I have been taking an online class on Christian Leadership. This has been really good for me, since it has given me the opportunity to reflect on my own leadership as well as the leadership of others. I’m sure the people around me have noticed: leadership is coming up in conversations and in my preaching.
I was doing some unrelated reading in Josephus, a first century Jewish historian, and I came across his thoughts on leadership, particularly the leadership of the Roman Emperor, Caligula. In his Jewish Antiquities (19.2.5) Josephus reflects that unchecked power leads to corruption:
“For all that, the advantages obtained from education could not withstand the corruption wrought upon him [Emperor Caligula] by his rise to power; so hard to achieve, it seems, is the virtue of moderation for those who find it easy to take action for which they need account to no one” (LCL, 433, 312-13).
Where he mentions “the virtue of moderation“, Josephus uses a Greek word also found in the New Testament, which is translated as “being of sound mind,” “sensible,” or “right-minded.” For example, when Jesus cast the “Legion” of unclean spirits out of the man in the country of the Gerasenes (Mark 5:1ff), Mark reports: “And they [the people who heard about it] came to Jesus and saw the demon-possessed man, the one who had had the legion, sitting there, clothed and in his right mind, and they were afraid” (Mark 5:15). Demon possession is contrasted with being “in his right mind.”
Josephus’ use of this term in contrast to unchecked power, implies that he saw the corruption of Caligula, and leaders like him, as like the kind of madness seen in the demon possessed man. In the context, Josephus catalogued the corruption of Caligula. This madness/ corruption is specifically because the leader did not have to give an account, he was not liable to anyone.
In the reading I’ve been doing on Christian leadership, I’ve noticed over and over again an emphasis on leaders having accountability. Since we are in Lent, I would encourage all of us who lead, in whatever capacity, to take time to reflect on our leadership and seek accountability so that we can grow in sensible, right-minded leadership for the sake of our followers.