In the mood to be led? (1 Corinthians 1:10-17)

Leadership can be a tricky thing—especially for those who are asked to follow.  In NBC’s hit sitcom The Office, the characters had differing reactions to the search for a new office manager.  Ryan Howard, the former temp, had high expectations for the new boss:

“I got away with everything under the last boss and it wasn’t good for me. So I want guidance. I want leadership. Lead me… when I’m in the mood to be led.”

Ryan’s sentiments resound with the kind of ambivalence we have toward those in leadership.  We know it’s good for us, but we also want to make sure our leaders do what we think is best.

Paul was dealing with something like that in the church at Corinth.

10 I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. 11 For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. 12 What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.” 13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? 14 I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15 so that no one may say that you were baptized in my name. 16 (I did baptize also the household of Stephanas. Beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.) 17 For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. (1 Corinthians 1:10-17)

Basically the church was being split by their competing loyalties.  It was becoming fashionable to identify not with Christianity in general, but with favorite teachers in particular.  Even those who “follow Christ” show a disdain for the God-given authority bestowed on the early apostles.


To fully understand this, we have to understand the ways that leadership was changing in the early church.

In the Old Testament, we might look to Moses as sort of the model of Godly leadership.  He served in many capacities—sometimes even unofficially.  He served as prophet by brining God’s word to Israel and Pharaoh (Exodus 3—11).   He served as judge by hearing Israel’s complaints (Numbers 27:1-4).  He led the nation from Egypt (Exodus 12:31—15:21).  He ran military campaigns (Exodus 17:8-16).  He officiated at the first Passover (Exodus 12).

After the law was established, many of these roles became even more organized in a series of prophets and priests and judges and later, kings. True, priests had existed before this time, but it was now that the priests were performing their duties in a localized spot—most notably Israel’s temple.

Jesus changed all that.  Remember when he cleared the money-changers from the temple?  Jesus told them, “do not make my Father’s house a house of trade… Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” (John 2:16, 19).  And John helpfully adds, “he was speaking about the temple of his body” (John 2:21).  Then, in the upper room, before his death, Jesus tells his disciples that “In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?” (John 14:2).  Now, it’s natural to connect this verse to the promise of heaven, but in John’s gospel “my Father’s house” had previously referred to the “temple of his body.”  So Jesus is also saying that his death secures our place in the body of Christ.

Therefore the temple system—with all its priests, etc.—has been replaced by the body of Christ.  This is a source of great joy, because it gives us free and direct access to God.  But apparently it also gives rise to some confusion regarding leadership—both then and now.


Actually, we might point out that even in non-Jewish religions there was a movement away from temples and toward individuals.  Peter Brown writes:

“Previously the classical world had tended to think of its religion in terms of things.  Ancient religion had revolved around great temples…the gods had spoken impersonally at their oracle-sites; their ceremonies assumed a life in which the community, the city, dwarfed the individual, as a ‘man of power,’ came to dwarf the traditional communities….In the popular imagination, the emergence of the holy man at the expense of the temple marks the end of the classical world.”[1]

What Brown is talking about is a shift in authority.  Max Weber, the 20th century sociologist of religion, spoke of authority in three capacities.  Traditional authority comes from a ruler, a king, or even a holy book, like the Bible.  Rational-legal authority derives from human reason or the government of the state. But charismatic authority comes from the power of the individual.  In the ancient days, as we’ve said, there was a tendency to gather around a favorite leader.  But now, I wager, we’re seeing a return of charismatic authority—especially when it comes to spirituality.  Whose voice do we listen to on matters of faith?  Chances are, we’re less interested in their specific credentials; we’re now pleased by how many Twitter followers they have.  In Ross Douthat’s recent book Bad Religion, he quotes a recent analyst who says:

“A half-century ago, an American Christian seeking assistance could have turned to the popularizing works of serious religious thinkers…Those writers were steeped in philosophy and the theological traditions of their faiths, which they brought to bear on the vital spiritual concerns of ordinary believers…But intellectual figures like these have disappeared from the American landscape and have been replaced by half-educated evangelical gurus who either publish vacant, cheery self-help books or are politically motivated.” [2]


Paul lived in an age where people chose their leaders based on preference–when they were “in the mood to be led.”  And so do we.  But Paul understood that the solution was not social, but theological.  We need leadership within our church (including shared leadership, which we’ll get to later) because the sheer diversity of people and ideas demands structure and guidance.

Let’s admit that this doesn’t always go well—sometimes even tragically.  Leaders fail.  Some even become abusive to members of their congregation, including the most vulnerable.  That should rightly sicken us.  But this is no reason to jettison our commitments to Christian community including its leaders.  In the days ahead we’ll look at some of the layers of leadership within the church, and what that means for each of us.


[1] Peter Brown, The World of Late Antiquity: A.D. 150-750, p. 102-3

[2] Mark Lilla, cited by Ross Douthat, Bad Religion, p. 177

1 thought on “In the mood to be led? (1 Corinthians 1:10-17)

  1. Yes, Chris. We are called to be the “salt of the earth.” (Matthew 5:13)

    We are therefore in favor of “brining”. (smile)

    quoting your post — “In the Old Testament, we might look to Moses as sort of the model of Godly leadership. He served in many capacities—sometimes even unofficially. He served as prophet by brining God’s word to Israel and Pharaoh (Exodus 3—11).”

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