Through this series we have learned what it looks like for us to follow Jesus. We have learned that we don’t have to be perfect to follow Jesus and that we can take small steps forward in our faith. We learned the importance of having courage as well as compassion and that we can’t hold on to our own will and our own ambition when they conflict with God’s will and desire for our lives. On Sunday we learned that we will always follow someone or something so if it is not going to be Jesus then whom is it going to be? Is there anyone or anything better than Jesus to follow?
Tonight we are going to talk about leadership because following Jesus means that we will all be leaders. Think about it, if we are following Jesus then Jesus is a leader and if we are going to be like Jesus then we will also need to be leaders. There is no getting around the idea that in some way we are called to be leaders so the question becomes what kind of leader does God want us to be? To answer this we need to ask ourselves what kind of leader was Jesus? While there are several places we could turn in Jesus’ life to answer this, the most powerful message Jesus ever gave on leadership was given on the night we remember tonight, the night of his last supper and the night before his crucifixion.
It was not a coincidence that Jesus saved this message on leadership until the end because Jesus knew that his final night would be remembered in very special ways. First of all, it was the Passover and it was being celebrated in Jerusalem with Jesus as the host. All of this means it was a very special night that would be remembered by the disciples much the way we remember those Easter or Christmas dinners celebrated at our Grandparents’ house. But it was also the final night of Jesus life and while the disciples didn’t know this, after Jesus was gone they surely would have gone over every moment of their final hours together. That’s what we do when someone dies, we go back over the final moments and days we have with them trying to remember and capture every thought, word and action. Jesus knew this was going to be a night the disciples would remember so he chose this moment to give them a lesson on leadership.
Jesus not only knew his days were coming to an end but he knew his disciples were going to be the ones to carry on God’s work. Think of it this way, Jesus had built the church and was now passing off the ministry to the leaders he has raised up. Continuing the work of God was now being placed in the hands of these men. There was no other plan and while there would be other leaders in the days and years to come – it was all going to depend on the leadership and faithfulness of these men. It all comes to down this moment so instead of lecturing the disciples, Jesus demonstrates to them what great leadership is all about.
As they gather at the house for the Passover meal there is no servant to do the very unpleasant task of washing feet. This would not be a pleasant job today, but think about how much more unpleasant it would have been in those days. This was a job given to the lowest of the household servants but on this night there was no one to do the job and none of the disciples wanted to lower themselves to do it, so it was Jesus who took off his outer garments, wrapped a towel around his waist, poured water in a basin and began washing the feet of his disciples. Jesus made sure they understood that this was not just an act of hospitality but an example of leadership by telling them they needed to do the same thing, John 13:14-17.
This is an example, Jesus says. Do for others as I have done for you Even if you are a Lord and Teacher – a Leader –we are still called to serve one another. With this act and teaching, Jesus turns the idea of leadership on its head and says that leading great isn’t claiming authority and power so that others serve us but using our authority and power to serve others. This is clearly a counter-cultural example of leadership today because many of the leaders we see are people who leverage their power and position for their own benefit. Whether it is in business, politics, sports or entertainment, many of the leaders we see in the world use their leadership to enhance their own position. They leverage their authority to get people to serve them, but this is nothing new, the same was true in Jesus day.
The disciples also struggled with this example of leadership and we know this because after Jesus washed their disciples feet and after he served them the Passover meal where he specifically talked about giving himself to them as broken bread and poured out wine, Jesus and his disciples made their way to the Garden of Gethsemane and along the way they begin to argue about greatness and leadership. Luke 22:24-27.
After all that Jesus had done to try and teach them that leading great was done by serving and giving yourself away for others, the disciples still didn’t get it. They were arguing about who was going to be the greatest and who was going to have positions of power and who could use their authority to get an advantage over someone else. The leadership model of Jesus was not sinking in because it was not the way of the world. Even in the days of Jesus, this was not the way people thought about leadership. The disciples saw leadership as the way to get what they wanted, but for Jesus – leadership was serving and giving on the way to fulfilling God’s mission.
