“When the real leader speaks, people listen” is a quote found in leadership manuals. When it comes to our Lord Jesus Christ, He epitomized this role as a leader. His authority was apparent to all and was revealed to us, in particular, in His three-year ministry.
What were some key elements in His leadership role that can be an inspiration for believers to apply to our own lives? As a leader, the Lord Jesus was unique. He was “God manifest in the flesh,” but arose out of humble beginnings. He emerges from the pages of Scripture early in the Gospel accounts drawing men and women unto Himself in a seemingly effortless way. He did not have to learn leadership “techniques” or apply the latest psychological trends to draw followers after Him. He was the perfect leader, and what we can learn from His life in the sphere of leadership (not restricted just to elders) is at the heart of this article. Not all believers can be leaders, but there are characteristics and skills of leaders that can be learned by those who are considering a leadership role. For the Christian, what better example to consider than the Lord Jesus Himself?
The Lord’s life, although that of a leader, was that of service. He stated, “Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mat 20:28). Service is the true basis of Christian leadership. Most strong leaders today are those that have “risen” through the ranks. A CEO of a factory who “has worked himself up” from the factory floor will generally have more respect, credibility and loyalty from those workers than an individual parachuted in from another company to be the leader. The Lord had humble, earthly beginnings. He was the son of a carpenter and worked in that trade Himself. He shared in all the trials of the small band He was leading, and His service was symbolized in that profound example when He washed the disciples’ feet. A true leader has to be engaged with those he is leading. It is only by sharing the good and the bad together and truly listening to those that are being led that the group will be motivated to accomplish the necessary goals in harmony with the leader.
In the real world, leadership needs to be earned. The Lord did not have to do this but, in the same fashion that He “stooped” into humanity, His actions clearly described this important principle. It has been said, “Before a person buys into a vision, the person must buy into the leader.” “Buying into” a leader is dependent upon a combination of the leader’s character, trust, credibility, competence, past performance, passion and enthusiasm. To be an effective leader requires possession in some degree of most, if not all, of these characteristics. The Lord demonstrated all of these qualities and other important leadership traits, such as patience, kindness and humility, and was never envious or striving. His love was sacrificial. The leader has to be worthy to lead.
Furthermore, the Lord attracted people because He “connected” with people. He was unveiling scriptural truth in a different way than the Old Testament writers and prophets. He did so by first attracting the heart and then the mind. He was attentive to the needs of every individual that He met and tailored His approach to suit that need. How are you with getting along and engaging with people? How are you with taking on the role of a servant? These are essential qualities of a Christian leader.
When the Lord Jesus stepped into humanity, He had one overriding goal in mind. We read that “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1Ti 1:15). In other words, this was the great goal He had in mind; He had the endpoint in view. He recognized that in a few short years from the beginning of His ministry, He would be crucified (and raised again from the dead) to become the salvation for all who believed.
In like manner, as a leader you must have goals for your sphere of influence or have goals for any project you hope to accomplish. What are you trying to lead other believers to accomplish? Importantly, the fellow believers you desire to lead also need to know your goal. Whether great or small, the endpoint is what motivates us to engage in any task for God. If you cannot be excited by a goal or have a passion for it, it is unlikely that you will draw anybody to join you on your quest. What is your goal? There are so many needs in the assembly. Is there anything that can motivate you to “launch out” and accomplish something of value for the Lord? What about your passion? “Where there is a fire, people run to see it!” Passion is a key element that draws people to a leader but the leader must start with the goal. In addition, an effective leader will use the goal as a motivating factor for those fellow believers to help accomplish the goal.
After we consider the Lord’s overriding goal, we can see that all of His actions recorded in the Gospel accounts were in view of His goal. He had a “map.” Leaders have to be aware of where they are leading others, and although we cannot really know the end from the beginning, a successful leader must determine the means to get to the goal. Effective leadership involves “charting the course” besides “steering the ship.” We can see throughout the Lord’s ministry how He navigated the course for the small band that followed Him. He was aware of the disciples’ spiritual development, and the unveiling of His purposes was done in a deliberate manner. John 11 is an example of the Lord deliberately waiting for the death of Lazarus in order to best suit the unfolding of truth and His plan. Likewise, a successful leader needs a good sense of timing. There should be a sense of how and when to unfold things to those who follow. A leader needs to be able to think ahead to discern the wisest path and how to deal with the challenges that will inevitably arise. This road map may not be clear to those helping you, depending on the complexity of what you hope to achieve, but in order to be a good leader you need to have clarity in the path you plan to take.
In addition to having a good sense of timing, an effective leader must also have an understanding of momentum. A successful leader will sense that this intangible factor is an important tool for progress toward his vision. In Luke 13:32, the Lord states, “I do cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I shall be perfected.” There was a sense of flow, or momentum, in the Lord’s ministry that led to His goal. A leader is often impeded by challenges but will seek all means not to lose momentum toward the goal.
Also, to succeed, the leader needs to have a determination to accomplish the tasks to reach his goals. This determination can be a motivating factor for all those he is leading. We read how the Lord “steadfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem” (Luk 9:51). Progress toward any goal usually involves overcoming challenges. There are numerous examples where determination played a vital role for leaders to accomplish their goal.
Leadership also requires embracing a process rather than working through a sequence of events. The disciples were always very keen on what would happen next, asking questions like, “How can a man satisfy these men with bread here in the wilderness?” or, “What shall be the sign of thy coming?” or, “When will the kingdom be restored?” These events were important, but the Lord had a parallel and more important goal of seeing His disciples develop and mature, preparing them for the time when He would no longer be with them. Christian leaders need to recognize, unlike their counterparts in the world, that any development toward a goal must also take into account the spiritual development of the fellow believers who are helping to realize the goal.
As a leader gains more responsibility in a certain sphere, often an “inner circle” is required. An effective leader recognizes the skills in others that would be essential for strong leadership and will gather those who have the requisite skills that may be lacking in the leader. Also, it is a way for a leader to mentor others in leadership skills. As we know, the Lord Jesus had no “weaknesses” but still saw it important to draw Peter, James and John into His inner circle. He knew how to delegate responsibility and, in this way, mentored others in leadership skills. These disciples went on to develop sound leadership skills that were imperative in the growing Christian Church.
Finally, there is a cost to leadership. If you have a vision for some work for the Lord, it will involve sacrifice. Are you prepared to spend the time on the intended goal and accept the possible impact on your secular work or leisure time? Being a leader may also be a lonely experience and, depending on the extent of your exercise and the number of fellow believers needed to achieve your vision, your responsibilities and time commitment will increase as you progress toward your goal.
In conclusion, there is a growing need for leadership in Christian service. There are so many spheres of service available but a real lack of “champions” to lead. How about you? Do you have a goal? Do you see a sphere of service in your assembly that is currently unfilled? As you consider the leadership qualities of the Lord Jesus, may our God empower you and lead you in service to Him.
 Bible quotations in this article are from the KJV.