Leadership is something for business executives, politicians, and manages, right?
What if I told you that leadership is a central theme throughout scripture and that Jesus focused on his own leadership and the leadership development of his disciples. Central to spiritual growth and reflecting Jesus is the journey to become a great leader we are all on. In today’s Field Note we are going to look at Jesus as a leader and how he influenced those around him.
Jesus was a powerful leader that personified the traits of an authentic leader and servant leader. His focus on the importance of leadership was central to his message and key to the healthy spiritual life of his disciples.
Leadership in Scripture
Leadership remains a central theme throughout scripture. We see it in the life of Abraham, Joseph, and Moses. It is called out at strategic times in the lives of the judges, and whether it was good leadership or bad leadership, we can study it throughout the reigns of the Israelite kings.
Sometimes leadership carried with it negative connotations in scripture, which has some Christians to have a negative perspective on leadership.
At times we see in Paul’s writings a clear attempt to avoid vocabulary commonly identified as leadership talk or terms used to reference leadership. This was in large part due to the dislike of the Roman authority throughout the civilized world at the time. The Roman Empire was built on nations being conquered by the Roman war machine and then being ruled by the oppressive hands of tyrants placed to govern these people groups.
Unfortunately, the Romans would buy off the local leadership of the community to assist in the oppression of their own people. This caused many in the Roman empire to despise those in leadership and Paul was aware enough of this that he avoided equating the gospel with leadership so as not to taint Jesus’ message.
This should not be mistaken as an indictment of leadership in the scriptures. Paul understood the necessity of leadership from his own extensive studies of Jewish history. Looking throughout the Old Testament there is a clear advocation of leadership as an essential to any society’s desire to be healthy.
For instance, the twenty-first chapter of Judges ends with “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” With this in mind, Paul recognized the importance of leadership, and established leaders himself in Acts 14:23. He understood leadership for Christians was meant to be different because it is to be exercised as a reflection of Jesus as a servant rather than a tyrant.
This is evident in Jesus’ words recorded in Matthew’s gospel where he encourages his disciples to not lord their authority and influence over others, but to instead leverage authority and influence for the service of others (20:25-27). These instructions serve as a backdrop for Paul and his understanding of leadership. This backdrop of service given by Jesus most likely influenced Paul’s own words in Romans 12:8 when he lists leadership as one of the gifts of the spirit.
By recognizing Paul’s acknowledgment of leadership is precipitated by Jesus’ exemplification of leadership, we should be empowered to understand how Jesus led in order to reveal to us how we should lead. What is clear from this is that being a leader was never optional from Jesus’ perspective.
We Are All Called to Leadership
When Jesus ascended into Heaven he left hs disciples with the command “go…and make disciples”, which we can find in Matthew 28:19. To unpack that a little, Jesus is commanding his disciples to go and influence others into a relationship with him. This is the essence of Christ’s call into leadership.
The Great Commission, going and making disciples, is the sole reason Christ followers remain on earth. If the goal of salvation was to receive entrance into heaven, then each and every follower of Jesus would be ushered into Heaven in the moment of salvation. As all of us know who are followers of Jesus, this is certainly not the case. We are left here on this earth…but why?
Our sole purpose as disciples of Christ is to be leaders to influence others into a relationship with Jesus, just as he commanded his early disciples to do on his final day on earth. Jesus’ words that day were intended to be a directive that was passed down from one generation of disciples to the next until the Lord’s return.
This call by Jesus into leadership was not only meant to be about finding new followers, but it also carried with it commands of living out what Jesus had taught. Jesus wanted his followers to lead other followers through the observance of his teachings in attitudes, values, skills, and behaviors which are appropriate for all those who are followers of God.
This behavior of observing how Jesus lived and passing it forward is the legacy of God’s Kingdom. It is this legacy building all Christians are invited to be a part of as leaders to the world. In order to be the leaders we are called to be, we must first understand the leader Jesus was while he walked on earth.
Jesus the Authentic Leader
As a field of study, leadership has been researched for a little more than a hundred years with various definitions being formed. In recent years, a new area of leadership study has emerged and remains in the formative stages, despite evidence showing its existence for thousands of years.
Authentic leadership may be new as a field of leadership research, but the practice of authentic leadership has a long history. Dating as far back as the first century, Jesus exercised and displayed authentic leadership and set the groundwork for the establishment of his church.
Throughout his ministry, he exemplified leadership and provided us with a model of leadership worthy of exemplifying. Primarily, Jesus knew his disciples would carry on after him and establish the church that would reach the world, evidenced in Matthew 28:18-20. So, he modeled for them how to live in relationship with God the Father. This relationship with the Father serves as a foundation of the core principles for disciples with Christ, which is central to authentic leadership.
Jesus made it a practice to seek out individuals and meet them one-on-one. There are examples of this when Jesus spends time with Peter and John (John 21), the Samaritan woman (John 4), and the men on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24). Jesus made it a point to be personal, to value and relate to each individual where they were. This behavior is indicative of authentic leadership.
A primary goal of authentic leadership is the empowerment followers, which Jesus intentionally did with his disciples. One example of this can be observed when he sent his disciples out to “proclaim the Kingdom of God” in Luke 9:1-6. He gave them instruction, provided them with advice and direction of how to handle the situations they would encounter, but ultimately he sent them off on their own without needing to be in the middle of what they were doing. This behavior seen in Jesus is vital to authentic leadership.
Jesus the Servant Leader
Just as authentic leadership is a relatively new area of study, servant leadership is also relatively new in the academic arena. However, despite the rest of the world just now catching up with the effectiveness of servant leadership, there is an argument to be made that it is the core of Jesus’ leadership style.
Servant leadership stems from the natural desire each individual has to serve others first. As we are created in the image of God (Gen 1:27), we are compelled to serve our fellow mankind because our Heavenly Father’s desire is to serve his children. Servant leadership does not simply stop at service to others, but as it blooms into a leadership style the focus is placed on the quality of the lives of followers. When under a true servant leader, the life of a follower becomes healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, and exemplifies leadership.
The whole focus of Jesus’ ministry and life was focused on the betterment of his followers by atoning for their sins and providing a way into a relationship with the Father. If we give a little closer examination, though, we see that Jesus also served his followers beyond their eternal salvation. For Jairus, Jesus healed his daughter (Luke 8:40-56). For Peter, John, and James he gave them a second chance at a life of spiritual service, and for the blind man, he provided a life of sight (Mark 8:22-26).
Even when it wasn’t convenient for Jesus, he sacrificed himself to serve the people who were in need, who were spiritually lost, and who needed a helping hand. Jesus was the quintessential servant leader who served each of us by providing us with a model of how to serve those around us.
Leadership is not optional. It wasn’t optional for Jesus during his time on this earth, nor did he ever intend it to be optional for his followers. Leadership may not be easy, but neither is being a follower of Christ. However, leadership is not what many of us have experienced. If we look at how Jesus led and how he has called us to lead, our leadership should be grounded in service to others and a focus on bettering the lives of those we have the privilege to influence. This kind of leadership is impactful, meaningful, and inspiring.
What are some of the best examples you have seen in leaders you have followed? How have they inspired you?
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