Jesus declares in Mark 10:44, "Whoever would would be first among you must be slave (doulos) of all." Hollie Benton, executive director of the Orthodox Christian Leadership Initiative, interviews Fr. Marc Boulos to search the meaning of doulos in the Greek New Testament and its implications for Christian servant leaders. Fr. Marc is author of Torah to the Gentiles: St. Paul's Letter to the Galatians, co-host of The Bible as Literature Podcast, and pastors St. Elizabeth Orthodox Church in St. Paul, MN. He is an IT executive for a global company based in St. Paul.
See the full episode transcript.
Hollie Benton 0:02
This is Hollie Benton of Orthodox Christian Leadership Initiative. In the first episode of Doulos: A production of the Ephesus School Network, my guest here today is Fr. Marc Boulos of St. Elizabeth Orthodox Church in St. Paul, Minnesota. He and Dr. Richard Benton co-host the Bible as Literature podcast that you can also find on the Ephesus School Network. He is author of "Torah to the Gentiles", a commentary on Paul's letter to the Galatians, and he also works in the private sector as an IT executive. Fr. Marc was key in developing our "Foundations of Servant Leadership" for the Doulos Program, an Intensive Program in Servant Leadership. And we'd like to discuss today, why are we calling this program "Doulos"?
We know that servant leadership is a popular notion even in corporate culture today. It started in the 1970s with Robert Greenleaf he wrote a book called "The Servant as Leader", and really did a lot of thinking and a lot of writing about having a servant mindset and leadership. But we're using the term "doulos" because we felt like servant leadership in American corporate culture today doesn't quite get at the essence of what we are seeking, in terms of a scriptural narrative and a scriptural model for servant leadership. Father, tell me a little bit about doulos, in terms of a scriptural model for servant leadership.
Fr. Marc Boulos 1:24
What I would say is that the term doulos, in a way, imposes a lack of creativity on the part of the person, subject to the teaching. You know, we think of creativity in business terms in very, in a very positive way. We cast it in a positive light. Because creativity and innovation are used to create value to generate revenue. That's how business works. That's what the whole concept of a startup is all about. But with the specific business of the Kingdom, in an ecclesial setting, at the very moment when people want to exercise creativity, the will of God is imposed on us, and this is, it's really important and I want to be very, in a way specific about this, because we even get creative in the way we talk about the will of God. It's just how we operate as human beings, we say "will of God" and then we imagine something, and the very thing we're imagining is our own creation, which Scripture would term an idol.
So, what I find very ingenious about the mechanism of the Biblical tradition is that in the story you have, you might say the function slave, you have characters who are slaves, who then have to operate in a certain way in proximity to the will of God. But for the addressee of the text who technically wasn't us this text was written centuries ago to a different audience and now we have to understand what was said to them so that we can benefit from its teaching. But for those addresses of the text, they now have to translate that behavior, the behavior of a slave, someone who listens and acts without questioning, they have to transfer that to the actual words on the page, which are the will of God as Paul says in Galatians for the students of the Bible. First, the original addressees, and by extension, those of us who are trying to eat the breadcrumbs that fall from the table of the Lord, by listening in on that conversation between the writer and the original addressee. This is important because it transforms the spiritual life from a discussion of what feels right, which is kind of the New Age ethos that has gripped religion, and is impacting all of the churches, including our own. And deals with the real matter of being spiritual. According to Paul's teaching, meaning people who walk according to this rule, but that means that the work of being spiritual, and in the end only Paul is spiritual, we have to submit to His rule and the Gospel. This means that you have to actually work hard to see what is actually written on the page and understand what is being said.
And this is even more complicated in our current moment in the United States, because as you can see from the breakdown of public discourse, people don't even believe in the discussion of what is there, we have become so--we've gotten so far off the reservation--that we just want to talk about what we want to talk about, and we don't submit to anything. Whereas, the one who is submitting to the rule of the Spirit is trying to, without deviating, understand what's written on the page, and submit to it literally you're submitting as a slave to the teaching, so that you can--to the best of your ability--implement it. And there is creativity in that sense because the way you implement the commandment, the way you find a way to do what God is asking in your situation, that's where there's definitely a place for the individual to exercise their intellect, because it's not always clear, the commandment is clear, but how to carry it out in certain circumstances, how to fulfill its agenda, is not always clear.
