Note: this is second in a series of posts I am doing specifically based around leadership issues. If you haven’t read Part 1, Letting What Needs To Die…Die, you have time to catch up :).
Whenever we start off anything with the word “submit,” people automatically get defensive. There is often justifiable reason for this. For years, we hear “women, submit to your husbands!” banged over women’s heads from people who take the Bible out of context and balance to try and make women do something they don’t feel they are doing. We hear, “Members, submit to your leaders!” as if it is some sort of driving home force, something commanded and demanded without explanation and made to sound as if it is an unquestioning silence. We’ve all heard the marital horror stories (or maybe not even horror stories, it should say something to us that the relationships just aren’t working) and the leadership horror stories where members are forced into marriages, relationships, lives, and unquestioning abuses, all in the name of “submission.”
Nobody likes to feel that they are being automatically shut off, cut off, told to shut up, or put down. That’s what a lot of people feel when they hear talk about submission. I know that’s what I tend to feel, especially when it is talked about between men and women. No matter how much the speaker or writer might try to disclaim that they aren’t putting anyone down, that’s exactly how it comes across, every single time. The reason it sounds that way is because they don’t understand submission, and don’t understand what the Bible is really trying to teach us about the issue.
I’m not going to get into the whole male/female, member/leader submission debate. I have written extensively on both issues throughout the years, so if you are interested in what I have to say about those issues, check my archives. Yes, submission is mutual, and if you are in Christ, don’t distort the words of Paul to make submission a power and control struggle. If you are submitting yourself truly to God, that makes you a servant, not a head-honcho. What I want to talk about here is the principle of submission and why it is so important as a leadership principle and a principle of good Christian conduct.
My mom used to tell me stories about her father and her grandmother and the casual way in which they used to tell you, “Whatever you do, don’t ask her how she is, because she’ll tell you!” That was code for “She does nothing but complain!” There was always something wrong with her: she was not feeling well, she was upset, someone wronged her, she was having a bad day, and she did it with this high-pitched, whiny voice that made listening that much more unpleasant. Nobody wanted to hear her complain, or hear her speak, because they knew what she was going to result. Once she got started, she didn’t want to stop.
However, as much as nobody wanted to listen to my great-grandmother whine – again – they all still asked her how she was and were courteous and polite to her. Why? Because she was their elder, she was their mother or their grandmother or their aunt, and that merited a certain level of respect. No matter how old they were, they submitted themselves to her, and served her by talking to her and considering her personage.
As a leader, I know the importance of teaching people about submission. The basic command to serve is not only Biblical, it is for each and every one of us. If I am going to tell you about submission, I need to live it myself. If I am going to be a leader, that means I know how to both submit to order and how to abide by it in my own ministry and my own life. They need to see me do the very things I say they need to do, and they need to see me do them with a good attitude. They need to know that when I say I am a servant, that I am really doing so, and that I am here to serve them just as much as they are here to serve, too.
Yes, I am an apostle, and yes, that is a specific type of service to the Body of Christ that is in addition to the service that we, as Christians, are supposed to perform. Yes, I expect those who are a part of this ministry and in leadership within this organization (and theirs, as well), to demonstrate behavior that models a proper humble attitude. Everyone is taught to tithe, to give offerings, to help out others who are covered by the ministry with events (if they are able), to study the Word and to study about ministry, and to walk their ministry calling with excellence.
It also means I must be doing these things, too. For example: I am the spiritual covering for the Christian sorority, Zeta Nu Delta. Even though I am the covering of the organization and the organization submits to my spiritual leadership, I still must defer to the founders and the rest of the board when decisions need to be made. When matters come up, I make sure that one of the founders is contacted and if someone wants me to go with them on their behalf, I do that – but I never tell them what to do of my own directive without hearing from someone else how things are supposed to go. If I am going to write a letter on behalf of something as pertains to the organization, it is my responsibility to make sure that the letter is approved by a founder prior to sending it out. I am responsible to pay my dues every year. I am called to be sisterly with my other sorors. I make sure that I do not post in a way that disrespects the organization, or brings reproach.
These are all actions of submission, of us submitting one to another. When someone in the organization needs advice, I am there to listen and help guide the founders, directors, and leaders to where they need to be. I know what I have to say is respected, and that is not in any way taken from the fact that when I need to follow order, I follow it as much as I expect it to be followed.
The leaders I cover see this, and recognize that there have been many times when we are all together and one is speaking or holding the event, I ask them how they want to handle things and what they want to do. I will advise if I think it is a bad idea, but in learning to be in authority, people must also learn the balance of true submission. They recognize that authority doesn’t mean being on a power trip, and that our interactions with our leaders are teaching us how to submit in a greater way to the entire body of Christ, not esteeming ourselves more highly than we ought.
There are many people today who want to be in leadership because they think it means people serve and submit to them. If you are in a position of authority and you are using that position to make a point, bottom-line people (this is the way it’s going to be when a “tough” decision needs to be made) or to usurp authority, then you are doing it wrong and your motives for demanding submission are already wrong. The reason we learn submission, the reason we learn the principle of submitting before anyone is because we are all called to submit ourselves before God. No position should go to our heads, and if we are servants as we call ourselves, then we should always be ready and willing to interact properly with others, showing proper care and love rather than conceit and arrogance.
I really believe that the entire power and control struggle among offices in the church and leaders has become a mean-spirited competition that it was never intended to be. God did not give us five different offices, three appointments, eleven functions and at least a dozen spiritual gifts so we could fight and bicker over who was the greatest among us. In our pursuit to be the greatest and best, the next megachurch preacher (sorry, you aren’t going to be that, get over it), and the one who is always being heard or acknowledged, we’ve forsaken common courtesy and dignity in the name of getting what’s “ours.” Do I really need to remind us all that Jesus Himself said, “You know that the rulers of the non-Jewish people love to show their power over the people. And their important leaders love to use all their authority. But it should not be that way among you. Whoever wants to become great among you must serve the rest of you like a servant. Whoever wants to become first among you must serve the rest of you like a slave. In the same way, the Son of Man did not come to be served. He came to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many people.” (Matthew 20:25-28, NCV) The ancient pagans thought their leaders were literally gods (a teaching not all that foreign in some supposedly Christian circles today). Just because you have a calling…or feel you are a leader…does not exclude you from the call of mutual submission that runs all through the church.
There is a very overlooked passage in the Bible, known as Ephesians 5:21. It reads:
…submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God. (KJV)
…subjecting yourselves one to another in the fear of Christ. (ASV)
…Yield [Submit; Be subject; …yielding/submitting; grammatically linked to the previous sentence, and so part of being filled with the Spirit] to each other out of ·reverence [respect; fear; awe] for Christ. (EXB)
…Out of respect for Christ, be courteously reverent to one another. (MSG)
Jesus clearly told us to love others as we love ourselves. Showing that love starts in leaders, and spreads to others. If you are a leader, submit. If you are a church member, submit. If you are a part of order, submit. If everyone would just humble themselves, an awful lot of the problems in the church would go away.
Love y’all in the Kingdom,
Apostle Dr. L.
(c) 2015 Lee Ann B. Marino. All rights reserved.