Leadership? – Part One – Jesus’ Few Thoughts on Leadership

When I began looking through the Gospels for comments about leadership I was shocked at how little I found.  I could only find seven times in which Jesus discussed it head on (and he repeats Himself a lot).

Before we jump into them though, let me clarify a few things.  Because I am specifically going to be examining leadership in the church, a healthy love for God and others is assumed.  Therefore, attributes of leadership that should be common to all believers like a consistent prayer life, being in tune with the Spirit, being refreshed through the Word, living on mission for God, sharing your faith, etc… will not be specifically examined. 

We are going to make the assumption that church leadership is a special role that not everyone will have.  (We could spend time debating this assumption but it exists in our current church culture so we might as well roll with it.  Also, I don’t want to hear Cory whine about how “someone is always leading.”)  We are only going to look at passages that address leadership as a unique station.   

Okay, lets jump in by looking at the seven.

1. Mark 10:28-45 – Jesus had a difficult and sad conversation with a rich young ruler.  At the end of it he made a hard comment about rich people being able to surrender and follow.  This seemed to make the disciples nervous so Peter piped up and reminded Jesus that he had given up everything to follow.  Jesus assured his disciples but then dropped a phrase we will hear over and over in these seven passages – “But many who are first will be last and the last will be first.”  There was a brief conversation about Jesus’ coming death; and then the fun started.

James and John pulled Jesus aside and ask if they could sit at his right and left hand.  If Jesus had established a throne in Jerusalem these would have been positions of honor that carried privilege and authority.  Of course this question hacked the rest of the guys off; so Jesus called the whole band of merry men over and explained:

“You know that those who are recognized as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them; and their great men exercise authority over them.  But it is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant; and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be slave of all.  For even the Son of Man (a.k.a. Jesus) did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”

2. Matthew 20:20-28 – This same conversation is repeated, expect this time James and John’s mom asked for them (which is hysterically awesome). 

3. Luke 22:24-27 – Jesus also repeated this same speech (almost, there are a few adjustments in wording) at the last super.

4. Matthew 18:1-4 – A little after the Transfiguration the disciples started fighting about who was in charge of whom.  Jesus called a little child over, set the kid on His lap and said, “Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.  whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”

5. Matthew 23:1-39 – This is the anti-leadership passage.  In it Jesus unloaded on the religious leaders of the day and described what a horrible job they were doing.  Jesus stated that they love positions of leadership and then went on to accuse them of a whole list of things:

  • They were hypocrites who taught people to live in ways they didn’t live.
  • They created rituals and rules for others that they didn’t follow.
  • They performed their rituals and rules, not in hopes of falling deeper in love with God and others, rather so they would be seen and praised for how holy they are.
  • They loved being called Teacher because of the prestige the title carried.
  • With their hypocrisy, rituals, and rules they actually pushed people away from God.
  • They were “blind guides” who care far to much about money.
  • They focused on small insignificant details of the rituals and rules but forget to practice justice, mercy, and faithfulness.  Jesus said, “You strain out the gnat but swallow the camel.”
  • They focused on looking holy to others, but the interior of their lives was full of “robbery and self-indulgence.”  Jesus called them “white-washed tombs”; beautiful on the outside but full of dead rotting within.

The list goes on…but you get the picture.  In the middle of this barrage Jesus said, “But do not be called Rabbi; for One is your Teacher, and you are all brothers.  Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your father, He who is in heaven.  Do not be called leaders; for One is your Leader, that is, Christ.  But the greatest among you shall be your servant.  Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.”

6. Luke 11:37-53 – A similar attack on the bad leadership of the Pharisees occurs here.  Although the wording and setting are different, the content is not.

7. John 13:15-20 – At the last super Jesus washed His disciples feet and then used it as an illustartion of leadership. 

“Do you know what I have done to you?  You call Me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am.  If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.  For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you.  Truly, truly, I say to you, a slave is not greater than his master, nor is one who is sent greater than the one who sent him.  If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.”

I will save drawing conclusions about myself and my peers (other church leaders) for the big finale.  Right now a few simple observations:

  • Leadership, in Jesus’ eyes, is a position of service.
  • It demands an attitude of intense humility.  Jesus is adamently opposed to positional leadership, the privileges of leadership, the ambition of leaders, the use of authority, or prestigious titles.
  • A group of people the leader emerges from to serve is implied.  Leadership is about sacrificing for this group of people, not about a position or specific gifting.
  • If you are teaching it, you better be living it.

Next we will look at leadership in the Letters, then we will examine leadership in Acts.  Finally we will draw some conclusions together about church leadership. 

Hang on.  Its going to get rocky for some of us.

Jump to Part Two A here.

Leadership? – Part One – Jesus’ Few Thoughts on Leadership

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