Why ‘barefoot’?? In the past months, as my son and I have talked about a Christ-centered church, he came up with the phrase ‘barefoot theology,’ which I immediately liked. Since then he and a friend are doing podcasts under the head ‘Barefoot Souls‘ – you may want to take a listen and enjoy these some time [you’ll find an early example on my blog].

Why ‘leadership,’ when the secular and Christian market is flooded with a tsunami of materials on this topic? That’s actually the problem. For a long time, many in the Church including myself have pleaded for a return to the simplicity and basics of biblical ecclesiology and leadership. As I write, I am again bombarded with promo’s of a world-renowned Christian leadership ‘summit’ – well, I have attended many of these over the years, with three common frustrations:

  • Being a largely N. American-based presentation, it proves frustrating to leaders in a two-thirds or third world context. I used to beat myself up in my traditional church days when these formulae for success failed – no more!
  • These leadership summits often over-emphasise the role of leadership in the contemporary Church, giving it a place which is just not there in the biblical revelation, especially the NT.
  • Even those non-conformist faith communities that claim not to be hierarchical have their own top-down set-up’s. I mean I served as a ‘senior pastor’ with leadership structures under me (and above me) for almost four decades in a well-known non-conformist denomination – I think I know what I’m talking about.

Hence, another plea (in solidarity with many others across the world) for a ‘barefoot leadership,’ one growing from the ground up, one that is earthed in reality, a grass-roots and horizontal leadership in every way.

While I do not look to secular leadership for a church leadership ‘model,’ it is intriguing to find many examples of ‘barefoot leadership’ in the non-Church world. [there is such a thing as ‘general revelation,’ whereby God imprints his mind on creation and humankind in general, e.g. man’s conscience in Rom. 1-3 – Dutch theologian G.C. Berkouwer has devoted a whole volume to this in his systematic theology]

  • Think of the great Indian and world civil rights lawyer and leader, Ghandi (1869-1948), who engaged with world leaders and his beloved ‘untouchables’ alike in quite literally a simple dhoti, shawl and sandals, symbols of his heart.
  • Whatever your political views, many within and outside of N. America have admired the humble, simple leadership of now 90-year-old Jimmy Carter, recently diagnosed with cancer. The story is told that in their small, local Baptist congregation he and his wife have been on the roster for seeing that the toilet facilities are kept clean and hygienic. Bernice King, daughter of MLK Jr recently twittered ‘May the Lord heal, comfort and encourage this extraordinary servant-leader to the world.’ Even in old age he’s just never stopped serving God and society  through hands-on pioneering of human-rights and conflict mediation at so many levels.
  • In a recent TED Talk, American businessman and entrepeneur Bob Davids declared, ‘The rarest commodity for leadership is leadership without ego.’ He brought a large rolled-up plastic chain on stage, placed it on a table and put downward force on it, adding that no-one could guarantee in which way it would expand. Then he pulled the chain sideways, and behold the links followed one by one. He shared an occasion when as a businessman and overseeing engineer of a large company in China setting up the infrastructure of underground pipes, he had to take off his executive shoes, get into the mud and muck with the workers, demonstrating the process of laying the pipes without speaking a word. It worked like a charm…
  • I was interested in Alison Levine’s article (a Seven Summits climber herself) “Here’s what you can learn about leadership from ‘Everest.'” She relates how Hollywood movie director Baltasar Kormakur was determined to make ‘Everest’ as authentic as possible – after all it is based on the true story of two groups who attempted to scale the world’s highest peak. He wanted to make the people and events as human’ and ‘real’ as possible, so the cast shot at -22F and 16,000 feet… they were plagued with headaches, nausea and insomnia experienced under such conditions. So how did Kormakur get his celebrity cast (Jake Gyllenhall and other A-listers) to deal with such uncomfortable conditions and such a gruelling shoot schedule? In his own words, “I think what is helpful is that I will stay right there with them, in the same conditions, show them what they need to do… So they are more likely to work with you than if you’re sitting some place warm and telling them, ‘Keep going!'” Bingo!

At another whole level, how I love the different, defining, incarnational and refreshing barefoot lifestyle and leadership of Jesus! How real this became to my wife and I when we visited Israel and Galilee ourselves for the first time a year ago, walking in the hot sun (40 degrees plus), wondering how Jesus did it all – barefoot, or in sandals, when our bodies perspired and our feet ached even with the most modern walking shoes and the respite of an air-conditioned bus waiting for us to take us to our next air-conditioned hotel!

How challenged Melanie and I were when reading recently through Matthew 23:1ff in the MSG at the end of our own hectic day’s work. Jesus addressed the disciples along with the crowd toward the climax of his earthly ministry: “The religion scholars and Pharisees are competent teachers in God’s Law. You won’t go wrong in following their teachings on Moses. But be careful in following them. They talk a good line, but they don’t live it. They don’t take it into their hearts and live it out in their behavior. It’s all spit-and-polish veneer. Instead of giving you God’s Law as food and drink by which you can banquet on God, they package it in bundles of rules [witness modern church seminars with their endless ‘five principles’ and ‘ten rules’ for anything and everything], loading you down like pack animals. Their lives are perpetual fashion shows  [witness the flamboyant suits or latest hipster dress at conferences and fraternals], embroidered prayer shawls one day and flowery prayers the next. They love to sit at the head table at church dinners, basking in the most prominent positions, preening in the radiance of public flattery, receiving honorary degrees, and getting called ‘Doctor’ and ‘Reverend.’ [we could add, ‘His Holiness,’ ‘Apostle So-and-So’, etc] Don’t let people do that to you, put you on a pedestal like that. You all have a single Teacher, and you are all classmates. Don’t set people up as experts over your life [o dear, all our spiritual gurus], letting them tell you what to do. Save that authority for God; let him tell you what to do. No one else should carry the title of ‘Father’; you have only one Father, and he’s in heaven. And don’t let people maneuver you into taking charge of them. There is only one Life-Leader [my emphasis] for you and them – Christ. Do you want to stand out? Then step down. Be a servant. If you puff yourself up, you’ll get the wind knocked out of you. But if you’re content to simply be yourself, your life will count for plenty.”

Now there’s the essence of ‘barefoot leadership.’ ‘The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighbourhood. We saw the glory with our own eyes, the one-of-a-kind glory, like Father, like Son, generous inside and out, true from start to finish’ (Jn. 1:14, MSG). There’s our pattern and power… it must and can be done (Jn. 15:1-17)… are we willing to surrender all to Jesus??