Several years ago, I met Gene Wilkes and then read his book Jesus on Leadership. I came away from both the conversation and the book impressed. The book is a call to look at Jesus as the model for true leadership. He opens with a story that caused me to think:
One day, I found myself at a head table. My job was to introduce the speaker after a musician sang. As the speaker began his talk, everyone at the head table stood and moved to sit among those attending the conference. Everyone but me! The speaker, who picked up on those leaving the head table, said, "If you are at the head table and would like to move, you can at this time." Alone, I stood and said, "I’d love to!" We all laughed, and I walked red faced to sit at a table with those who served in the kitchen. From head table to kitchen-worker status — in front of my peer group! What a demotion!
As the blood returned to the rest of my body, Jesus’ story about where to sit at big meals came to mind. He taught, "When someone invites you to a wedding feast (or conference), do not take the place of honor (at the head table), for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. If so the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, "Give this man your seat." Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, "Friend, move up to a better place." Then you will be honored in the presence of all your fellow guests. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted (Luke 14:8-11).
As I reflected on my social blunder and the speaker’s words about leadership, I realized that I had done what was typical of many who sit at head tables. When given a position, we happily accept the status that goes with it and somehow believe we no longer need to go near the kitchen. I was suffering from head-table mentality. I had accepted the myth that those who sit at the head table are somehow more important than those who serve in the kitchen. I had even perpetuated that myth by nonverbally resisting a place among the servers….
I realized that we who lead often overlook the fact that the true place of Christlike leadership is out in the crowd rather than up at the head table.