Then Jesus gave the following illustration: “Can one blind person lead another? Won’t they both fall into a ditch? Students are not greater than their teacher. But the student who is fully trained will become like the teacher. (Luke 6:39-40 NLT)
Here in this passage Jesus gives a foundation for leadership.
There is much talk today about leadership, both inside and outside the church. There are leadership courses in abundance for everyone from schoolchildren to professionals. I often hear it said in church that God is raising up the leaders of tomorrow. Leadership sometimes seems to be the most worthy ambition that anyone can have, and leaders are seemingly valued more highly than followers in our society. This seems equally true in the church community, though I wonder if it should be, given that our primary calling is to be followers of Jesus.
For those that might aspire to it, Jesus has some simple things to say about leadership here. Simply put – Don’t be blind, or you will lead people astray. This may seem obvious, self evident. The “blind leading the blind” is never a good idea.
But what makes this advice extraordinary is not so much its simplicity as its placement in his sermon. Jesus embeds a teaching about leadership in the middle of a challenge about judging. He has just said don’t judge, don’t condemn, but forgive and be generous. And right after his comment about the blind leading the blind he expands on where our blindness comes from: the log in our own eye! What is he trying to say?
Once again, it is not complicated. Jesus is saying that a good leader is characterised by self-knowledge and humility. A good leader is able to see their own blindness, and is willing to do something about it. A good leader does not judge others without first judging themselves. A good leader is teachable, and recognises the need for training. A good leader is always first a good student.
We see many leaders in the world today. Some are plain narcissists. They are nothing like the picture that Jesus paints. They are unable to see their own faults and assume always that their opinion is right. They are quick to judge others and tolerate nothing and no-one that disagrees with them. They have little self insight and never admit that they are wrong. They have never developed an ability for self examination and lack the humility to admit that they have anything to learn.
Other leaders are more like what Jesus describes. They do not set themselves above the rest of the world, but identify with the imperfections of those they see around them. They do not imagine that they are always right but have the humility to admit when they have made a mistake. They are more committed to relationships than being right. They treat others as they would like to be treated themselves.
Do we aspire to leadership? Then we must learn to confess our sin, our failure, openly and honestly to God, and openly and honestly to each other. We must be teachable and willing to learn and grow. For only by being taught can we aspire to the position occupied by our teacher. No-one is born a leader, but must become one through the school of life, under the guidance of a wise teacher.
Are we followers rather than leaders, and wondering who to follow? Look for a leader who is open about his or her own failings, who is often at prayer, confessing his or her own sins before God, and founding their journey through life on his grace and mercy and generosity. Look for a leader who has walked the path of the student, learning from One who is greater. Look for a leader whose focus is on people, not programs, forgiveness and building bridges, not judgement and condemnation of any who is different or disagrees.
That is a person worth following, and if we aspire to lead, that is the kind of person we must become. Like Jesus.