So again, we are the followers of Jesus who are also leaders and tonight the lesson on leadership is for us. From washing feet to serving a meal to pouring ourselves out for others – Jesus is calling us to follow him in service. Instead of using our position as leaders to enhance our own lives, we are begin called to use whatever position we have to serve others and to complete the mission of God. We need to think about what is good for God’s kingdom and live in a way that lifts up Jesus and others. Leadership as a follower of Jesus is always looking to serve and not just be served.
In every area of life, this is something we need to remember. In our families we need to be a leader that puts the needs of our spouse and children and parents before our own. Wherever we work we are called as followers of Jesus to put the interest of our co-workers and customers and maybe the business before our own. In the community and in the church we are to care for the needs of others and be willing to serve others before we have others serve us.
This kind of leadership is counter cultural and counter intuitive – meaning that we really don’t think it will work. We think that if we give everything away, it won’t be long before we don’t have a business. If we are standing here holding the door open for others all day long – then we aren’t getting anything else done – we aren’t leading in other areas or accomplishing the fullness of God’s mission. While it is easy to think that this kind of leadership isn’t effective, the truth is that leading great as a servant is the path to great leadership not only for the church or the kingdom of God but it is leadership that has been proven to work in this world.
Jim Collins is a business consultant and researcher who has written extensively on leadership and in his book Good to Great he talks about the kind of outstanding leadership needed to make a good company great. At first, Jim didn’t want his research to consider leadership at all in a company’s growth because his assumption was that all great companies were going to have strong charismatic leaders, but in time he realized they had to consider the qualities of the leader and so they explored what kind of leaders ran these companies. What they discovered was something startling and important. In all of the companies that moved from good to great, the leaders shared a common trait and it wasn’t charisma, it was humility. None of these great leaders placed their own needs above their organization; instead they placed the needs of others and the needs of the organization above their own.
Level 5 leaders embody a paradoxical mix of personal humility and professional will. They are ambitious, to be sure, but ambitious first and foremost for the company, not themselves. (Jim Collins, Good to Great)
Couldn’t this be said about Jesus on his last night with the disciples? He was ambitious to be sure – he was the Son of God, who was going to take on the sin of the world and overcome Satan and defeat death through his own death on the cross. He was ambitions, but his ambition wasn’t for his own personal well being but the good of God’s mission and the people of the world. Jesus wasn’t thinking about himself that night. He wasn’t thinking about what he as the leader, the Messiah or the Son of God or even the host of the Passover meal, deserved to get – he was thinking about what he could give and do for others. Instead of leveraging his position for his own advantage, Jesus humbled himself and placed the needs of his disciples before his own and washed their feet. Then Jesus placed the needs of his organization – his church – before his own and carried a cross, defeated sin and conquered death. Jesus was a leader and his leadership was effective and it is the example for us to follow.
If we are going to follow Jesus then this is how we need to lead, by serving. We aren’t going to be able to do everything for everyone in every situation, but we can do something and so the simple question that can change our leadership and change our lives is this: What can I do to help? What one thing can I do to help in any given situation? At work, what is one thing I can do to help a coworker or help the business? What’s the one thing I can do at home to help strengthen a relationship, help my children or help my parents? What’s the one thing I can do to help a neighbor, help a friend, help the church? If we are always willing to ask that question, we will begin to change our culture as well as our own lives. So instead of seeking to leverage our position to get what we want, we need to leverage our position to help others.
As I close, let me remind all of us that one thing we can do is ask ourselves what can I do to serve our seniors on April 23? If you are not signed up to help that day, this is a good question to ask yourself and tonight is a good night to sign up.
We follow Jesus because he is a leader and he shows us that our leading great isn’t seeking to be served but being willing to serve.
FOLLOW ~ Leading Great
1. What leader has had a big influence in your life? What about their leadership made them so special?
2. Great leaders ask and respond to the question, What can I do to help? How does this question change your view of leadership?
3. To whom and in what situations can you ask the question: What can I do to help? Is there someone you can help before Easter? Are you signed up to help through Serving Our Seniors on April 23?
4. For further study on good leadership, read Good to Great by Jim Collins and explore more of what it means to be a Level 5 leader. (This book is available in the church library)
5. Set aside August 11-12 and learn more about how to be a good leader by attending the Global Leadership Summit.