The Roman world produced a number of leaders. These leaders would have expected public honor, public reputation, wealth, and they would have been defensive if their reputation was threatened. The Corinthians grew up in this kind of world. They were providing leadership the way that Rome had taught them. When they became leaders in house churches they adopted this leadership model. And it appears they expected the Apostle Paul to demonstrate this kind of leadership. They opposed Paul when he adopted the weird idea that the cross had something to do with leadership.
The following words are influenced by Scot McKnight and any parts that are good are probably his. Let me toss out a statement from McKnight that will likely be protested by some. “The attraction to secular models of leadership in the church today is Corinthian.”
We need reminded that our Leader gave us a strange enactment in the context of leadership. John 13 is probably not the text the Corinthian house church leaders were using when discussing leadership. But Paul may have had it in mind “I did not come with superiority… I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.” Much of the Corinthian correspondence seems to be contrasting Corinthian influenced leadership vs. Cross influenced leadership. Perhaps the New Testament would like us to be less interested in leadership and more interested in followership.
The New Testament does name some leaders and talk about leadership, but the emphasis is always on followers. A stroll down the aisle of the Christian book store may suggest otherwise, but the New Testament does not baptize secular business models or leadership theory into Christian ministry. To counter such ideas the Apostle Paul summarizes thoughts on leadership in Philippians 2, a revolutionary leadership based on the cross.
I am not opposed to leadership theory. I do think there have been a few instances where the church has benefitted from it. I also think it has been given far more influence in the church and particularly pastoral ministry than it deserves. The fact that it has been helpful does not make it Christian. Even the leaders mentioned in the bible are called to be followers. It is time for the church to emphasize what it is to be a follower. Let us work on our followership.