Hollie Benton 5:50
I'm going to read from Matthew 20, starting with verse 17 "And as Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took the twelve disciples aside, and on the way he said to them, 'Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem and the Son of Man will be delivered to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn Him to death, and deliver him to the Gentiles to be mocked and scourged and crucified and He will be raised on the third day.' Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee, came up to him with her sons and kneeling before him, she asked for him something and he said to her, what do you want, she said to him, 'Command that these two sons of mine may set one at your right hand, and one at your left in your kingdom.' But Jesus answered, 'You do not know what you're asking, are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?' They said to Him, 'We are able.' He said to them, 'You will drink my cup but to set up my right hand and my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.' And when the ten heard it, they were indignant at the two brothers that Jesus called them to him and said, 'You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and they're great men exercise authority over them, 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 your slave. Even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.'" We should notice here that whoever would be first among you must be your slave, that's the word doulos, that comes from the Greek New Testament, it's a provocative word, and that's what we're using for our program in servant leadership. It doesn't really sit well with Americans given our history of slavery in the United States. Would I aspire to be a slave to be a leader?
Fr. Marc Boulos 7:43
Well, it's interesting that people want to, like, want to bring this text in when they're talking about leadership because in the context of Matthew 20 and 21, especially Matthew 20 Jesus is being very specific, he's saying that the person who has more responsibility has to pay a higher price, which is why He will be crucified. That's what that text is referring to when it says slave of all, and the word slave is critical because as the most important human being. In the system of human beings. If Jesus makes of Himself a slave, and He is the Son of God, then there is no king on Earth, the only king is God the Father. So it's very important. He is pushing this question of the burden of responsibility so to speak, to its ultimate limit, and saying that the number one guy is demoted. So there is no promotion and that's why, earlier in the passage, you have this very typical scene where the parent is going in to get her sons a better job, or going in to get them a better grade, the parent, the mother is interested in career advancement in is trying to secure a sweet deal. This is how we think about, you know, career development advancement and growth, what title we'll get, how much money we'll make, what kind of a great job, we'll have. "What's in it for us." When in fact, whether you're a lowly, diakonos or you're the Son of God, or you're a patrician, whatever your station is in that matrix. The top station, Son of God, which was originally Caesar’s title is demoted, as a slave, and demoted most forcefully, because Jesus bears the greatest burden of responsibility in the story.
But again, I want to go back to what I said at the beginning. That's what happens in the story. But what does that mean for the discipline of studying Scripture and trying to walk according to this rule as the Israel of God in Galatians chapter 6. It means you have to submit as a slave to the will of God which comes to you through the story in the same way that Jesus submits as a slave to the will of his Father, in the story. And that means, in very practical terms: Bible study, learning languages, repetition of Biblical texts, memorization of vocabulary. It means making the effort to commit yourself to submit to the very narrow rule of what's written on the page. That's step one. And I want to keep coming back to that Hollie because, as often as we stray from that in quote "the spiritual life" in the churches we stray towards, we wander, towards a kind of Neo paganism where we're just talking about what we think. And we're not trying to grapple with what God said once and for all in his scroll.
Hollie Benton 11:05
You know I'm just thinking about the statement that comes from Robert Greenleaf, he says that servant leadership begins with a natural feeling, a natural desire, that one wants to serve. Here's his statement: "The servant leader is servant first. It begins with a natural feeling that one wants to serve. To serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead." So it really seems like we might be up a creek if we're just waiting for people to have that natural feeling, to want to serve. Is that really what we're waiting for in the church when it comes to servant leadership? That natural feeling that desire to want to serve?
Fr. Marc Boulos 11:48
I think that's our basic operating premise in the United States, let alone the church. And that's why we have so many problems, just ask one of your friends from the old country in whichever Orthodox church you attend, just talk to them and get a sense of what duty means to them, and what responsibility means to them, and then compare it with this nonsense. Leadership is duty Hollie, you know that, I mean it's so strange to me. Like if I did what I felt as a corporate director, I'd be a terrible director.
Hollie Benton 12:24
Right, it has huge implications for what it means to serve as a leader of the church. It has nothing to do with, do you feel ready to lead? Do you want to lead? What are your gifts? How would you like to serve and the church. Instead, when we talk about doulos, and submitting to the commandment. It has very little to do with what you want to do and what gifts you bring to the table.
