Where has God put you in a position to lead? Wherever your responsibilities include the oversight or direction of others, you will find yourself in a unique position of dependence on Jesus as you respond to challenges and look to leverage your role for his kingdom. Leadership is an opportunity to serve others as Jesus has served us, and to reflect his heart in some unique ways. As you look ahead to 2020 and think about how you want to grow as a leader, consider how Jesus’s model of leadership should shape your own outlook and practices.
Two Key Attitudes
Good leadership is not a position or title, but a set of skills and behaviors that anyone can practice. There are two aspects of Jesus’s leadership that empower all those in positions of management or influence. The first aspect is stewardship. A steward acts on the values of the person or institution he serves—to set aside his own desires and to act on the wishes of another. Jesus models for us the essential quality of setting aside our own wants and desires to act on behalf of those who empower us (John 6:38). Jesus has entrusted us to be his stewards—those who represent and serve in his absence (Matthew 25: 14–30). Our positions of influence are a trust from God, given to us to manage faithfully for his glory. This will then directly shape and motivate the way we honor the companies, bosses, ministries, and families we serve.
Correspondingly in his earthly ministry, Jesus models a second related aspect of leadership for us—that of servanthood—to love and serve our neighbor rather than ourselves. Jesus points out clearly in Mark 10:45 that he came not to be served, but to serve. Likewise in Philippians 2:5–9 we see the ultimate example of Jesus’s servant leadership, detailed in the following way:
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.Philippians 2:5–9
This is the preeminent form of leading by example. This humility and submission to the Father is the heart behind what we are called to imitate as leaders. Not seeking personal gain at others’ expense, not dominating in order to take advantage of others, and not chasing an agenda of making a great name for ourselves.
Be Prepared to Face Brokenness—Your Own and Others’
Left to our own devices, this self-centered, God-forsaken inversion will be our response to leadership opportunities. Although we are naturally bent towards self-glorification, the good news of Jesus beckons us to lead like our humble king. Though our hearts and lives have been renewed by his work on the cross, we will confront a continuing desire to serve and love ourselves first and to crave praise, power, and influence outside of God’s purposes. These are the very enticements that we are called to turn from daily.
Likewise, we can expect to experience resistance to our leadership efforts. The friction we encounter comes from the same root as our own internal battles. Sin has bent and misshaped not only individual hearts around us but even the institutional frameworks of the world. During his time here on earth, Jesus encountered opposition at every turn, at both individual and corporate levels. He was misunderstood, misquoted, disbelieved, discredited, mocked, and frequently rejected. As we seek to follow in our Savior’s footsteps, why would we think our experience would be any different? Even in the middle of these trials, we are told to rely on his strength to continue pressing forward faithfully, remembering the ultimate victory he has won over the sin and brokenness we face daily. Hebrews 12:1b–3 reminds us not to give in to discouragement:
[L]et us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.Hebrews 12:1b–3
Revelation 21 and 22 shows this reality come to fruition in the new heavens and new earth—a glimpse of the Lamb dwelling among, fellowshipping with, and leading alongside his people. They serve and worship him with great joy because he served them first. Until that day, the proclamation of God’s rule has been entrusted to and mediated by us as his servants—he calls us to go in his name, to serve all those we encounter with the faith given to us by God, in his power and strength.
The victory message of the gospel—the good news embedded in Jesus’s death, burial, and resurrection—urges us to take heart in the reality that God is present and has entered into our daily life to empower us as redemptive agents. As coheirs in Christ’s coming kingdom we’re called to act as Jesus would—to provide pictures of renewal by creating environments where others are educated, celebrated, built up, cared for, and watched over. We are also called to freely give others leadership opportunities—chances to develop their own gifts and to likewise steward their own areas of kingdom work.
Gospel-centered leadership doesn’t rest on a single great act or even in our transformed character, but more so in Christ’s presence with us and how we reflect his character day in and day out. As leaders, all we do reflects a commitment to serve God by serving those we are responsible for—and those we are responsible to—over and above ourselves. It is about the care and betterment of those above, below and next to us, with the power and strength that flow from a relationship with Christ.
In this new year, consider how Christ’s presence helps avoid the temptation to serve yourself and instead serve him as King of Kings when serving those around you with his great love.