Schools are soon in session and fall small groups are preparing to launch. In classrooms across the country, people will step into leadership roles—some for the first time, others having served so many times they’ve lost count.
You may not be a school teacher or a Bible study leader, but you are a leader in some area of your life. Maybe you’re a parent or grandparent. Maybe you’re a friend or mentor to men or women in your church or community. You may not think of yourself as a leader, but we each lead others by word and deed, and we can learn from Christ’s example of leadership during his time on earth.
Looking at the life of Christ and how he interacted with his disciples, we find two important elements of great leadership.
Great Leaders Submit to God
Decisive leaders are convincing. Many are self-confident and charismatic, trusting their own instincts and doing what seems best to them.
In the Old Testament, King Saul was a decisive leader to his own peril: charismatic, good-looking, and trusting his own wisdom. In 1 Samuel 13, Saul was in a bind. He did not have the authority to act as a priest and offer a sacrifice, but the people were starting to scatter. So Saul took matters into his own hands and did what seemed right to him. In the absence of a priest, this king took it upon himself to offer the sacrifice.
And it cost him. When Samuel finally arrived and saw what Saul had done, he rebuked him.
And Samuel said to Saul, “You have done foolishly. You have not kept the command of the Lord your God, with which he commanded you. For then the Lord would have established your kingdom over Israel forever. But now your kingdom shall not continue. The Lord has sought out a man after his own heart, and the Lord has commanded him to be prince over his people, because you have not kept what the Lord commanded you.” (1 Samuel 13:13-14)
Unlike the leaders admired by the world, Christ’s leadership is marked by his submission to God. Though he himself was God in the flesh, Jesus submitted to God the Father and did nothing that was outside of God’s will.
Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works. (John 14:10)
Saul’s unwillingness to submit to God’s authority cost him his throne. Christ’s submission to God’s authority established his throne forever.
How is your leadership characterized? Do you make decisions like Saul, based on what seems right at the time? Or do you stop and submit to God’s authority in your life first?
Great Leaders Invest in Others
When people ask me how I’m doing, I’m trying to break the habit of answering, “Busy.” The many demands of work, family, and ministry tug at my time. Being a task-oriented person, I can let my to-do list drive my decisions and forget that I’m surrounded by people.
Jesus was busy. So busy, in fact, that we don’t have a complete record of everything he accomplished.
Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written. (John 21:25)
We get a glimpse of Christ’s busy ministry in Matthew. Chapter 4 ends with Jesus actively teaching in the synagogues and “healing every disease and every affliction.” His fame grew, and with it the crowds. The work was endless as the crowds followed him from town to town.
If I’m faced with an overwhelming work load, I’m tempted to forego rest and work as fast as I can. But the danger of getting buried in work is that I can ignore the people closest to me and let relationships wither.
Jesus handled work differently. In spite of the many, many tasks that faced him, he invested in others. He took the time to sit:
Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him. And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying: Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:1-3)
Jesus didn’t allow his ministry to the masses to prevent him from ministering to the 12. We never get the sense that Jesus was harried or overwhelmed. He didn’t short-change his disciples; instead, he sat with his disciples on the mountain and taught them.
Great Leaders Love God and Love Others
These two qualities of great leadership are completely consistent with Jesus’ message to love God and love others.
“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:36-40)
By submitting to God’s authority in our lives, we demonstrate a love for God. And by investing in the lives of those around us, we demonstrate a love for our neighbors.
With or without formal leadership roles, we each have a circle of influence. As we mentor our children, families, participants in our church groups, colleagues at work, or friends in our communities, we can follow Jesus’ example by being leaders who submit to God and invest in others.