In the little New Testament letter of 3 John, a leader is mentioned who I think serves as a stark warning to all of us in the church today who seek to serve or act as a leader. Diotrephes is not a name we hear very often – but John addresses him directly in 3 John 9:
“I have written something to the church, but Diotrephes, who likes to put himself first, does not acknowledge our authority”
Now without getting into questions of authority and apostolicity, note how this diotrephes fellow is described. Did you see it? ‘Who likes to put himself first’.
Lee Gatiss, a leader I admire immensely, not least because he is actually humble and open to conversation, wrote a little book called ‘the forgotten cross’, which I recently reviewed. There, he wrote this of Diotrephes:
“John, who obviously knew a thing or two about ambition himself in his youth, writes this:
‘I have written something to the church, but Diotrephes, who likes to put himself first, does not acknowledge our authority’.
Diotrephes loved to be first. He liked the limelight. And the power and the glory. He wouldn’t allow any rivals to get in his way or share the leadership – even the apostle John, the specially commissioned ambassador of the Lord Jesus Christ.
So he kept John out of the church, and slandered his friends. Why? Because they challenged his powerbase. He did so love to be first, and to throw his weight around.
You won’t have to scrabble around for long to think of examples of the same thing today. But if you draw a blank, just go online. There are plenty of Diotrephes lookalikes in ministry today, calling themselves ‘leaders’. And that’s the same evil impulse that led James and John and Peter to rebuke Jesus for talking about the cross.”
The challenge is clear. I don’t know what kind of leader you are or want to be, and I don’t know what kind of leadership you have experienced in your life both in and outside the church, but do not be like Diotrephes. Servant hearted Christian leadership is cross shaped – not just in the sense that it willingly loves people – and to be cross shaped means not to seek glory but to lower ones-self. Gatiss goes on:
“In contrast to that, Jesus patiently taught his disciples that there is a better way. Focusing on the glory they forgot the cross. But Jesus, for the joy that was set before him, lowered himself and died.”
I wonder how different our churches and institutions could be if we remembered Diotrephes and reimagined our own longings for glory and fame.
If this little snippet has whet your appetite, do read my review of Lee’s little book The Forgotten Cross, and pick up a copy!