Jesus’ Style of Leadership
Does our ideal leader resemble Jesus? Or does that individual look more like the world?
This article will explore Jesus as the ultimate example of leadership in the world, and especially amongst Christians. This is important because in many ways the leadership in Christ’s church has become more reflective of corporate America, than its savior and Lord, Jesus Christ. If we have misunderstood Jesus’ leadership, we likely misunderstand what it looks like to be leaders in his body who reflect his character. So what does Christ-like leadership actually look like? We will look to the Gospels, the Epistles, and Church History to reconstruct an accurate picture of what Christian leaders are meant to look like as they follow the ultimate example of Jesus.
Jesus and Leadership in the Gospels
The first source we will evaluate is The Gospels. These are the first four books of the New Testament, and are accounts of Jesus’ life, teachings, passion, and resurrection. They are made up of the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. They each have a unique emphasis and style, as well as differing perspectives centering upon the person and work of Jesus. If we’re looking to learn from Jesus’ example as it relates to leadership, this is an obvious place to start.
Although we could look at a very broad list of passages in the Gospel accounts, we will choose two from the Gospel of Matthew that highlight Jesus’ leadership and glean leadership lessons for today from them. In Matthew, three chapters are committed to “The Sermon on the Mount” This is a block of recorded teaching from Jesus where he describes the Kingdom of Heaven and how it differs from what is experienced or accepted amongst the people of that day, and often in ours. He cuts to the heart by exposing sin as internal rather than merely external(Matthew 5:21-30), discusses false forms of empty religion(Matthew 6-7), and talks about coming judgment( Matthew 7:21-23), along with much else. At the very beginning of the sermon is a section commonly labeled “The Beatitudes” (Matthew 5:2-12). This section talks about a specific kind of person who is “blessed”. In this section we get direct teaching from Jesus about what a person of the kingdom looks like, and by extension what a leader within this kingdom should look like. We learn that the people of the kingdom are poor in spirit which may also be explained as humble or approachable. We observe characteristics such as meekness, being merciful, pure, peacemaking. We see that they are persecuted, they mourn, that they hunger and thirst for a righteousness found outside of them. This is a person who has characteristics that are much different than what we today value in a leader. This person is blessed (happy) not because they are dominant, charismatic, charming, or disciplined, but because they are weak, needy, powerless in and of themselves.
The next teaching of Jesus we will look at is Matthew chapter 20. This passage begins with the mother of James and John (sons of Zebedee) approaching Jesus and asking that her sons sit at Jesus’ right and left hand (Matthew 20:20-21). These were positions of prominence, power, and authority. Jesus responds by saying
“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”(Matthew 20:25-28)
This teaching is also recorded in the book of Luke. This was not simply something that Jesus taught as a set of principles for leadership amongst his people, but something he embodied as his entire life consisted of a humbling of himself in order to serve and save broken and undeserving people. These passages in Matthew, alongside many others teach us a different kind of leadership, one that is not centered on self-glorification, but the service and uplifting of others. If leaders in our world and our churches embodied these principles the world would be a much more beautiful place and would be a reflection of the Kingdom and its King.
The Epistles Picture of Jesus’ Leadership
The Epistles echo the same message for those living in Christ’s church. These letters consist of exhortations, warnings, instructions, and prayers from an Apostle to a specific first century audience of Christians. Paul, in the letter to the Philippians says
“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”(Philippians 2:3-11)
The Apostle Paul points his audience to the example of Jesus Christ as he encourages them to interact with one another in a like manner. Later in the chapter Paul speaks about sending his co-worker and protege Timothy to the church and says
“I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, so that I too may be cheered by news of you. For I have no one like him, who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare. For they all seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. But you know Timothy’s proven worth, how as a son with a father he has served with me in the gospel.”(Philippians 2:3-11)
Paul desires to send this man because he doesn’t seek his own interests, but the glory of Jesus, the welfare of the church, and the service of Paul. In the teachings and life of Jesus we see a strong emphasis on the attitude or orientation of service in his people and especially those he calls to be leaders amongst those people. Many today view the pastorate as an opportunity to grow their own personal platform or influence, but it is clear that this is antitheses to the ways of the Kingdom. The letter to the Philippians along with epistles such as 1 Timothy, Titus, 2 Corinthians, and many more give us a clear picture of what a leader is meant to embody, and that is a selfless laying down of self for the upbuilding of Jesus’ people. Leaders in Jesus’ body are not meant to look or walk differently from the King himself, but are meant to reflect his heart and attitude towards his people.
The Church’s Portrayal of Jesus’ Leadership
Lastly, we can learn about Jesus’ ultimate example of leadership through the thoughts and conclusions of those who have served him throughout church history. Augustine was born in 354 (O’Donnell, James. “St. Augustine.” Encyclopædia Britannica.) and to this day remains a well known theologian. He comments on humility in one of his letters saying
“And so, just as that famous orator who was asked what he considered the fundamental rule of public speaking is said to have answered ‘delivery,’ and when asked the next important, he again said ‘delivery,’ and, for the third, the same ‘delivery,’ so, if you should ask, and as often as you should ask, about the precepts of the Christian religion, my inclination would be to answer nothing but humility, unless necessity should force me to say something else.”(“Augustine – Humility, Humility, Humility.” The Old Guys.)
Clearly, Augustine is speaking more broadly than leadership examples or principles, but as in much of what we’ve formerly observed, the principles to be embodied by every Christian lay for us a clear idea of what the leaders should look like as well. Augustine echoes the values and example of Jesus that we see in both the Gospels and the Epistles. Later in Church History, John Gill comments on Matthew 20:25 saying
“Wherefore, for the apostles to affect and desire a superiority to each other, in the kingdom of Christ, was to imitate the Gentiles, and to act according to worldly forms of government; which is very unsuitable to the followers of the meek and lowly Jesus, whose kingdom is spiritual, and not of this world.” (“Gill’s Exposition of the Whole Bible – Bible Commentaries.”)
To be a leader in Christ’s church is to be an individual who reflects the humility of Jesus, and doesn’t strive or strain for the power and influence that those in the world work for.
Ultimately, God is good and created everything good. The world was plunged into chaos and sin by the rebellion of humanity against the creator. God is orchestrating all the evil in this broken world together for his glory and ultimate good. His justice against evil is either delayed or put upon Jesus through whom he is bringing about a reality where evil is forever abolished.
Will Parkins / Director – Reach Durango