The Most Important Question a Leader Should Ask: What is Man?
May 01, 2009 by Alex Mekonnen | 2 Comments
In last month's article, I stated how important it is to put Christ at the center of our leadership role. Without a clear understanding of humanity and a good grasp of Christ's attitude towards human beings, it is impossible to be effective in Christian leadership. So we ask, what is man? In his pursuit of wanting to know God and understand his own nature and fellow human beings, Pascal asked: "Compared to the universe, man is nothing... Compared with nothing, man is a universe...A nothing compared to the infinite; a whole compared to nothing...What is man?" (Kửng, 1980: 52-53). Our answer to this question will determine our comprehension of human beings, our soteriology, Imago Dei, Missio Dei, and the dimension of our relationship with people within and outside of our race. Our concept of justice, freedom, equality, and Christian leadership is heavily influenced not only by our theology; our anthropology has a significant part in shaping our self-perception and our attitude towards others. Hence our focus in this article is to figure out what human beings are, how Christ views them, and what the Christian leader's attitude should be.
You and I know the origin of humanity is a broad subject and still an unresolved debate among philosophers and scientists, between evolutionists and creationists. Without getting into the whirlpool of theories and views of man, assuming that all my readers are Evangelicals who believe they are created in the image of God, I launch from the biblical assertion of Gen. 1:26. However, cognitive knowledge of this biblical truth, does not always give, automatically, a guarantee for effective knowledge of people. Whether we're Christians or claim to be civilized, from the early century till now, often we fall into a parochial and ethnocentric view of people. It takes a radical change both on the theological and anthropological level to say, "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Gal. 3:28).
Our astronauts have several times gone to the moon and back. But our citizens have great difficulty in crossing the street to get to know their neighbors; especially, if they don't look like us and speak like us. Our churches are often more homogeneous than heterogeneous, despite the power of the gospel that can help us to transcend race, socio-economic class, and culture, as Paul stated. We tend to congregate with people of our own kind. Living in a fallen community, where we are supposed to be salt and light, we say "us" and "them." We often tend to view our culture as good and others as evil; our race or ethnic group as superior, and others as inferior; we lead our people and neglect others, even becoming indifferent to "them." Or, we lead others with a paternalistic attitude that will never bring followers to the point of maturity and responsibility.
People have reached to the deepest ocean floor and climbed to the peak of the highest mountain on earth. We've made fascinating discoveries about plants, animals and galaxies. But we still have so many barriers between us and others. Clear biblical understanding of humanity is essential for effective Christian leadership. Paul G. Hiebert writes, "What is the biblical worldview of other and otherness? First, it affirms the common humanity of all people. The Scriptures lead us to a startling conclusion: at the deepest level of identity as humans, there are no others-there is only us. On the surface humans are male and female, blacks, browns, and whites, rich and poor, old and young; beneath these features, however, we are one humanity. This oneness of humanity is declared in the creation account (Gen. 1:26) and affirmed by the universalism implicit in the Old Testament (Gen. 12:3; Ps. 67; 72:17; Isa. 11:10; 19:23-25; Jer. 4:2; 31:1; Mic. 4:1-2)" (2008:289).
Jesus set a good example for us in how to deal with human beings, whether they are Jews or Samaritans. The Scripture says, "A woman of Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, 'Give me a drink'. For His disciples had gone away into the city to buy food. Then the woman of Samaritan said to Him, 'How is it that you being a Jew, ask a drink from me, a Samaritan woman?' For Jews have no dealing with Samaritans" (John 4:7-9).
The last place the typical Jewish Rabbi wanted to be found is in a Samaritan village. There was deep animosity between the Jews and Samaritans. In the eyes of a Jew, a Samaritan is non-human. If the shadow of a Samaritan fell on Jews when they walked on the road, the Jews had to be cleansed.
Jesus broke five social rules in order to talk to the Samaritan woman:
1) Jesus violated turf rules. He has no business being here. This land is outside the Jewish box. He is aligned with a rival religion. Jesus wandered into enemy territory. 2) He talked to a woman. Men were not even to look at married women in public, let alone talk with them. 3) This woman was going to bed with the sixth man. 4) She was not only a promiscuous woman, she was a Samaritan. 5) He deliberately defiled himself (Kraybill 1978:240-241).
Getting out of the Jewish worldview and culture, making himself vulnerable to the criticism, suspicion, and judgment of the Pharisees as well as his disciples, Jesus began the conversation from a common point of humanity-he asked for water. He didn't display the mark of a Messiah to impress the Samaritan woman. In the previous chapter, we know that he had changed the water into wine. Here, he was "tired from the journey;" he was thirsty and he asked for a drink. The Creator of water was begging for help. His approach was unassuming, nonthreatening, and engaging.
