Why do all the Avengers follow Captain America?
He isn’t the strongest–maybe because he’s the oldest :-)?

(Note: all product links in this post are affiliate links–I just learned the FTC started requiring disclosures on every post since 2009! I’ll try to keep them as unobtrusive as possible.)

This question came up in a conversation with my friend Marco after church one week. I was lamenting how rare it is to experience the camaraderie exemplified in the Avengers in real life. If you’re like me you’ve probably encountered group projects where slackers ride on the coattails of 4.0 GPAddicts, team sports where star players hog the ball, committees where most people seem noncommittal, and teams where everybody is focused on their own deliverables (I admit I’m to blame in many cases!). In fact, I can’t recall the last time I’ve experienced the kind of teamwork where Iron Man blasts at Captain America’s shield while he turns 180 degrees to wipe out a wave of saurian aliens.

Marco said he experienced this frequently.

How? It turns out that he was referring to DOTA, a wildly popular battle arena game (now succeeded by LoL). He explained that the way to win was to know your teammates so well that you could instinctively coordinate attacks as one unit. The initiator of these attacks was typically a “tank” player who had enough health to absorb heavy damage. The rest of the team would follow him into battle and unleash their powers while the opponents were focused on him.

Now you might think that the Hulk is the Avenger’s “tank” because he gets stronger the more damage he takes, but it turns out that Captain America is the one everyone follows despite being one of the weaker characters. Marco thinks (and I agree) that Captain America is the leader because he is the guy who will sacrifice himself for the mission and for the others. They know he always has the mission and their best interests at heart. Iron Man is too self-centered. Thor is too self-absorbed. Hulk is out of control. Hawkeye and Black Widow are best in supporting roles. But together under the Captain’s leadership, they save the world.

Joss Whedon wittily revealed this quality in his screenplay:

Steve Rogers: Big man in a suit of armour. Take that off, what are you?
Tony Stark: Genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist.
Steve Rogers: I know guys with none of that worth ten of you. I’ve seen the footage. The only thing you really fight for is yourself. You’re not the guy to make the sacrifice play, to lay down on a wire and let the other guy crawl over you.
Tony Stark: I think I would just cut the wire.

Even though Iron Man won this debate, he and all the other Avengers end up submitting to Captain America’s leadership because sacrifice is more important than strength or skill.

No where do we see this more clearly in real life than in Jesus Christ:

I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. (John 10:11)

This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. (John 15:12-13)

By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. (1 John 3:16)

What is incredible about Jesus is that having all strength, skill and authority, he exhausts himself on the Cross, giving up all he has to save those under his authority (including rebels who for the longest time refused him). This is why Jesus Christ is leader of everything. How would you like to have a leader like that? One who uses all his powers completely for your good? By believing in him, you can.

My big weakness as a leader has been my overemphasis on strength or skill (merit). I viewed leadership as an achievement, something earned by excelling above one’s peers. My achiever mentality fueled envy towards those in authority who I felt were less meritorious than me. It made me frustrated when others would not follow me despite the skillfulness and wisdom I demonstrated. It also made me anxious and insecure when I held a position of authority that I didn’t think I deserved (e.g. middle school concertmaster). I thought getting people to follow me was as simple as showing them I was worth following–and it made me a very self-centered and self-conscious person.

Now I am learning that leadership is actually grace. God decides who is in charge and he gives and takes away delegated authority as he pleases. You don’t earn the right to lead, you are given the responsibility of leadership and this simply means that you are to use all the merits you have been given to finish your mission and love the people you are leading. When you do, I think people will follow you even if you aren’t the smartest, strongest, or savviest leader–just like Captain America. (And Jesus, except that he is actually the omni-est :-)).

Are you having trouble getting people to follow you? Could it be because your merits aren’t being used for their good?

Do you feel inadequate or unworthy to lead? Isn’t it relieving that it doesn’t depend on your performance, but on God’s grace?

And for those of you who believe the kind of leadership I described is unnecessary for success, I close with the words of Napoleon Bonaparte:

Alexander, Caesar, Charlemagne and I myself have founded great empires; but upon what did these creations of our genius depend? Upon force. Jesus alone founded His empire upon love, and to this very day millions will die for Him. (from Jesus Among Other Gods cited here)

If people are following you, are they following you by force or by love?

Please share in the comments!