Chris Brown walked on the stage with all the swagger of a college youth pastor who is comfortable with a crowd of ten or ten thousand, the arms-spread, voice-husky, joke-cracking guy who has always been cool. And, I have to admit, I was suspicious. The preoccupation with “cool” in the church is all too evident here at Christian conferences, where I have seen more Marcus Mumford look-alikes than I care to admit.
It’s tricky, too, to be the “pastor” at the Leadership Summit. We’ve heard from consultants and CEOs and a four-star general, so this slot can be strange and anticlimactic. The last thing we want at this point is style over substance.
But then told this story. And I was captivated. Clearly, Brown is confident and at home on stage–he is gifted. But in addition to that, he is quick to use his gift to share the most loving and humble heart of the most loving and humble God. “At the heart of leadership is this question of who is the greatest,” Brown said. This is the “ego” that Colin Powell mentioned earlier; that great red flag. In Luke 9, when Jesus was with the disciples, we hear that “An argument started among the disciples as to which of them would be the greatest.”
And this from the disciples who were told over and over again that the last shall be first and the first, last. We don’t get it; we haven’t gotten it for millennia. We needed to hear this over and over again, and then some: “For even the son of man did not come to be served, but to serve.”
We know what leadership looks like, Brown reminds us. And this is a reminder that you need, that I need, and it is a reminder that I need to hear from someone like Chris. Someone who is quick to point out that we so zealously guard our titles and positions of power that we squeeze people out, we let people go, we miss their greatest gifts because we desire to be served more than to serve.
“We’re going to have to call sin sin,” Brown said. “The Bible says a lot about pride and ego, none of it very good.” As soon as we think we are in danger, as soon as we act to defend ourselves at the expense of other people, we are completely off track in our leadership and in our lives. We aren’t based on personality, but on team leadership.
I get the feeling, listening to him, that Brown is a fantastic mentor of and champion for younger leaders. One of the biggest obstacles in my career has been working with bosses who aren’t prepared or willing to take someone under their wing, to teach them and listen to them and take risks for them. And that, really, is what Brown is driving at–that we get the chance to take people into our offices, onto our teams, and create a culture and a person that is “upside down and backwards,” worlds different from any kind of typical hierarchy. “Not so with you,” Brown repeated. What we give is the legacy we will leave which is, ultimately, the only thing we’ll leave behind.