A leader is, by definition, a person who works through other people to achieve a goal or a vision. A leader sees a future no one else can see, and then takes his followers there. God values and understands the importance of leadership. Leadership is a privilege and of vital importance, much hinges on leadership. Leadership can make or break institutions, nations and churches. People in leadership, whether they know it or not are being modelled by others. “I don’t know who my grandfather was,” said Abraham Lincoln: “I am much more concerned what his grandson will be.”
We naturally take our eyes off Jesus when we look to people in leadership as our role model. Christians who place unrealistic expectations of the church on people in leadership positions will be disappointed when they wake up one day and discover that their leaders are not the fourth member of the Trinity. We should respect those in positions of leadership and follow their example inasmuch as they follow the example of Christ (1 Cor. 11:1).
The ultimate role model of effective leadership is Jesus Christ. During his earthly ministry, Jesus worked through people to achieve the vision called “The Kingdom of God.” Jesus worked through the twelve disciples to establish a church that has endured for two millennia and now circles the globe. Out of the twelve, none were well-educated, some were undoubtedly illiterate, one was a traitor. Yet with that small group, Jesus changed history and impacted the entire world.
The most widely recognised symbol of Christianity is the cross. It’s a wonderful symbol because it speaks of obedience and love – the obedience of Jesus to God the Father, and the love of Jesus for lost humanity. But there is another symbol of Christianity that we rarely see – the symbol of the basin and towel. The basin and towel are the tools of the humble Servant-King who washed his followers’ feet and then went on to say to them (John 13:34):
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another….”
The greatest leadership quality you can have, whether as a parent, Sunday school teacher, small group leader, pastor or any other leadership position that God has placed you in is that you love Jesus and you love Jesus’ people. We can never be truly loving or exercise godly love without walking closely with the Lord. Godly love as one source – God alone.
Godly love is different from people pleasing. Godly love is the love that is willing to serve, but at the same time is willing to rebuke; it is willing to give of oneself, but at the same time is willing to exhort and warn; it is willing to sacrifice, but at the same time tell the truth all the time. Godly love is lived in obedience to God’s word, but fearless of people.
The leadership style of Jesus was not task-focused but people focused. It is based on love that casts out fear (1 John 4:18). As a leader, Jesus didn’t merely want to achieve goals and objectives. He was continually moving people from immaturity to maturity; from doubt to faith; from scepticism to commitment; from enmity to love.
Jesus broke all the rules by showing us that the way up is down. Jesus taught that leadership is servanthood. You cannot lead if you have never followed. You cannot rule if you have never served. You cannot be over if you have never been under. You cannot give if you have never received. You cannot speak to the people if you have never learned to listen. Even more surprising, Jesus did not cultivate friendships with influential people who could help him promote his cause. Instead, Jesus actually treated members of the influential class with a bluntness that bordered on harshness.
One of the key lessons I’ve learnt from the leadership life of Jesus is that the purpose of leadership is not to produce followers, but to produce more leaders. One of your most important goals as a leader should be to prepare your followers to outdo you. Prepare them to be great leaders who will achieve and succeed far beyond what they can now imagine.
Every great leader is a product of his or her teachers, mentors, and other influences. You will never meet a self-made leader, who has pulled himself up by his bootstraps. As the renowned English physicist Sir Isaac Newton once said, “If I have seen farther than other men, it is because I have stood on the shoulders of giants.” Every leader stands on the shoulders of giants and we should acknowledge those who have helped us on our leadership journey. When I earned my degrees, I realised it was hardly an individual achievement. I received help from countless numbers of people along the way to achieve those goals.
“The apostle Paul was perhaps the greatest theologian-missionary who ever lived, yet he didn’t attempt to serve the Lord in isolation. At his side were people like Luke, Timothy, Barnabas, John Mark, Titus, Epaphroditus, Euodia and Syntyche, and a host of others, including the twenty-six-people named in Romans 16. He brought out the greatness in them, and they helped him bear the burdens of ministry. They all needed each other” – Warren W. Wiersbe
Leaders can gather around themselves a circle of influence, people who will pray, advise and support them, but leaders must ultimately make the lonely hard decisions in which the ultimate blame or fault is theirs alone. On the cross, Jesus knew what it meant to be completely alone, a leader without followers, forsaken even by his Father. Just before his death, Jesus cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34).
