Sunday, October 02, 2011

In it to Win it for ...?

Exodus 20:1-20
Matthew 21:33-46

There was a business leadership study published in 2001 in Harvard Business Review ("Level 5 Leadership: triumph of humility and fierce resolve") that studied Fortune 500 companies and how "good" companies became "great" companies. The original intent of the study was to downplay top executives' roles and focus instead on the dynamics that played a role in the transitions from mediocrity to exceeding all reasonable expectations. The study intended to consider other factors to try and determine how ALL companies could share in the same success story - or write their very own.

It was finally determined, however, that there was a particular type of leader at the very top of the hierarchies of 11 of 1435 Fortune 500 companies that made the grade. These 11 were not a mere sampling; these 11 companies out of 1435 were the only ones that went from ho-hum "to the stars" - AND - sustained that phenomenal growth for 15 years or more.

The one common factor each of these 11 companies shared was what is called "level 5" leadership. Taking into consideration all other factors that contributed to these companies' "rags to riches" stories, it was found of the other 1424 companies in the Fortune 500 that this "level 5" leadership was distinctly absent.

Level 4 leadership, ironically, is what we are typically more familiar with and drawn to. These business leaders make headlines, write books; and are highly sought after for leadership seminars, business roundtable discussions - and other competitors. People in and outside the business world want to know what these leaders think and say, and we lay people are truly inspired by many of them. The problem, however, is that these "leaders" were not really "leaders" in the truest sense of the word. They are exceptional managers, of course, and they are very well educated and accomplished in their fields. They are also very focused and driven to succeed at all cost - but for their own personal accomplishment.

There is one thing lacking in these 1424 Fortune 500 managers that is clearly evident in the other 11 accomplished leaders who took their companies to the top, beyond, and held them there: that one particular attribute is humility. For these genuine leaders, it was not about self-promotion or self-accomplishment. It was not about enhancing their own resumes for the next big thing that lay ahead for them. These 11 successful leaders were just as driven, just as focused, and just as educated and accomplished as all the others, but their drive was toward a different end that never really came to be, and their focus was entirely on the well-being of the companies they served - "served" being the operative word. The companies did not serve these leaders' purposes. And even as they were actively engaged in the leadership and management of their respective companies, they were simultaneously preparing their eventual successors so that when their time at the helm was up, the companies would not suffer during the transition. The strength and well-being of the companies these leaders served was the entire focus of their work. It was never about them personally or even professionally, and yet the rewards came incidentally.

We all want - and need - to believe we matter. We all want to know we have touched someone or something in such a profound way that inspires others to achievement. We need to know we did much more than to simply exist. So we can understand all these corporate executives and their drive to make their marks in the world. Though we may never aspire to such heights - and few of us will - we still would like to know that somehow, some way, long after we are gone from this world, that we will be remembered in a positive, uplifting way. It is unfortunate that too often, however, we confuse "personal achievement" with "bearing fruit" because we forget who we are - and Who we belong to - and why we as People of YHWH are set apart from the rest of the world in the first place.

The tenants in Jesus' parable (Mt 21:33-46) forgot why the vineyard was leased and entrusted to their care in the landowner's absence. They mistakenly came to believe the vineyard and its fruits were only for their consumption. They forgot that the vineyard belonged to Someone else and that no matter the length and depth of their efforts, ownership of that vineyard would never transfer to them. They had no rightful claim to it except by the terms of the lease which would surely include their own compensation and stake in the harvest of the vineyard. They decided the vineyard was theirs to do with as they pleased and when the landowner sent his own servants - and eventually his own son - to collect what was rightfully due him, they resisted to the point of destroying those who were sent by the landowner. They were willing to succeed in their evil endeavor AT ALL COST for their own personal benefit. As Jesus points out in the parable, however, the evil tenants - because they were focused on the vineyard and not the fruit - would eventually be destroyed themselves.

Jesus was obviously talking about Israel, the people of faith whose care had been entrusted to the religious leaders. The religious leaders, however, came to believe their esteemed positions were somehow deserved. Their favored status gave them a mistaken sense of "elitism" in which they came to believe all they had at their hands was rightfully theirs to claim, to own, and to do with as they pleased. They forgot that they had been "given" nothing and that their personal benefit or achievement would be incidental to what they were themselves willing to give to others. They had lost all sense of humility and sense of genuine - and divine - purpose.

Throughout Israel's history, we are well aware of the prophets - the "servants" - of the Landowner who were sent to Israel at "harvest time" to collect what was due the Landowner. Rather than give up their favored status, however, these "level 4" leaders were only interested in what they believed they had coming to them - what they believed they were "owed". They mistakenly came to believe the vineyard - Israel - was theirs for the taking and that they were entitled to any and all fruit that would come forth. They wanted to live only for themselves, and they believed Israel existed for their own benefit. So throughout Israel's history, prophets who were sent to call the whole of Israel to repentance were destroyed by the religious leaders and the people who were unwilling to concede anything that personally favored them and their own selfish purposes.

Remember previously, however, that I suggested that biblical interpretation must be read with an eye toward the past but not as a mere matter of determining who was at fault thousands of years ago. If we believe in the Holy Spirit as the essence of a benevolent God who continues to speak to His people today through Holy Scripture - that one true standard we have - then it is incumbent upon us to read and interpret Scripture not according to what we think Jesus MEANT 2000 years ago - but what He MEANS today to His beloved Bride the Church. The WHOLE Church.

So if it is true that believers are a "holy priesthood" called forth to "offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ (1 Peter 2:5), then we must necessarily believe Jesus is speaking through His parable to all believers who mistakenly claim a favored position in the Church and have come to believe the Church exists for them and their personal endeavors. We who are entirely focused on the Church as our personal "turf" and not on the fruit we are required to bear as "tenants" of the Landowner's rightful property are the ones who are being implicated and indicted. If we view the Church as our private chapel or "country club" that is to be used only for our personal desires - or only when it suits us - will either repent ... or be "crushed by the Chief Cornerstone" who is Christ our Lord - AND - our Judge.

We are required to be "level 5" leaders ourselves, and we are called forth and set apart from the rest of the world to be driven and focused on our Lord's purposes. We are required to be as well-educated in Holy Scripture as these business leaders were in management theory. And like these "level 5" leaders, we are to be all about the well-being of the CHURCH and have the faith to believe the rewards will come at the leisure and pleasure of our benevolent and Holy Father.

I have often been asked why I insist upon celebrating Holy Communion every Sunday "like the Catholics" instead of every month "like the Methodists". It is for this reason and this reason alone: we are to be constantly reminded of why we gather in the first place - AND - for Whom. It is not so we can walk away feeling good that we have perhaps accomplished something like feeling good about ourselves. It is entirely about feeling good about Him. The Landowner. The Master. The Savior. The Redeemer. And His SOLE purpose: to produce fruit. And when we do this, we will be aptly rewarded ... according to the terms set forth by the Landowner. And no other.

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