Leading people in the name of Jesus is complex, demanding great wisdom and discernment. I have dedicated my adult life to the study of leadership. I have written books on leadership, read innumerable books on the topic, and attended more than my share of leadership conferences. But for the last 18 months, I have been meditating on the radical leadership of Jesus in Matthew’s gospel. It has shaken me. The Holy Spirit has challenged me to honestly look at the Western church model of leadership that lives in me more than I care to admit (i.e., bigger, better, more, faster), and invited me to drink more deeply of Jesus’ life and radical leadership.
The Radical Leadership of Jesus
I have summarized my learnings into five lessons for your reflection and prayer:
- Jesus rejected the powerful ministries presented by Satan—the sensational, the spectacular and the speedy. Jesus chose the low road of suffering and the cross. He did not storm Israel by messianic force. He refused to flaunt his power or knowledge to “show people” who is the Lord. Instead he knocked quietly at Israel’s door—little by little. In fact, Jesus deplored religion that did show business, preferring to do his work quietly, inconspicuously and in a measured fashion—unlike the false Messiahs of his day. He often withdrew or commanded people to silence, seeking to be hidden and not looking to be well-known. Lord, grant me grace to reject the temptations of going fast and big.
- Jesus purposefully chose a path of humility. Jesus chose to be born in a manger and to live in obscurity in Nazareth (i.e., no-wheresville). His first miracle was a miracle of humility as he joined us in the human race in the deep waters of repentance at the hand of John the Baptist. In fact, the center of his ministry took place in the backwoods of Galilee (“the sticks”) and not strategically in Jerusalem. Lord, help me choose humility today.
- Jesus discipled only a few people, and they were not persons of great influence. Jesus did not go after celebrities, influential people or worldly leaders, but sided with those without power and status, those at the bottom rungs of society. Unimpressive people impressed him. He gently saved failures and little people at society’s margin, treating them with special respect. Jesus raised little people to bigness, insignificant people to a new significance, and poor people to a very rich life. Lord, teach me to not look at the outward appearance but to look at the heart as you do (1 Sam.16:7).
- Jesus lived free of other people’s expectations and judgments. Jesus lacked formal rabbinical education. His followers were suspect and his teachings were often offensive. His lifestyle was considered insufficiently radical. He didn’t fast enough. He ate and drank everything. He spent time with the wrong people. He didn’t appear “spiritual” or serious like John the Baptist. Father, give me the courage to follow you and not be sidetracked by any negative opinions from those around me.
- Jesus showed us that the world’s definition of success is not God’s. Jesus was content in appearing to be a failure. He did not do much to change the basic structural problems in Israel during his three-year ministry. The Pharisees/Sadducees still controlled the Temple and religious life. Herod still remained on the throne. And John the Baptist still remained in prison. Jesus seemed to run more of an ‘ambulance’ ministry (picking up the crushed victims of evil structures) than actually attack the political or economic powers head-on. He ended his life rejected and hated. Yet he thanked God regardless, trusting in his un-frustrated Father who was completely in control (Matt. 11:25-26). He redefined success as completing the unique work God had given him to do. Lord, help me to be a success by doing your will and trusting you with the rest.
As you reflect on these lessons, what new hopes or possibilities begin to open up for you?
P.S. Jesus constantly called people to the totality of discipleship (“Let the dead bury their own dead”), refusing to accept a half-repentance, a semi-serious commitment or a decrease in zeal for his kingdom. Let me invite you to get training to bring a discipleship to your church that deeply changes people’s lives and provides the foundation for living out the radical leadership lessons of Jesus.
This article about the radical leadership of Jesus originally appeared here.