Leadership Is Not Privilege

Leadership Is Not Privilege

Message info over a red carpet draped over wide white stairs

For the week of June 24, 2023 / 5 Tammuz 5783
Torah: B’midbar/Numbers 16:1 – 18:32
Prophets: 1 Shmuel/1 Samuel 11:14-12:22

So the LORD said to Aaron, “You and your sons and your father’s house with you shall bear iniquity connected with the sanctuary, and you and your sons with you shall bear iniquity connected with your priesthood. (B’midbar/Numbers 18:1)

Leaders are special. Whomever or whatever they may be leading, their role sets them apart from others. They stand out. Everyone knows their names. In many cases leaders have benefits, perks not accessible to non-leaders. Their importance often gives them access to even more important people, thus potentially increasing their influence even more. They live on a different plain from the general population.

When we think of leaders, this may be all we think about. Compared to them, we feel less important, disadvantaged. We might accept that some people in leadership truly possess superior ability than the rest of us. But others are just like us. Yet, they were chosen to be special. And that’s just not fair! What right do they have to be given all sorts of privileges we don’t have?

This was the sort of thing that Korah and his associates were thinking when they confronted Moses and Aaron in this week’s parsha (weekly Torah portion). Despite already being part of the specially chosen tribe of Levi – the tribe responsible to assist the cohanim (English; the priests) – they were greatly offended by their not being selected for the priesthood itself, which by God’s decree had been given to Moses’ brother Aaron and his descendants.

Their perception of the priestly role was all wrapped up in everything except what it actually was. What it was is emphasized by God’s words to Aaron immediately following the tragic outcome of Korah’s rebellion. As I quoted at the start, after the deadly plague and God’s confirmation of Aaron’s calling, he impressed upon Aaron the depths of responsibility he and his sons would bear in their priestly role. Every special aspect of their leadership was designed to serve the crucial responsibilities God gave them as cohanim. No other Israelite would carry the concerns of the sacrificial system and everything along with it as they would.

The truly special thing about leadership is not the perks but the responsibility. Perhaps I should say, “genuine, godly leadership.” I don’t deny that to a great extent leadership throughout history has been about being at the top of the heap on the backs of the oppressed masses. Many leaders are nothing more than spoiled children who one way or another managed to hoard more toys than anyone else. But neither of these examples reflect how God designed leadership to be. And it doesn’t matter if leaders are aware of the true God and his ways or not. Genuine leadership is only realized when it is in keeping with God’s design.

The Messiah needed to remind his followers the true essence of leadership when he said:

You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many (Matthew 20:25-28).

Korah and company were not the first (or last) to misunderstand true leadership. Yeshua’s teaching here completely turns conventional thinking on this issue upside down. He confronts typical warped thinking on leadership at its utterly selfish core.

Leadership is not fundamentally about power. Leaders certainly possess far greater power than others. But they have been given that power not to benefit themselves but rather to empower others. This is related to the general stewardship role given to all human beings at the beginning of creation. By virtue of our being made in the image of God, we have all been entrusted with various resources, abilities, and opportunities to be used for the benefit of others. Leaders are those who, as part of that general stewardship, have been assigned levels of management for the common good.

Leadership is simply a heavier level of stewardship. In the New Covenant Writings we read, “The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task” (1 Timothy 3:1). Being given greater responsibility than others is noble and should be treated as noble. It’s not about money or popularity. It’s about being true to our God-given responsibilities; something to which we will all be called to account.

Scriptures taken from the English Standard Version

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