Britain's masochistic TV audiences are currently sitting through the ninth series of "The Apprentice", a show that feeds today's fad for entertainment revolving around disposing of people with imperfections. It is matched in popularity only by the figures in excess of 20,000 who apparently apply to go on the show in order to be despatched with that famous send-off from Lord Alan Sugar: "You're fired".
Many of you will no doubt have heard the joke about the new boss: wanting to stamp his authority on the workplace from the outset, the CEO of a company toured the office, looking for someone to sack. It didn't take him long before he found a young man who appeared to be aimlessly lazing about. "You!" the boss barked. "How much do you earn in a week?"
The nervous young man answered, "£200. Why?" The boss then slapped £800 into the young man's hand and said, Alan Sugar-style, "Here's a month's pay in advance. You're fired!" Satisfied that he'd made his point, the boss then asked the remaining employees, "What did that guy do here anyway?" Eventually, one bravely answered: "He delivers the pizzas."
For some people, sadly, that joke mirrors a present workplace reality. Every boss we have to work with (and there are usually a number during our working careers), has a different personality, which impacts hugely on how we enjoy our jobs. What kind of boss do you have? Perhaps it's the corporate bully who uses power to intimidate? Or the weak leader who doesn't have the respect of his or her employees? Then there's the workaholic who expects everyone else to be the same, at the expense of home life, families and relationships. Perhaps it's impersonal Phaoroah-type boss driven by results or money, always requiring you to "make more bricks", and then to make them without straw. But just occasionally one encounters a boss who inspires others because of their integrity and strength.
One who fits this last-mentioned category is actually the greatest leader of all: Jesus Christ. He exemplified the perfect leadership that all of us seek. Being a man like us, he understands our weaknesses, uses our strengths, puts relationships above outcomes, is forgiving despite our frequent mistakes, is always approachable, leads by example, commands respect, is thoroughly honest and invariably speaks the truth.
Jesus was the perfect boss because he led with both authority and compassion. He specialises in taking people with imperfections and working on them. Mark's Gospel tells us that when Jesus was recruiting his apprentices – because that's what the word "disciple" means – he picked what appeared to be an unlikely, under-educated bunch of nobodys. They included four fishermen, a tax-collector, a political extremist, and someone who would eventually betray him.
The Bible portrays a number of them as being manipulative, back-stabbing and cowardly – not a million miles apart from some of the candidates you see on The Apprentice. And yet, despite their behaviour, Jesus never fired them. Because he saw not just potential in what they could do, but also potential for the people they could become. They were far from the finished article, but under his direction, and with God's backing, these men went on to turn the world upside down.
This is a boss who is still looking for apprentices. So why aren't there more takers? Is it because actually so many people think that God is rather like Alan Sugar? – that he's no time for failures, that he's a cruel slave-driver who will dismiss anyone who can't make the grade. Simon Peter's experience is the counter to that argument. And certainly my own track record (and probably yours) would well justify Jesus writing us off like Alan Sugar. Instead, he offers us the help and forgiveness that we need.
He is still seeking Apprentices. He invites us to follow him. He looks beyond what we can do, and sees who we can become. The working conditions may be not always be the easiest (John 14:33 makes that clear), but, as the saying goes, the retirement benefits are out of this world! The challenge is: will we say 'Yes'?