Contrarians… like Jesus!
by Stephan Joubert
“The mighty oak was once a little nut that stood its ground.”
Steven B. Sample applies the term contrarian to depict effective leaders in his book on contemporary leadership: ‘The Contrarian’s Guide to Leadership’ (2002). Without giving a concise definition, Sample describes contrarian leadership in broad terms as a fresh and original point of view. At times contrarian leaders counter conventional wisdom by their gray thinking; by working for those who work for them; by knowing which hill they are prepared to die on; by knowing how to shoot their own horse and how to know the difference between being leader and doing leader. Not all of these aspects counter conventional thinking, but quite often they do — like Jesus did most of the time. He refused to be controlled by forces of history. Jesus was never a pawn. History didn’t make him. It was the other way round, actually. He set the tone. He wrote the new script for earth’s history, as well as for the second half of eternity.
The life of Jesus could be best described in a single term: reversals. As a sage, a listener, a builder, a contradictor, a gardener, and a true contrarian Jesus turned the world upside down and his early disciples followed suit. Perhaps the most beautiful objection ever brought in against the first followers of Jesus is the words of the aggressive crowd in Thessalonica (Acts 17:1-10). When Paul’s friends were brought before the city’s magistrates, the crowd cried out: ‘They turn the world upside down.’ Isn’t this great! This is precisely what following Jesus is about — making the world turn the other way. Grace is contrarian. No, Jesus is!
Jesus chose a life of role reversals from the very start. Actually he didn’t choose it. He simply came as himself. He didn’t need to play any stage roles. Jesus came as the Son of God, as his authentic voice and divine eikon here on earth. Jesus’ deeds and words revealed his true character. That’s why he didn’t come dressed up looking like a religious professional. Neither did he look like some over the top superhero with all the right gear and space-age weapons. He didn’t even look like any of today’s well-known images of ‘sweet baby Jesus’, nor did he play the role of ‘gentle Jesus meek and mild’ adored by so many poets and artists throughout the centuries.
Jesus was a contrarian from the start. He never fitted the classical profile of a Messiah. None of the job descriptions for holy men, prophets or priests worked for him either. Jesus wrote the script step by step as he went along. No wonder he was considered unsafe by all those hiding out in religious bunkers. He was dangerous to those who didn’t want to challenge the status quo.