Houston, we have a problem…

One of history’s great understatements.

It comes of course from Apollo 13′s mission to the moon, and was made famous by history and Hollywood.  Though credited to James Lovell, the phrase was originally issued from John Swigert Jr. on April 14th, 1970. I’m not a space historian, but it would seem the conversation went something like this…

Swigert:  ‘Okay, Houston, we’ve had a problem here.’

NASA (Houston):  ‘This is Houston. Say again please.’

Lovell:  ‘Houston, we’ve had a problem. We’ve had a main B bus undervolt.’

This doesn’t sound like a big thing.  But it was.  Lives were at stake; a mission was at risk.  And leadership had to emerge from both ends of the problem to create hope.  Both ends.

When situations forbid problem solving from multiples ends, missions will suffer, and lives could be lost.  It’s true in business, in families, and government (I know, if only…).  It’s true in the church as well.

Gaius (one of the most common names in the first century world) and his congregation had an all too common problem:  their mission of supporting those on mission was jeopardized by a self-commissioned leader.  His name was Diotrephes, meaning “suckled by Zeus” (no really… so I’ll just call him Mr. D.).  Mr. D’s leadership style was “me, me, and only me”.  3 John 9 states that he loved to be first and would have nothing to do with the Apostle John.

So… what happens in your head to reach the notion that you don’t require input from others on important issues, especially when it comes from one of the twelve apostles?  I mean, who else won’t you listen to?

This was common man versus uncommon delusion.

Mr. D. rejected other’s input, rejected apostolic authority, rejected those in need who we’re on mission for the Christ he claimed to serve, and rejected those who rejected him.  All in all, not a fun guy.

They had a problem.  How do you know if you have one?

John was a pretty simple fellow:  “Anyone who does what is good is from God.  Anyone who does what is evil has not seen God.”  It’s the old “you’ll know a tree by its fruit” recast.  If leadership doesn’t listen, has no authority figure, has a loose tongue, is inhospitable, and rejects any/all who don’t agree, that’s bad leadership according to John.  I think it still is.  And just as the apostle pledged to call attention to the problem, you may need to call attention to yours.  Because so much is at stake.

If you are a leader, does a hard look in the mirror suggest any similarities between you and Mr. D?  Are you helping the “Gaiuses” of the world or making it hard for them?  If you were to interview Mr. D. he’d likely couch his actions within language such as “its best for the church” or “I really do love Gaius and his efforts, but these kinds of things are a waste of resources“.

John saw through that.  The problem with Mr. D. was simply this:  he loved to be first.

What do you love?  I hope it’s not to be first for two very important reasons:

  • first theological – Jesus taught that those wanting to be first should become last and take up the role of servant hood, just as He came to serve rather than to be served
  • second statistical – As one of my favorite de-motivational posters states:  “For every winner, there are dozens of losers.  Odds are you’re one of them.”

The lessons of 3 John are worth considering.  They suggest a gut-check regarding your consideration of others, your care of others, and your help of others.  And those are all leadership issues.

It’s doubtful you can be in first place and be successful at all three.  But then again, maybe first place isn’t really… first.

-Anthony