The woman was startled not by the favor she was asked but by the one who asked the favor-he was a Jew. It is a very simple thing for her to get the water out of the well and give it to Jesus. She could have done that in a minute. Instead she responded with a question: "'You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?' For Jews do not associate with Samaritans" (John 4:9). Her question gave Jesus a wonderful opportunity to open up a spiritual discussion that allowed him to uncover her past and present without embarrassing her. She was more curious and interested in the conversation. In a healthy way, she was happy that her existence and her being, though marred by immorality, are known by the Messiah she was hoping would come. Unashamed and with boldness, she went back to her city to share the good news-her meeting the Messiah. The One who uncovered her true self without condemning her was too precious to keep within her own wall.
She became an instrument for evangelism and a reason for the conversion of her people. When a church historian writes about the genesis of Christianity in Samaria he/she starts with this disreputable Samaritan woman and Christ, not with Philip the evangelist (Acts 8:5).
What do you know about people outside of your box? Do you think you have a common point and the same nature with African Americans, Hispanics, and Asians living in the United States? Do you have any clue about the many other nationalities coming to this country? Are you a bridge builder through reconciliation, forgiveness, and love? Or are you a wall builder that isolates and insulates? If you are an immigrant or naturalized citizen in the U.S., have you crossed the language and cultural barrier to get to know Americans and their history that made it possible for us to make this country an alternative place when things go wrong in our homeland? Have you conformed to the attitude of the majority in your society about "others" or are you willing to break the norm like Jesus did with the Samaritan woman, at the risk of rejection and condemnation?
Understanding human nature helps us to excel in our Christian leadership in many ways. It will keep us from pride when we succeed and from discouragement when we fail. When we understand the grace of God that enabled us to be who we are we acknowledge the power, wisdom, mercy, and love of God manifested through us. We concur with the apostle Paul, saying; "Therefore, since through God's mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart...we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God not of us" (2 Cor. 4:1, 7). Paul was not saying, "We do not lose heart" sitting in a comfortable office, drinking Starbucks coffee, chatting on Facebook and driving a nice car. Describing his situation, he said; "We are hard pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed..." (2 Cor. 4:8-9). From such kind of trial, I can assure you no mortal man can come out mentally, physically, emotionally sound, and serve others without the help of God. Because of the faithfulness of the One who called us to ministry when we received mercy, we can boldly say, "we do not lose heart." Spurgeon reminds us about our "fainting fits" and mortality saying, "Usually cheerful as we may be, we must at intervals be cast down. The strong are not always vigorous, the wise not always ready, the brave not always courageous, and the joyous not always happy. There may be here and there men of iron, to whom wear and tear work no perceptible detriment, but surely the rust frets even these; and as to ordinary men, the Lord knows and make them know, they are but dust" (1977:167). If you don't know this truth about yourself and others, and sincerely believe it as you are trying to lead people, then you are the wrong person for the task.
Pascal did not find an answer to his question, "What is Man?" in math or physics, despite his keen knowledge of the subjects and his status as a prominent scientist. "He was a mathematician of genius, he was a physicist of genius, he was an engineer of genius, he was a modern man of the world, he was a brilliant man of letters, and he was a profound thinker" (Kửng 1980: 43-45). None of these intellectual abilities enabled him to discover about himself and his fellow human beings. He found the greatness and the wickedness of man in the revelation given through the gospels. And he said, "Knowing God without our own wretchedness makes for pride. Knowing our own wretchedness without knowing God makes for despair. Knowing Jesus strikes the balance; he shows us both God and our own wretchedness" (cited in Kửng 1980 58). The greatness and the wickedness of man can only be understood according to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Why? Because Christ is the creator and redeemer of mankind and we are clay in the hands of the potter. That is why Christian leaders need to know their own nature and that of others as they try to lead people. The interconnectedness and interdependence of the global community, the shrinking of time and space through the Internet and air travel, the challenges and opportunities of the universal church of Jesus Christ, behooves Christian leaders to know about the nature of mankind, culture, values, norms, and worldviews. We can't be leaders in a vacuum but only within a community.
Hiebert, G. Paul Transforming Worldviews: An Anthropological Understanding of How People Change. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2008.
Kraybill, B. Donald The Upside-Down Kingdom. Scottdale, PA: Herald Press; 1978.
Kửng, Hans Does God Exist? St James's Place, London: Collins; 1980.
Spurgeon, H. Charles Lectures to My Students. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House; 1977.