For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. - Ephesians 2:10
The Hebrew word tov is something I have been processing and wrestling with for many months. It started with a book called A Church Called Tov by Scot McKnight. This book wrecked me in a good way, and now I’m seeing things very differently now. It’s been an interesting journey that has led me to think about so many aspects of life. But, before I get too far into that, let’s unpack tov so we can get on the same page. Definitions.net says this:
“Tov is from the Hebrew word for "good," but with a fuller intent which implies something which fulfills the purpose for which it was created. First used where God pronounced what He created was "good"; also in describing the tree of the knowledge of "good" (tov) and evil (ra).”
Pause for a moment and really take that in. When God created His creation and called it tov, it was so much more than how we think about the word “good.” What God created has a purpose, and He, our Creator, fully desires and intends His creation to fulfill its purpose. This is tov.
Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, after our likeness, so they may rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move on the earth.”
Humankind, you and me…we are tov, and we were created to “rule” over all of creation. Rule also gets translated to responsible, reign, have dominion over, authority over, take charge of, power over, sovereign, and more. One Bible translation notes that the Hebrew tells us that “God’s purpose in giving humankind His image is that they might rule the created order on behalf of the heavenly king and His royal court. So the divine image, however it is defined, gives humankind the capacity and/or authority to rule over creation.” So, when God created humans, He created us to rule over the earth and all of creation, and that was tov. We were created to rule, to “lead” in a way, or on behalf of the Heavenly King. Wow, what a huge responsibility!
We are called to tov leadership, which must reflect our Heavenly King, our Creator, our God. This was a major role that Jesus played for us with his life on earth. This draws me to one of my absolute favorite thoughts:
“Jesus came to show us how to be human much more than how to be spiritual…”
So, if Jesus is the ultimate model for what tov leadership looks like, I have to ask, “What has happened in our world? Where did everything go off course?”
When you search leadership on Google, you will find 4.75 BILLION results. Clearly, there is an abundance of thoughts, opinions, and content about leadership. But it seems to me what we are defining as leadership and how we are defining certain words connected to leadership is not in alignment with the life of Jesus. Simply put, we have dumbed it down to something like influence, power, and even status.
David Brooks, a great cultural observer, hit the nail on the head when it comes to how we are saying one word, but it’s being translated and defined differently.
Words chase their meaning. “Character” is no longer a moral quality oriented around love, service, and care, but a set of workplace traits organized around grit, productivity, and self-discipline.
That’s not to say that grit, productivity, and self-discipline are bad, but lacking the real elements of true character it can be a real slippery slope when we shift off the original meanings. This goes for elements that go into leadership. Let’s dig into where this comes from and start with the fact that leadership is a spiritual gift.
For by the grace given to me I say to every one of you not to think more highly of yourself than you ought to think, but to think with sober discernment, as God has distributed to each of you a measure of faith. For just as in one body we have many members, and not all the members serve the same function, so we who are many are one body in Christ, and individually we are members who belong to one another. And we have different gifts according to the grace given to us. If the gift is prophecy, that individual must use it in proportion to his faith. If it is service, he must serve; if it is teaching, he must teach; if it is exhortation, he must exhort; if it is contributing, he must do so with sincerity; if it is leadership, he must do so with diligence; if it is showing mercy, he must do so with cheerfulness.
The Apostle Paul here is laying out the beautiful gifts that we have all been graciously gifted with from our Creator. Remember, these gifts were given graciously to us within the context of tov, so that we can use these special gifts and fulfill the purpose of the gift. In this passage, we see Paul layout leadership as a spiritual gift, and he says we must use it with diligence. When we look at the word leadership here, it was written in Greek and it had two definitions.
Leadership: Greek: proḯstēmi, pro-is'-tay-mee;
to stand before, i.e. (in rank) to preside, or (by implication) to practise:—maintain, be over, rule.
to carefor, or to be concerned about –to shepherd.
These are two definitions that look and sound pretty different. The first definition seems Greek or Roman, and therefore, looks pretty much like leadership in our Western, American culture. But the second looks a bit different. It looks more like what I read about Jesus and those who were covered in the dust of Jesus, and how they tried to model what they learned from their Rabbi.
There is no doubt that the disciples didn’t get it right all the time. But, here we read the words of Peter, an apprentice to Jesus, and how he spells it out:
“To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder and a witness of Christ’s sufferings who also will share in the glory to be revealed: Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; not Lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.”
Read that passage a few times. Process it, wrestle with it, allow it to sit within your spirit. Consider these questions as you do:
What stands out about leadership being discussed here?
What is being called out from the key leaders that Peter is writing to?
Does this reflect the Greek or Roman focus around leadership?
Is this something very different?
What is the motive behind this?
I want us all to see that Peter opens here with a shepherd’s care and then closes with the Chief Shepherd. We are to lead like Jesus led, and we are to be selfless and poured out for those we have the privilege and honor to lead. This is not about profit, influence, authority, rank, or rule. Nor is this type of leadership that our western world, culture, and organizations really value and hold in the highest esteem.
Even though Jesus modeled this for Peter, the following scripture is an example of where he got it wrong. (I shortened the excerpt, but please go and read the full interaction.) Remember Rohr’s commentary that “Jesus came to show us how to be human!”
Because Jesus knew that the Father had handed all things over to him, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, he got up from the meal, removed his outer clothes, took a towel and tied it around himself. He poured water into the washbasin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to dry them with the towel he had wrapped around himself.
So when Jesus had washed their feet and put his outer clothing back on, he took his place at the table again and said to them, “Do you understand what I have done for you? You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and do so correctly, for that is what I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you too ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example – you should do just as I have done for you. I tell you the solemn truth, the slave is not greater than his master, nor is the one who is sent as a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you understand these things, you will be blessed if you do them.
This is it! This is what it looks like to be human, to represent tov leadership, and to wash one another's feet. Jesus took this critical moment after his final, public words and preached a message to His disciples by washing their feet—one person at a time. Jesus modeled leadership through humility, love, service, and shepherding His flock. You and I do not live in a culture where washing feet is the cultural norm, so we need to translate this into our everyday lives. Take the time to really process what that looks like for you. I have been doing this for a few weeks now and am continuing to be in that headspace.
As I begin to wrap this up, please know there is so much more I want to share and discuss. I'm sure the next several dispatches could unpack more around tov. What is so clear to me is that God wants to restore humanity back to what he called tov. Restore it back to fullness and what He sees as completeness. Our friends at the Bible Project call this The Human Project. This is our journey as disciples of Jesus covered in His dust. When we do that, our burdens are light.
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke on you and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and my load is not hard to carry.”
Friends, this is where tov leadership will lead us. However, it’s critical to know that Jesus' yoke is not compatible with how most of us live our lives, how we manage our resources, how we work, and what desires we pursue. Jesus’ yoke, the way of life that He continually calls us to, is the way to move from surviving to thriving. Walking with Jesus and pursuing Him as an apprentice and disciple will move us toward tov and toward our souls being fulfilled. It will push us toward a real tension with things of this world that we may be holding onto that are incompatible with Jesus’ yoke, tov. Tov leadership is what we are called to. We must carefully keep our eyes, our hearts, and our full selves on Jesus and what He alone ordains as good.
Lord, continue to draw us toward you, what glorifies you, and what blesses and pleases you. Each and everyday, Jesus, keep our eyes toward inward transformation and shift our perspectives toward Christlikeness as we bring tov to our leadership. Amen.
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Terry, great article today. I loved your perspective on leadership modeled by Jesus-servant leadership.