Did you know that the Bible is the greatest book on leadership ever written? Jesus was the greatest leader of all time, of course, but there are also many other examples of great leadership in Scripture. Joseph was an excellent leader among his brethren but he had to learn some lessons early on. Nehemiah was one of the greatest leaders of history. Moses had to lead the most difficult crowd ever through a trying forty-year adventure through a barren wilderness. The apostles all had to learn some tough lessons but they came through in the end. Paul established great churches through great leadership all across the Mediterranean world.
But the greatest example of leadership will always be Jesus, as modeled in the four gospels and expounded in the epistles. But what made Jesus’ style of leadership so great? I believe it was because of two elements:
- Jesus was always GOD-centered.
That is, He never took his cues from the world around Him. He was never intimidated by the world. He was simply God’s man and he stood in God’s confidence throughout His ministry.
- Jesus was always SERVANT-hearted.
Even though Jesus had all the authority of heaven at His fingertips, He never lorded His power. He always used His power and authority for good in the lives of others.
The story of James’ and John’s mother is often misunderstood. As you read it, you get the impression that Jesus was giving a lesson to them and their Mom about position-seeking. But His words were really directed at all of the apostles about clamoring. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be used of God, or wanting our kids to be used of God. There is simply a problem with stepping on each other to have more power or prestige.
In fact, Matthew points out that she came worshipping and that she came desiring. These two words indicate a heart that has right motives. The other disciples were the once who got upset because they felt threatened, that their piece of the pie might be given to someone else. Jesus used the occasion to teach a few great lessons about leadership.
1. It’s okay to desire greatness in leadership.
Jesus said, “whosoever will be great…” In other words, whoever wants to be a great leader is desiring a good thing. It’s just that leadership is often misunderstood because of the world in which we live.
Jesus pointed out that the Romans had an amazing militaristic leadership arrangement. They were highly organized and you could move up through the ranks by throwing your weight around. The world exalts leaders who have climbed to the top on the backs of other people. We see them as the ones who must work harder, be more educated, more talented, or who simply were born for leadership.
Jesus made it clear that desiring to be a great leader is a good thing, but we must change our idea of what a great leader is.
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2. The heart of great leadership is servanthood.
Does this mean that a great leader will always quietly fade into the background and never be vocal? On the contrary, Jesus stepped to the forefront, cast a vision, rebuked the legalists, and firmly corrected the disciples throughout His ministry. The difference is the goal.
We must ultimately decide between seeking a position and serving people. If we want to be like the world, we’ll seek a position. If we want to be like Jesus, we’ll seek someone to serve.
The key word for great leaders is OTHERS.
Our goal as church leaders is not to build a great church using people, but to build great people using a church. The church is never and end in itself, it exists to meet the needs of people.
Leadership is not for everybody. James made that clear when he admonished us not to seek to be leaders, knowing that God would judge us more harshly. Some are given leadership responsibilities and prove to be self-seeking. But there will be some among us whom God calls to positions of leadership who see their role as investing who they are into the lives of others. They will not see people as a means of accomplishing ministry, they will see people as the ministry.
That’s how Jesus saw you! He closes His teaching by reminding the apostles that He came to serve them. He was never under their authority, He simply did what He did for their benefit. The ultimate expression of that would be to “give his life for the sheep.” He would die for them.
Dear Delegates of the Salvation Army Convention:
Signed, General Booth.
Lord, let me live from day to day
In such a self-forgetful way
That even when I kneel to pray,
My prayer shall be for others.
Others, Lord, yes, others;
Let this my motto be.
Help me to live for others
That I may live like Thee.
-From the first meeting of the Salvation Army