no, specifically Christ stated that all authority had been given to him. It does not take much to get this out of alignment. His command was about the disciple’s responsibility if they truly recognized his authority over them. I certainly know the question – does Christ’s command not give us authority too? I can say with certainty that it give us a clear responsibility – to go make disciples. But our world has become so obsessed with “our authority” and who calls the shots, who is in control, who gets to make the decisions – we often lose sight of the responsibility – make disciples!!
The word “leader” is so embedded in our cultural mindset that it would be impossible to remove it. Why would we need to remove it? I would love to replace it with language that is closer to the heart of Christ. Jesus did not speak of “leaders” or even about “leadership”. His focus was on servants. If you want to be great in the kingdom learn to be a servant; learn to become a slave (Matt. 20:25-30). Even the idea of Elders “exercising oversight” speaks more to the responsibility for the care of someone than the nature of authority (1 Peter 5:2-3). Maybe, instead of “leaders” we need language like ministry-servants. I just know there are all kinds of people that are under authority to carry out certain responsibilities but cringe at the thought of being a leader. I also know that the idea of leader often terminates on how much power one has rather than what kind of responsibility do I carry out because I am under authority to do so. Do we need more leaders or do we need servants as Christ would define it?
In His grace
Pastor Brad Little