Mar 15, 2012

Big Chair, White Hair

I once attended a historic downtown church presided over by a distinguished older pastor. One Sunday, a young red-haired volunteer from the children's ministry came up front to make a couple of announcements. 

Before she finished, the pastor asked her to wait while he added something. He stepped forward to the pulpit microphone as she stepped back. Looking around on the platform, she saw the ornate central chair that was usually reserved for him and sat down in it with a satisfied smile. 

Hearing laughter, the pastor turned around. "Young lady," he said. "If you had the responsibilities that come with that chair, they would turn your hair as white as mine."  

Suddenly we all saw a lot more in the chair than we’d ever recognized before.

This experience gave me a new appreciation for the responsibilities that come with the perks and privileges that people in important positions enjoy. It’s easy for us to resent these things if we don’t realize all they represent.  Why should the boss have such a big private office when the rest of us are in cubicles? Why does the boss breeze in late when we have to punch a time clock? Why is it “Yes, Ms. Jones,” and “Thank you, sir,” while we get called by our first names? Not to mention the limousines to the airport, the corporate box seats at sporting events, or the dinners with clients that most of us never enjoy.

Rather than interpreting these perks as unequal or unfair treatment, they may better be viewed as reminders of the responsibilities held by those in leadership—responsibilities that determine the future of our organizations, and ultimately our own livelihoods. Seeing things from this perspective might help us respect our leaders and cooperate with them better. Distinctions in titles, accommodations, and privileges may actually be essential for the stability and morale of an organization.

But didn’t Jesus criticize the leaders of his day who wanted to sit in the best seats and be called by important titles? Didn’t Jesus say that earthly rulers lord it over their subjects, insisting on titles of honor, but that among his own followers things had to be different?

All true, but in this case, complementary teachings in the Bible need to be considered together to arrive at a balanced view. Jesus was criticizing people who coveted the trappings of leadership for their own sake in order to feel superior to others. Elsewhere in the Bible, we see God establishing distinctions between leaders and followers in order to create respect for authorities and their important responsibilities on behalf of the community.

God made some parts of the tabernacle off limits to everyone except priests. The high priest wore special garments, decorated with jewels, to symbolize his office. Jesus himself told his disciples, “You call me 'Teacher' and 'Lord,' and rightly so, for that is what I am." Privileged access, distinctive clothing, and special titles all have a place—even in God’s purposes for his own people. 

A person with big responsibilities can sit in a big chair.

If you’re an employee, have some of the distinctions between you and your boss bothered you in the past? 

If you’re in a position of authority, what privileges come with it?  How can you use them in a way that strengthens your organization, without feeling superior because of them?

Image by Daniel Kulinski. Used with permission. Sourced via Flickr. Post by Chris Smith.

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