Along the way, leaders for one reason or the other would be criticized or praised. Godly leaders do not live by criticism nor praise, but by obedience to the Lord. A leader must always expect criticism. The fear of criticism is the kiss of death in the courtship of achievement. You have to have ice in your veins not to feel hurt and pain of criticism especially if it’s a false one.
Wise leaders hunger for constructive criticism more than praise because criticism instructs; praise does not. I personally take no pleasure in being criticized, opposed or attacked, but Jesus takes pleasure in us when we endure persecution for his sake. Like the great apostle Paul, our commitment should always be to pleasing God above all else. And for this reason, was why:
- Festus, the Roman procurator of Judea, called the apostle Paul a mad man.
- The pope said of Martin Luther that he ought to be in an insane asylum (Bedlam).
- The Roman emperor Julian the Apostate called Bishop Athanasius an “enemy of gods, wicked, and a clever rascal.”
- John Wesley was beaten and robbed by a street mob and ridiculed in the press because he preached the gospel of Jesus Christ.
- William Booth, the founder of the Salvation Army, was ridiculed and called insane, and the people who joined the movement were attacked and beaten.
Anger is a normal emotion that people experience from time to time, and leaders are not immune to it, especially when under attack. As a friend once told me, “Only two kinds of people never get angry-the physically dead and the emotionally dead.” Those who follow the leadership style of Jesus will direct their anger only toward the things that anger God (such as sin and injustice); will keep their anger under control and not let anger control them; will not use anger as an excuse to hurt others with harmful actions or cruel remarks; will not let anger turn to bitterness and hate.
Abraham Lincoln once said, “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” In leadership context, I define power as the “the ability to influence, inspire, or induce behaviour in others.” If we’re too strong in ourselves, the LORD can’t use us. That’s what ruined King Uzziah, “for he was greatly helped until he became powerful” (2 Chron. 26:15). God often call people who feel inadequate and unprepared. The power of God enables us to stand firm in faith, and the strength of God will sustain us in the stormy days ahead. In the old testament, the people God chose as leaders invariably achieved far more than they ever thought possible.
“In the book of Exodus, God called Moses to lead his people out of slavery in Egypt. In his first conversation with God, Moses was full of excuses for why he was not ready to lead. He said the people wouldn’t listen to him and wouldn’t believe him. In reply, God gave Moses the power to do miracles that would convince the people. Then Moses protested, “Oh, my Lord, I am not eloquent… I am slow to speech and of tongue.” God replied that he, the sovereign Lord who had invented man’s mouth, would give Moses the words to say. Finally, Moses ran out of excuses and simply begged God, “Oh, my Lord, please send someone else.” But God overcame all the objections and excuses of Moses, sent him into the presence of Pharaoh, and turned a reluctant man into one of the greatest leaders of all time (see Exodus 3:1-4:17)” – Dr. Michael Youssef
When you are sold out to Jesus Christ, you do not run away from crises or the arena in which God has placed you, your life and your reputation is not important, the gospel is! Thou Art Royal, Therefore Endure! The whole concept of persistence is not necessarily or only a Christian concept. In fact, I heard about this politician who was so committed to his cause so much so that he said, “I expect to fight this proposition until hell freezes over,” and added, “then I propose to start fighting on ice.”
In 1787, a British political leader named William Wilberforce gave his life to Christ. His conversion turned a spoiled, hedonistic, hard-drinking young gambler into a devout reformer. He led the movement to abolish the slave trade in the British Empire. It was a long and discouraging political battle with many setbacks. After over a decade of fighting valiantly to end slavery without success, he felt discouraged and defeated. While Wilberforce looked to his Bible for comfort and strength, a sheet of paper fell out as he opened it- a letter he had tucked into those pages years before. It was a letter from evangelist John Wesley. The great preacher had penned them with his ebbing strength as he lay on his deathbed, just six days before his death. The following is a snap from the letter:
“Unless God has raised you up for this very thing, you will be worn out by the opposition of men and devils. But if God be for you, who can be against you? Are all of them stronger than God? O be not weary of well-doing! Go on, in the name of God and in the power of His might, till even American slavery (the vilest that ever saw the sun) shall vanish away before it….”
Those words written years earlier with John Wesley’s last ounces of strength gave Wilberforce the power to go on on the long and tortuous journey to his goal. William Wilberforce lived to see the achievement of his dream after spending the last forty-six years of his life in the pursuit of it. As if God was saying to him, “Well done my child, the work on earth is done,” William Wilberforce died three days after hearing (in 1833) that parliament finally passed the slavery abolition act, which ended slavery throughout the British empire.