"My sheep hear my voice. I know them and they follow me."
While many animated movies follow the life of a hero or heroine, Despicable Me takes another route by showcasing the adventures of the villain.
Gru (voiced by Steve Carrell) is the world's #2 supervillain, frustrated that he is no longer on top thanks to the criminal acts of an up-and-coming young mastermind named Vector (Jason Segal), who has stolen the Great Pyramid of Giza. Of course these acts of villainy are more mischievous than morally evil - and with that thought in mind, we can move on with the movie.
But the competition between Gru and Vector is not the real story, just as our competitive experiences in life (at work, at school, in society) aren't really that important to God. This plotline, while amusing, distracts from the real issues at hand: leadership and discipleship.
Gru is the leader of an army of yellow minions, whose relationship with their master is one of servitude. And when he encounters three young girls selling cookies at the door, he suddenly decides to adopt them - but not out of concern for their well-being or a genuine appreciation of children, but because he needs them for his nefarious master plan.
This type of leadership gets Gru absolutely no where. To lead by force, coercion, or dependency only amounts to more frustration since no one is really contributing out of choice or love.
When Jesus spoke about leadership, he used the example of a sheep-herder: "I am the good shepherd. A good shepherd is one who lies down his life for his sheep. A hired man, who is not really a shepherd and whose sheep is not his own, sees a wolf coming and runs away from the sheep, allowing the wolf to catch and scatter them." (John 10:11-12) Here Jesus points out a comparison between good and bad leadership... a leader must not only invest in his disciples, but he must also love them and, if necessary, lay down his life for their sake.
In order to do this, Jesus says, we must get beyond ourselves. We must get to know and connect with others, allowing ourselves to be vulnerable before those who might follow us. "My sheep hear my voice. I know them and they follow me." (John 10:27) True leadership, according to Jesus, is about a genuine relationship.
Throughout our lives, we are thrust (sometimes unwillingly) into leadership roles. Whether we are a teacher, a supervisor, a project leader, a corporate executive, a chair or member of a committee, an elected official, or someone who leads their friends on a night to the movies, God gives us leadership opportunities at some point. What kind of leader will we be when the time comes?
We may not have a multitude of minions at our beckon call, but when people follow us in one way or another, we are given a great responsibility - like the good shepherd. Will we be so shocked that people are following us that we take advantage of their trust and selfishly charge ahead? or will we be open to vulnerability and engage people in mutual collaboration?
Let us all pray that we might find the strength to emulate Jesus and take on the mantle of the good shepherd when the time comes.