Jesus Wouldn’t Call it “Leadership”!
Jesus did not focus on leadership; certainly not the way many Christian pastors and teachers do today. In fact, I cannot find one place in all of his red-letter words where he called any man to “lead” or to “leadership.”
Don’t get me wrong. Certainly Jesus was and is a leader and led not only a band of twelve men but a movement that would fascinate and dominate the interests of countless millions, and change the world. Still, as I pour over his words in the Gospels, although I personally love the subject of leadership I am hard-pressed to find any inkling of the fascination or preoccupation we have today with the subject.
But, Jesus did lead, right? Of course, none ever did better. But he never taught a course in “leadership.” And, about the time people started to affirm him for all of his great works, he did not try to offer them “10 Ways to Lead like Me”. In fact, at one point when the crowd tried to “make him king by force”, he left town (John 6:15). When people brought attention to him and what he did instead of soaking it up, he said, “I only do what I see my Father doing (John 5:19).”
So then, if the keyword within the influence of Jesus’ passion and persona was not “lead”, “led”, “leader” or “leadership” … what was it?
That’s what it was.
“Come, follow me … (Matt. 4:19)” – to be precise.
“Follow me … and I will make you fishers of men… (Mark 1:17)”
“One thing you lack … Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” (Mark 10:21)
“My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.” (John 10:27)
“Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be.” (John 12:26)
“If any man would come after me he must deny himself, take up his cross and … follow me.” (Matt. 16:24 NIV)
Focused on the Follower
The power of personal influence requires two things – influential skills (i.e., leadership) and a willingness to be influenced (i.e., following). A more biblical term would be “disciple” or “discipleship”. But, how is that different from much of what is often being pushed in today’s church? First of all, the term leadership itself as we use it today most frequently focuses on the leader and their leadership skills and influence. We host multitudes of events and produce even more materials designed to help people become more “successful” at leading. We showcase “successful” leaders.
But, Jesus never underlined or highlighted the leader or leadership the way we do. Rather, he turned it all around and made the follower (or the disciple) his focal point. Thus, he did not say, “Let me lead” … “Get in line” … “Forward, march” … or anything of the sort. Rather, he walked right up to likely and unlikely candidates of his grace and Kingdom purpose and presented two things … one, a Call (“follow”) and two, a Person calling (“me”). “Follow me.” And, his “call” was not a forced command, a requirement, an order, a gimmick or a sales pitch. It was, and still is, an invitation, and an incomparable one at that.
First and foremost from Jesus’ example, your effectiveness as a leader is directly tied to your faithfulness as a follower. Jesus made it as plain and simple as that. But, don’t confuse simple with easy. Christian “leadership” is not about pushing our will around or upon others, but rather inspiring people to follow Christ and his will. At best, you might say Christian leaders are “lead followers.”
And, it seems Jesus passed this “unleaderish” approach on to his followers. It lingers for a few decades, at least, but has arguably been missing now for some time on too many fronts. For even Paul the Apostle after crisscrossing the globe with the Gospel and setting flames of devotion among the Gentiles, communicated his grand call to “leadership” this way:
“Follow me … as I follow Christ (1 Cor. 11:1).”
The call of Christ is first and foremost not a call to “lead”, but a call to “follow.” The true test of Christian leadership is determined not by our personal agenda, but by how effective we are at helping others follow Christ well. What the world needs more right now is not just another leadership conference or book, but one man or woman determined to follow Christ better and to help others do the same. Someone who will lead …
the following way.