A common argument in the Christian leadership industry for Jesus’ example in choosing a “leadership team” (and against women in leadership) is pointing to the fact that the twelve disciples were all men. Jesus clearly demonstrated by example that the leaders in this new faith – and in his leadership “structure” – were men, right? Well, they were all Jewish too, but we don’t so much require that as a condition of leadership. We don’t look at much else about them except the fact that they were men.
JR Daniel Kirk looks at the 12 (male) disciples and sees something else that’s extremely significant. A quick summary: Jesus chooses twelve men, sends them out to preach, heal, proclaim the Kingdom, and feed the 5,000. Then the discussion about “who do you say that I am” takes a turn for the worse, Peter rebukes Jesus, and Jesus calls Peter “Satan.” The disciples become preoccupied with who will be greatest in the coming kingdom. They are after all, the inner circle, concerned with their future roles in the ongoing organizational structure.
“We begin to see what they don’t get about Jesus’ ministry: the cross turns the economy of the world on its head. They have a standard of greatness that entails a certain kind of leadership and power, but Jesus wants to transform their ideas. He wants them to see greatness in the cross and in the child.”
This is where they have the “those who are considered rulers and flaunt their authority by ordering people around – but not so with you” discussion. Kirk goes on to say (emphasis mine): “In the story, the disciples do not understand what is entailed in leading the people of God. They think it is about greatness and power rather than service and death.” That should sound familiar to anyone struggling with the secular leadership strategies currently embraced by many churches.
Here’s the real problem with using the twelve as examples of leadership structure:
“According to the economy of the world, with its measures of greatness, to be the twelve is to be exemplary, in the place to lead, to exclude others from leadership, to stand close to Jesus and guard the gates of who else can draw near. And to the extent that we look to Jesus’ selection of them, and the apparent marginalization of the women, as paradigmatic for male leadership in the church, we show ourselves to be people whose minds have not yet been transformed by the very story to which we are appealing. It is only by agreeing with the disciples’ way of assessing the world that we can see their ‘insider status’ as a true insider status, to be replicated by other men in church history…
“The irony of appealing to the boys as insiders is that in so doing we show ourselves to be adopting the boys’ understanding of power, privilege, and leadership in the kingdom. And this view is roundly rebuked by Jesus in words of dissuasion and the work of the cross.”