In his first inaugural address, President George W. Bush cited four basic principles as the basis of his incoming administration: civility, courage, compassion and character. He urged that “every child must be taught these principles [and that] every citizen must uphold them” (Bush). His leadership showed an attempt to put those four principles to work with all of his decisions. Although not all of his decisions turned out to be successful, what has emerged in the years since his presidency is that he has a love for his country that informed his choices. Leadership is a difficult art to master, because it involves so little of the exercise of authority. The ultimate example of leadership, of course, is Jesus Christ, who came to earth to show us the way to salvation. He understood that having the right goals, motivation, methods and leadership principles is crucial to developing the sort of following that will stand the test of time. Not all those who met Jesus ended up following him, but many did, and the fact that the Way that he taught is still a powerful force for good in the world shows how effective his leadership turned out to be. These four elements of leadership are a must for anyone who would dare to lead others.
Knowing your motivation is also crucial as a leader. Before Jesus began his adult ministry, the Spirit took him into the desert for testing by the devil. First, though, he had to fast for 40 days. The purpose for this was to make him even more vulnerable to the wiles of the devil, because all of his human needs would have been at their most poignant. Predictably, when the tempter comes, the first thing he does is to say, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread” (Matthew 4:3 NIV). Jesus responded that man’s true sustenance is the Word of God, rather than bread. It is worth asking whether or not this would have been sin, because Jesus would later turn water into wine when the wine at the wedding started to run out. The point here is that by turning rocks into bread, Jesus would have been sustaining himself on something other than what God had provided for him. Jesus’ motivation is to serve God the Father; any other motivation would have been blasphemous. To be motivated by physical hunger would have led him in a false direction. The second temptation (to throw himself off the top of the temple) would have been one of pride of place. Jesus’ motivation was to show people how to lead by serving, through the example of washing feet, among other acts. The last temptation is the most desperate, as the devil offers him dominion over the lands of the world. Jesus does not respond that he already rules them; rather, he said that he is to “worship the Lordand serve him only” (Matthew 4:10 NIV). His motivation is clear and unwavering.
Jesus’ methodology involved picking a small cadre to teach and empower as future leaders. Mark 3:14 reads, “He appointed twelve that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach” (NIV). He spent just about all of his time during his ministry with these twelve. While one of them ended up betraying him, the rest all carried his word forward. Interestingly, he taught them in parables rather than in direct instruction with principles. The purpose of this was to have them understand his teachings on a deeper level. Even though this understanding took longer, it appears to have taken root more deeply than it might have otherwise.
There are three principles of leadership that Jesus embraced. The first was meditation; at several points in the New Testament, the Scriptures refer to Jesus leaving and going off to a solitary spot to pray. Listening to God the Father was important for another member of the Trinity. This means that it is even more important for the rest of Jesus’ followers to do, if we are to be leaders who follow his example. A second principle was concentration. In Luke 9:51, it says that “As the time drew near for his return to heaven, he moved steadily toward Jerusalem with an iron will” (NIV). He was focused on the importance of his mission, and there was nothing that would divert him one way or another. Even his suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane, which showed the intense conflict within him, did not allow him to turn away from his purpose. Finally, the third principle is relaxation. That might seem at odds with concentration, but people are not built to concentrate 24/7. Leading is difficult work, and everyone needs some time off now and then. In Mark 6, the disciples noticed how exhausted his disciples were, and so he took them away to find some rest. They returned recharged to carry out the mission further.
There is no better model for leadership than the Leader who wants to show all of us the way to eternal life with him. The methods and principles that Jesus used as a leader to gather his disciples together and mold them have been shown over time to have been effective. What was a ragtag group of believers quickly grew after the ascension of Jesus. Most religious movements like the Way have foundered once the original leader is no longer a part of the movement. While God’s agency has continued to work within Christianity through the ministry of the Holy Spirit, there has been no visible representative of God to lead the movement forward. Instead, it has been the work of the Holy Spirit through human leaders that has brought the church to its present place. Those who would take up the challenge of leading others would do well to take a look at the methods that Jesus used to lead and motivate others. By staying true to your goals, remembering your true motivation, and consistently using the right methods and principles, it is possible for anyone to become a leader whom others trust. Remembering that service is the foundation of all true leadership is an important element to remember. After all, the service that Jesus did for his disciples and for humanity eclipses any authority he might have exercised while in leadership.
Bush, George W. “First Inaugural Address.” http://www.bartleby.com/124/pres66.html
The New International Version. Nashville: Zondervan, 1982.