The best book I’ve ever read on leadership is – and I’m not merely trying to sound spiritual – the Bible.
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 in 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.
There is a peculiar story in Matthew 20:20-28 about a rather bold request made by the mother of James and John. She desired that her two sons be granted seats next to King Jesus in heaven. It was a shameless ask.
The story 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 by God to impact the world, or wanting our kids to be used of God. The problem lies in our tendency to climb over one another toward our perception of greatness.
Matthew actually 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 upset because they felt threatened. They worried that their piece of the pie might be given to someone else.
Jesus used the occasion to teach a few great lessons about leadership.
It’s okay to desire greatness in leadership.
Jesus said, “whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant.” He didn’t condemn the desire for influence. He merely put that desire in its proper place.
The Romans had an amazing military leadership arrangement. They were highly organized and you could move up through the ranks by throwing your weight around. The world around us sometimes exalts leaders who have climbed to the top on the backs of other people. We perceive those who do so as the ones who must work harder, be more educated, more talented, or who were simply born for leadership.
Jesus made it clear that desiring to be a great leader is a good thing, but we must change our approach to greatness in leadership.
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 our goal.
We must ultimately decide between seeking a position and serving people. If we want to be like Jesus, we’ll seek out people whom we can serve.
The key word for great leaders is others.
Our goal as church leaders, especially, is not to build a great church through other people, but to build great people through the church.
To put it another way, people are not a means to accomplishing ministry. People are the ministry.
That’s how Jesus sees 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 go on to lay down his life and 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