There are two types of followers: disciples and subordinates. Christ’s plan for His church is dependent on leaders who empower their followers as disciples, not those who would command and control their followers as subordinates.
Jesus said, “…don’t you be called ‘Rabbi,’ for one is your teacher, the Christ, and all of you are brothers. Call no man on the earth your father, for one is your Father, he who is in heaven. Neither be called masters, for one is your master, the Christ.” (Matthew 23)
Ironic, isn’t it? That Christianity has been teaching subordination of the believer as a key to doctrinal orthodoxy and organizational structures since the days of the apostles? Hiding behind the Old Testament model of holy men and holy places, the early Christian leadership built the church around the teaching and miracles of the original apostles, and then later leaders followed in their footsteps and established their relevance around the memory of this power and the establishment of a claim to the inheritance of their mantle, the succession of their position and influence in the body of the church. And so, even when the traditions of the church no longer contained the gospel of salvation or the opportunity extending to the common believer for a direct relationship with Jesus Christ, still the precedent of subordination below the assumed spiritual elect held Christianity together. But although the institutions survived, much of what was Christian about them died.
Christ calls us to be disciples — He opens the door and invites us to be more than just his subordinates, better than his servants, and more empowered than simply employees:
“This is my commandment, that you love one another, even as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends, if you do whatever I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant doesn’t know what his lord does. But I have called you friends, for everything that I heard from my Father, I have made known to you. You didn’t choose me, but I chose you, and appointed you, that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain; that whatever you will ask of the Father in my name, he may give it to you. ” (John 15)
Jesus offers us discipleship. The ability to understand and to accomplish His will. The opportunity to be free:
“Most certainly I tell you, everyone who commits sin is the bondservant of sin. A bondservant doesn’t live in the house forever. A son remains forever. If therefore the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8)
And yet, for almost 2000 years the teachers and interpreters of the Word of God have been telling people that they must submit to the church, submit to the authorized interpreters of scripture, submit to the traditions and culture of institutions and “holy” men who demand support for their “holy” places and “holy” practices.
Here is the truth, there is only one holy man, and that is Jesus Christ. And there is only one holy place and that is in His presence. And there is only one form of worship that is acceptable to Him and that is the accomplishment of His will. So when we accept the call to be His disciples we are not just choosing to be subordinate to His teaching, or controlled by His power, or commanded by His presence. We are choosing to step out in faith and experience the blessings of His love for us and receive the opportunity to bring that love to others. We are reaching beyond the shallow willingness to be compelled by awe and fear. We are accepting our birthright and our destiny, we are fulfilling our purpose, and we are taking hold of God’s vision for us, and standing firm on His promises. Because Jesus Christ is not a God of condemnation and guilt. He is not a God who lords His Lordship over us. He is a provider, a creator, a savior, and a friend. He knows us better than we know ourselves, and He uses everything at His disposal to bless us with every good thing. And most of all He gives us the opportunity to be like Him, to be blessed in completeness, to have integrity without corruption, to love with our whole being, and to be empowered to replicate these blessings in those around us. And that’s the key difference between disciples and subordinates – the ability of the leader to replicate themselves in those who follow them.
A subordinate is just a follower, but a disciple is an aspiring leader who willingly and organically, without the need for command, follows someone they perceive to have greater wisdom, or more mature faith, or deeper vision, or some other admirable quality that they desire to replicate in themselves. Where a subordinate simply awaits a command, the disciple follows an inner calling that God places deep in their heart and upon their soul and finds for themselves those who can mentor them, lead them, and support them — people who speak God’s will and can offer them the gift of building them up in faith to be more Christ-like and more ready to lead in their own context according to their own gifts those who God calls for them to serve.
Christ’s model for His church is built upon a culture of leadership at every level. It is built upon the priesthood of all believers.