The Jesus Style of Leadership
There are few lessons Jesus taught that are of greater practical importance to His cause than His teaching about leadership. Leadership is without doubt vital to the success of God’s people. From the Old Covenant prophets (Jer. 3:15; 23:1-2), to Christ in His earthly ministry (Matt. 9:36-38), to the Church Age (Acts 20:28), serious attention is given to those who lead the people of God.
Of all the passages that deal with leadership, perhaps the one that best captures the essence of the subject is Matthew 20:20-28. The context, the teaching, and the example of Christ all combine in these few verses to portray the heart of Christ-like leadership.
The context of the passage finds James and John jockeying for position in the soon-to-come Messianic kingdom. They even got their mother involved in the maneuvering! Jesus made it very plain; however, that the kind of leadership they coveted was not suitable for His kingdom. What they wanted was the style practiced by the rulers of this world. Jesus wanted otherwise.
Jesus’ admonition in these verses adds additional power to His rebuke of James and John. Earthly rulers are the ones who exploit their authority over others. Secular powerbrokers major on issuing commands that reflect their selfish, personal wishes. Jesus says that the self-centered, authoritarian way of the world is totally unacceptable among His people!
Additionally, and most powerfully, the personal example of Jesus left no room for misunderstanding. Jesus did not come to be served, but to serve. Greatness for the Christ came in the form of humble service. As Jesus saw it, being great meant being a slave. Therefore, those our Lord regards highest are those who become as slaves to others. If Jesus, God’s sinless Son, could be a servant-leader, how can we refuse to do otherwise?
All too often, however, our models for leadership come from corporate America. The boardroom with its closed doors and political style of maneuvering has wielded more influence among us than we might care to admit. Jesus, in forming the church, created a spiritual family (Matt. 12:46-50; I Cor. 12:12, 14, 20). We have sometimes invented a military-like chain of command or corporate matrix. Therefore, personalized, servant leadership in a family setting is, at times, replaced by a detached, cloistered group of decision makers.
Even well intending men can all too easily find themselves molded by the world rather than being transformed by the Christ (Rom. 12:1-2). Projects become more important than people, points of an agenda get more attention than the needs of the flock, and schedules interfere with immediate shepherding needs. Such a situation can also bring about a strong temptation to serve for the personal pride of holding a position rather than to humbly serve the cause of Jesus.
The cure is found in the Jesus Model. Unlike the many secular based rivals, it is the only one that insures that kingdom business will be properly addressed. The rule exercised by God’s leaders has nothing whatsoever to do with personal preferences and everything to do with the mind of Christ (I Cor. 10:16). Servant/slave leadership destroys convenience, pride, prejudice, and politics as prime movers and establishes sacrifice, humility, fairness, and biblical principles to rule in the church. Indeed, only the Christ-given model can ever succeed in a spiritual kingdom. As with all things, let us look to God rather than to the world as our example for acceptable, productive leadership. Remember, brothers and sisters, among us the Christ rules!