In verse 1 Jude has focussed his readers on their relationship with God. In verse 2 he shifts the focus to our relationships with other people, in other words to our leadership. May mercy, peace and love be yours in abundance.
This can easily be passed over as just a greeting. Mercy and peace were the common Jewish greeting of the day. The reference is to the covenant kindness of God – hesed – and the sense of shalom, total well-being that flowed out of this experience of covenant faithfulness. To this Jude adds the word ‘love’ so bringing Christian overtones into the leadership relationship. I wonder if we can see such an expression as a description of our relationship with the people to whom we are called to minister.
These three aspects of Jude’s greeting surely represent three critical aspects of servant leadership. If we are going to be Christian leaders, we need to be demonstrating these elements that describe the kind of people God calls us to be.
Having set the bar high, but where it should be, Jude proceeds to engage in a strong and stark critique of leadership. In verses 12 and 13 he uses five graphic images of the non-leader and in so doing, Wright suggests, and I agree, offers us five working principles for effective servant leadership.
So, the first principle is that leadership is about influence and service. Jude’s first image is of those who feast with you without fear, feeding themselves. That is what the NRSV says – but I am going to rather use the alternative translation which it puts in a footnote. They are shepherds who care only for themselves. A shepherd who cares only for him or herself is a contradiction in terms. These leaders, condemned by Jude, use their power for their own benefit. The shepherd is a common image for leadership in the Bible, modelling the care and investment that the leader must make for the growth and nurture of the followers. These leaders are not using their power to nurture the community, but to draw people to themselves. They are putting themselves on a pedestal. They are getting fat off the flock. Servant leadership, on the other hand, uses its influence and power for the growth of the people who are being led. Leadership is always a relationship of influence. The leader seeks to influence the vision, values, attitudes or behaviours of the led. Otherwise it is not leading. The question is as to the direction of that influence.
Jude’s second image is that leadership is about vision and hope. The condemned non-leaders are waterless clouds carried along by the winds. A cloud promises rain. The image perhaps works better in climates other than ours. Imagine the farmer, desperate for rain, who sees a cloud, but it just passes, blown away by the wind. Leadership is about vision. It is about tomorrow. It is about hope. Leadership focusses the dreams and commitments of the people. It takes them forward. It captures the vision. If we are just consolidating, look the past, wallowing in our difficulties, that won’t move us on. We might catch a moment, like the waterless cloud, but it’s a waste of time. It disappears. Servant leadership offers hope and vision. It empowers people. It makes a difference.
Jude’s third principle is that leadership is about character and trust. These qualities are missing from the non-leaders. They are autumn trees without fruit, twice dead, uprooted. Now, if I am honest, when I am picking up the conkers and the apples, I sometimes wish that my autumn trees would not have fruit. But, of course, if that were the case, something would be wrong. The leadership of false teachers doesn’t produce growth. There is no fruit. We need to be grounded in our relationship with God. If we are “uprooted” from that, we are in trouble. Leadership is a relationship of trust. We listen to the people we trust. An American professor of leadership, Warren Bennis, says that “the three things people want from leaders are direction, trust and hope.” Are we bringing these elements to those among whom we minister? Leadership points people in the right direction. Leadership believes in people and foster relationships. The great words are enabling or facilitating – but that is what we need to be doing. Leadership offers hope. It provides a vision that takes folk forward.
Jude’s fourth principle is that leadership is about relationships and power. The fourth condemning picture in Jude’s descriptions is of wild waves of the sea, casting up the foam of their own shame. Jude points to the power of the waves of the sea. Power without purpose inevitably leaves a trail of debris behind it. Self-appointed leaders use their influence to make a big splash, to adapt the metaphor, but they are going nowhere. Leadership is a relationship of power. Power without purpose is very dangerous. Leadership must be responsible and accountable. Servant leadership points people away from the leader to the mission of the community and enables each one to see how they can contribute to the realising of that mission.
Jude’s fifth principle is that leadership is about dependency and accountability. The fifth image, like the others, challenges the false leader in what he or she is doing. They are described as wandering stars, for whom the deepest darkness has been reserved for ever. Putting it another way – “these leaders are like shooting stars, streaking onto the scene with flash and excitement but eventually fading and disappearing.” One of the things that we need to remember is that our congregations are around a lot longer than we are. A quick fix is unlikely to be sustainable. Another way of putting it is that God’s picture is bigger than ours. Leaders need followers. Otherwise there is nobody to lead. We are dependent upon the people. How do we exercise responsible leadership that recognises are dependence on those we lead and in which we offer accountability of our leading to them.
So, five descriptions from Jude of what we have called non-leaders – and, from those, five challenges to effective servant leadership. What does it mean for us? What will we do with our power? God has given you gifts and abilities. How are you using them? How are you going to use them?