A leader is sometimes equated with someone being the best, the first, or the biggest. The best teams will have the best players and the best coaches. If you finish first in sales or competitions, you’re awarded leadership accolades. If your church or business is the biggest in its field or community, proponents will credit great leadership.
But Jesus refused to lead that way. In fact, he often took a path in leadership that was quite the opposite of what you might think. Three essential characteristics that made Jesus the best spiritual leader were his servant heart, his humility, and his godly motivation.
His Servant Heart
Jesus took the route of service. One Gospel writer records:
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)
Jesus helps his disciples understand that the way to lead is not the way the world leads—which tells you to sacrifice whatever it takes to climb the ladder. The disciples wanted to be great; he chastised them to be lowly. They wanted the way up; he pointed them down. But Jesus trained his disciples to understand that this style was not how he was going to lead. In turn, he called them to mimic his example.
He put on a self-disclosed messianic name-tag (Son of Man) and declared he was going to die. They rejected this idea because they did not know what they did not know. They wanted a president; he was going to be a savior. They wanted him to live and rule with earthly power; he was going to die and build his church with divine power.
Paul writes something similar about Jesus’ servant heart in the epistle to the Philippians. Writing to Christians, he wanted to encourage their hearts and minds and encourage an attitude that embraces service:
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. (Philippians 3:3-5)
Philippians 3:6-11 goes on to describe the great humility Christ demonstrated when he set aside his divine attributes to serve humanity by dying for its sin. This was the most significant act in history, flowing from a servant’s heart—and the fuel that drives a servant’s heart is godly motivation.
His Godly Motivation
What would motivate the Creator of the universe to step into his chaotic creation? Have you ever wondered why God did what he did in the story of redemption? Why would the most exceptional leader in history show himself and proclaim his message at a specific point in time? What was the motivation?
The Bible clearly indicates the motive was love (John 3:16). Love is a good and godly motivation. Paul says:
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. (1 Corinthians 13:4-8a)
Does this explanation describe the leadership you exhibit? Do you find yourself at odds with specifics in these declarations? We have hope as leaders when we know Jesus never whiffed in his leadership. He modeled love throughout his life.
In fact, Jesus himself said to his disciples, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). Love was going to be the great identifying mark of a spiritual leader.
But the spiritual leader knows this love can only be achieved by the right, godly motivation. Part of having godly motivation means that you understand there are real eternal consequences for people who do not trust in Jesus as Lord––in other words, justice.
Jesus is motivated by justice and holiness as much as he was motivated by love and mercy. Jesus did not compromise either one:
Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. (Revelation 19:11)
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)
We can reflect on these verses as we seek to uphold both love and justice in our leadership.
Look to Jesus as You Lead
The Son of Man had a humble heart, and the life he lived was driven by divine motivation. We can learn a lot about leadership from reading about Jesus. In the environments God has placed you, how will you let the gospel humble you? How will you let it puncture your motivations so they can be exposed for what they are? Follow the great leadership example of Jesus and allow his Spirit to shape the characteristics of your own.