Being and Function

I have been convicted of error.

For some time, I have basically accepted the proposition that a man is what he does. A man will find self-worth and identity in his job, and this is a function of the creation mandate to the man, to have dominion. One of the most important ways a man takes dominion is through his work, which is also part of the creation mandate, as Adam was created and placed in the garden and told to tend it. This in my mind would mean, or often mean at least, that a man would find his identity in his work, and that this was OK.

Monday night I had class at the seminary. The class was Church Development, and we were discussing leadership, principles of leadership and how you would train leadership. I proposed beginning with the idea that leadership in the Kingdom of God is servanthood, per John 13. This defines leadership for us as servanthood contrary to the world’s idea that leadership is power and authority over others. Our professor, Dr. Aquila, in drawing this idea out related it to the concept of identity, and said that the Christian idea of leadership, among other things, meant that being or essence is not defined by the function, which is just another way of saying that I am not what I do. The task extends my essence, but it does not define it. Jesus in John 13, knowing who He was, and knowing that His end is near, gets a towel and washes the disciples’ feet. He says essentially- I am the Son of God and the Messiah and your Lord, and yet I wash your feet. You must all be servants to each other likewise. That is, the function or job of service did not define who Jesus was. Therefore, the idea that a man is what he does is a lie of the world, like the Gentiles that Jesus speaks of here, who love to have authority and power over each other because if the job defines me then having authority over others defines me as superior to others.

This also calls to my mind a recent book by a Christian author on leadership, who said that leadership comes from being, which is essentially the pagan idea. If I am superior to others then it is right that I lead them. I can’t name the book that said that, because I sold the book after I read it. But it’s a common idea that leadership is driven by giftedness rather than by service.

This is not to say that the function is irrelevant. Jesus didn’t say that it doesn’t matter what you do, just love yourself, or feel good about who you are. The function is an extension or expression of being, and how I do whatever it is I’m called to do will say a great deal about what I am. But it does not define it. Joseph, for example, was a slave. This did not define his essence or being. But what kind of slave he was did say a great deal about his essence, about who he was.

The Christian finds his identity as a child of God. And God will put us into many different functions on earth and some of those functions likely will not be that glorious. Leadership does not flow from essence, any more than slavery flows from essence. It flows from God’s providence and plan for your life and for His kingdom.

*editor’s note – this was composed at 4 AM, due to thoughts that would not allow the author to sleep. Please report any resultant incoherence. Those responsible will be sacked.

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