Fr. Marc Boulos 12:48
It has to do with what is expected of you, what your responsibility is. It's your duty. The things we want to do are most often in conflict with the things that need to be done. What I find so interesting about this conversation is, it's common sense and it's a common sense that we've forgotten, in our current historical moment, but that doesn't make it less correct or true. And the example I always give to help illustrate something that was a premise of Scripture that didn't need explanation for the original addressees: When you're doing something you enjoy, and the baby cries, or it's time to pick up the kids from a sporting activity, or you have to go watch a sporting activity that you find boring or go to a concert or you want to visit a friend who's depressed, even though you don't enjoy their company. I could go on and on with examples of things we must do, because we are bound by Scripture to love the neighbor and to care for those who are dependent on us, that have absolutely nothing to do with choice or desire and in fact, desire and choice work against those things.
Hollie Benton 14:04
This doulos leadership that we're talking about is like a mother, waking up in the middle of the night, when the baby cries, it has nothing to do with her natural feeling of wanting to serve. Her biology kicks in and she just gets up and takes care of the business and helping the baby with whatever is needed at the hour.
Fr. Marc Boulos 14:24
That's what's so noble about the function of motherhood is that it, in its default setting is that it does in fact embody the outcome of Scriptural training because ultimately you want everything to have that impulse, everything to function as a godly reaction to a situation by training. But in the beginning, you know you have to love your neighbor, so you show hospitality, you visit that person who's in need. You take care of those in your charge because you have to. How you feel is not material to the question of duty. It just is not. And in Scripture, the things that we desire, are technically the things that oppose what God desires. So, I know why people in management want to talk about what the individual desires, because everybody knows, a great way to get what you want out of someone is to understand their motivations. But in an ecclesial setting when you play that game you become like Peter, James and John in Galatians. You flirt with someone in order to shut them out of the Kingdom, and I love that metaphor because it feels very much like someone who plays a dating game of hot and cold, you invite them in so that you can shut them out, except in terms of the Gospel, and our life in the church in relationship with each other as members of this body. We are shutting people out of the Kingdom of the heavens when we play that game. The very thing that opens the Kingdom to us is the thing that is difficult for us and that we don't desire, and it's expressed in its purest form in Matthew in the extreme example of crucifixion.
Hollie Benton 16:23
What would you say to those who might read this and say, "You know what, I don't want to be great. I don't need to be first, so I guess I'm off the hook. I don't have to be a servant or a slave because I don't want greatness, and I don't want to be first."
Fr. Marc Boulos 16:38
The problem is they're using that pronoun, that is not present in the vocabulary of a slave in the presence of the Master. What you are, what you become, is not the question at hand. The question at hand, if you're truly a disciple of Jesus Christ is, "What did you just hear from the reading, where you're standing right now?" Because the real question that the fake question you just asked, masks, is, "Am I committed to my baptism or not?" Either you are baptized on that day when the Lord comes, which remains to be seen for all of us, or you are not baptized. If in the end, you are shown to have been baptized, then you are bound to answer the call of Scripture wherever you stand. You could be a dishwasher or a corporate CEO. And that's the part people don't like they think it's noble that you can say, "Oh, someone washing dishes could follow the Scriptures" but they have a little difficulty at understanding that the CEO is no different than a person who washes dishes in God's eyes, except that the CEO because he has more income and more responsibility and more power to implement what God wants, will be judged more harshly. That's where this famous saying of John Chrysostom, or at least attributed to John Chrysostom, comes from about the streets of Hell being paved with the skulls of the clergy. It's because the clergy have a huge responsibility and will be judged more harshly. That's why the Pharisees are the arch villains of Scripture. They wrote Scripture. They're the teachers Paul was a pharisee in the way that they wrote the story and handed it to the church are presenting themselves as the most harshly condemned. That is the system, but how do you teach that in a culture where people don't resign anymore? When they should step down from their position when something is announced or exposed? There's no shame. Because for us, leadership is entitlement, income is entitlement, it's not duty responsibility and greater burden.
Hollie Benton 18:53
Thank you, Father Marc for your time today. Thanks for coming on to the program for all of your work in helping to develop material that we have in the intensive program and servant leadership. Thanks for being here.
Fr. Marc Boulos 19:03
You're most welcome, and I want to just mention before we drop off today that you were on I think like the second or third episode of the Bible as Literature podcast, all those years ago when we were talking about memorizing Scripture, so it's nice that I'm coming on here and one of your early episodes and I wish you great success with this program and I look forward to where you're going to take this podcast called doulos. Take care.
Hollie Benton 19:34
Thank you very much.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai