The long history of Christianity has placed much emphasis on the role of Jesus as redeemer, sometimes obscuring the major role he played in shaping our modern civilization. In ancient cultures when few people could read and write, leaders held positions of near absolute power. This is sometimes called positional or pedestal leadership. Leaders such as kings, land owners, or military commanders were in virtually total control. Whatever decisions they made, had to be accepted by those under them.
When Jesus was born, it was assumed that he was to be the Messiah, the anointed one, a monarch exercising total control over the people of Israel and surrounding lands. However, Jesus took on an even more powerful role, that of a servant leader. A servant leader is a person who leads by example of service and enables those under his or her leadership to also become servant leaders.* Jesus trained his disciples to become servant leaders and teachers of others and as time went on his followers continued to pass on this heritage.
The history of Christianity reveals that the followers of Jesus have always been strong advocates of education and they helped literacy grow until almost everyone could read and write. As a result, our modern governments are more of a team effort. Countries controlled by democracies are led by men or women who take turns leading well educated constituencies that participate in the governance. Christians are gradually becoming aware of the servant leadership they have been teaching and that successful living in the 21st century is a team effort.
* For additional information about Christian servant leadership see for example Servant Leadership Models for Your Parish by Dan Ebener, Paulist Press, 2010.