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Downward Mobility

Posted on January 15, 2018 by Ben Cooper

When R. Scott Rodin stepped down from his role after five years as President of Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary, his concept of leadership had been radically transformed. He was left asking one primary question: What is Christian leadership all about?



Rodin describes the before and after of his transformation in a letter written soon after making the transition (read it here):

  • Old way of thinking (2 Samuel 7:3): “Nathan replied to the king, ‘Whatever you have in mind, go ahead and do it, for the LORD is with you.'”
  • New way of thinking (Philippians 2:7): “…rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.”

We are tempted to believe that once God has put us in a position of influence, He is prepared to bless whatever it is we see as the appropriate path ahead. However, when we lose sight of our brokenness and view our role as the primary director of God’s work, we can fall prey to the way the world defines leadership. The example Jesus has provided in Philippians is a clear separation from how the world would view successful leadership.

Rodin add, “I have come to believe that the true Christian leadership is an ongoing, disciplined practice of becoming a person of no reputation, and thus, becoming more like Christ in this unique way.” Or as John the Baptist so simply expressed, “He must increase, but I must decrease.”



Instead of a triumphant military leader marching into town, Jesus came as an infant and lived the majority of His life out of the spotlight. Today, we live in a world where we place a higher value on things and people who have the ability to go viral and be seen all over the world by millions of people.

Henry Nouwen summarizes the difference between Jesus and the world:

“The way of the Christian leader is not the way of upward mobility in which our world has invested so much, but the way of downward mobility ending on the cross.”

How do we then marry our God-given desire to have impact in the world with a recognition that God gets the glory?

  • Recognize we all are sinful (John 1:8)
  • Submit to God’s plan through prayer and community (Galatians 2:20)
  • Ask ourselves whose applause we are seeking

As a result of this level of surrender, Rodin concludes: “Where Jesus is singularly and absolutely lord of our life, we will seek to be like him and him only.”

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