We are on Tebow overload. We now have the new Tebow Rule (no messages in eye-black allowed), the recent entry into the official lexicon of the word “Tebowed” (spontaneous prayer on one knee), and the paradoxical spate of simultaneously critical, adulatory, andconfused sports writing and punditry—all because of one 235 pound newly minted NFL starting quarterback. What gives? Is this guy for real or is he just the latest hype? I think it’s a philosophy test.
Every last one of us operates with a worldview, the keyhole through which we interpret our meaning, morality, and mortality—and that of the world around us. From the time of Socrates and that of his student, Plato, the so-called great questions have abounded: What is real? What is life under the sun to be based upon? How does one build a good society? And, of course, who should lead it? Though most of us are not philosophers, we might be surprised by how much we are influenced by the ideas that float in the air we breathe or infuse the water we drink. Recently Sally Jenkins took up her sportswriter’s pen to delve into the search for what is real, inquiring into what she describes as “that mysterious quality called leadership” and the perplexity that Tim Tebow has caused. She concluded that unlike so many other sports figures
One of his grizzled teammates could only say that he had never seen anyone who could will himself and others to win like he has. In her diagnosis, she rightly dismisses charisma and talent as rabbit trails, since despots and egomaniacs often as not possess those qualities. So she tries going at it from the bottom up asking the question I have asked probably hundreds of times over two decades—why do followers follow leaders? The results of her inquiry I have found are always the same—in a word, character. The tones and tints are qualities described as integrity, selflessness, humility, courage, purposefulness. But the real key to why people follow leaders lies not in such terms. It lies in the web of relationships that defines a true team, a healthy organization, a band of brothers. Jenkins gets it spot on: The key to such relationships that make the whole greater than the sum of its parts is . . . trust. “If they don’t trust you, you’re done.”
All leaders, Tim Tebow included, ask those who would voluntarily follow them to trust them. They ask for trust that they will take them to a better place, that they really do have the followers interests in mind, that the sacrifices will be worth the cost, and that the words they speak will be backed up by the actions they take. In other words they ask for belief in their followers that they are real, genuine, cut from a different mold than so many leaders that people have seen. Whether it is politicians that promise to bring peace, prosperity and harmony; or coaches that guarantee a national championship; or well-coiffed preachers that pronounce healing follows faith, we have heard to much that seems too good to be true. And it has been.
A long time ago, a leader who caused the mighty Roman empire to be turned upside down, took counsel with his inner circle as he laid out his unique strategy for world conquest. It was simple he said, you’re not going to lead like those who others hold up as shining examples. You’re going to lead like me: watch what I do:
You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles (Romans) lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.
Within three hundred years the linear and spiritual descendants of Peter, Paul, and John–humble, purpose-driven, servant leaders like their Leader–brought forth a revolution in culture and history that has endured; Christianity conquered pagan Rome and advances even now.
Less than two hundred years ago a humble, purpose-driven servant leader ended his life having seen his over forty years’ quest alongside a huge circle of followers transform a culture and bring about a moral reformation in England that ended slavery along with a plethora of societal ills from childhood labor to animal cruelty. William Wilberforce, a tiny, frail, sickly wisp of a man could not have played quarterback for the Denver Broncos nor could the forthright Jewish scholar, Paul from Tarsus, have been much of a legislator, but with Tim Tebow they shared one common thread: they were real. These leaders all were trusted by those that followed them because not only did they have the qualities followers look for in leaders, they exuded reality. They had realized the great quest of the ancient philosophers—they had found what was ultimately real and then they acted on it as responsible people.
For you see, all these leaders were, themselves, followers, and not followers alone, but men who embodied, enfleshed the Spirit of the ultimate reality—the Spirit of their risen Lord who became flesh among us; who was born unto us. The world has never been the same since.
Ray Blunt is a former Senior Fellow at The Washington Institute as well as the Senior Mentor for discipleship at Ad Fontes Academy.