Wineskins Archive

December 21, 2013

The Jesus Way of Leadership (Nov 1996 – Mar 1997)

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by Rubel Shelly
November, 1996 – March, 1997

25Everyone knows how desperately we need effective leaders—in business, education, churches, and families. Yet many people who are cast in a leadership role and who want to function well have a hard time understanding how to get the job done. Whether shop manager, school teacher, committee member, parent, or elder, there are some common qualities to leadership that should be kept in mind.

The perfect model for each of these five qualities is Jesus Christ. As we lead—and a “leader” is anyone who exerts kingdom influence in any setting—our goal should be to incorporate these same traits in our lives. Ask the Holy Spirit to direct your life with these characteristics at work, with your family, and in your spiritual life. The impact will be immediate and helpful to all concerned. People will see Jesus in you, and his gentle presence will touch them through you.


Leaders know their mission and can articulate it. A vision of things as they could be moves them into the future with confidence and guides them in setting priorities. Their ability to concentrate on the heart of things allows them to keep both their own and others’ energy moving toward a target. Ask a real leader “What are the mission and goals here?” and there will be no sputtering for an answer. The leader’s first job is to be the trumpet that gives a clear and certain sound.

“My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work” (John 4:34). The specific goals to accomplish that mission had been agreed upon between him and the full godhead, were executed in relation to the two great commandments of biblical religion, and were communicated by both word and example to his followers.


Because they are focused and know their priorities, leaders are decisive. They avoid being seduced by irrelevant or trivial matters for the simple reason that they know those things won’t achieve their goals. They refuse to run from difficult decisions and can take risks when necessary. Because they are anchored to strong principles, they do not stall themselves and their followers with indecision.

Some church leaders confuse being authoritarian (i.e., austere and inflexible) with being authoritative (i.e., positive and resolute). The former is much easier, for it refuses to allow people to grow to maturity at a pace the Holy Spirit sets and requires only that they conform to the prevailing consensus of human leaders.

Jesus repudiated the severe, uncharitable leadership styles of the world. Both for himself and those he calls to leadership from among his people, Jesus pledged leadership by gentleness, service, and redemptive love (cf. Matthew 20:25-28). When the tones are strident and the judgments uncharitable, his pledge is being violated.


Leaders know they must have the trust of those who are looking to them, so they prove themselves worthy to lead by acting with integrity. Leaders look in the mirror of personal accountability every morning. They ask no one to do things they are unwilling to do themselves. They are known for doing more than their share.

Insecure people are defensive of their position and power. They set about to manipulate others. They are not above trying to intimidate. Jesus, by contrast, was secure enough to take the servant’s position without embarrassment. He washed feet, encouraged, and shielded his disciples from many of the consequences of their own immaturity (John 13:1ff; James 5:19-20).


A true leader doesn’t ask “What do I want from this?” but “What needs to be done here to get the desired outcome?” Although leaders will make the hard calls and take responsibility for their consequences, they draw from the wisdom of others and welcome feedback—especially from people with other points of view.

No one ever modeled unselfishness as Jesus did. “I am the gate for the sheep…I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full…I am the good shepherd…I lay down my life for the sheep…” (John 10:7ff).

The best way to generate loyal fellowship is for leaders to exhibit genuine self-giving love on behalf of those under their influence. Harness the energies and talents of others. Don’t resent or fear their capabilities.

Concern for People

Effective leaders are remembered less for their wise decisions and hard work than for their authentic interest in people. People working around them sense that they are valued, deemed worthy of trust, and judged capable of doing the job that needs doing. Leaders provide adequate resources and guidance. They encourage. Then they step back and let others function in their own personal styles.

Jesus set the highest standards and challenged his disciples to meet them. When they failed, he forgave and nurtured. Remember arrogant and self-assured Peter who failed so miserably? After his resurrection, Jesus sent word for Peter to meet him, re-commissioned him to his kingdom task, and looked confidently to his recovery from the debacle now behind him (John 21:15ff). How many compromised believers or fallen preachers could have been reclaimed by this sort of leadership in our churches!

My morning newspaper carried a sad story in January 1997. Nasir Philip Lual had immigrated to the United States to escape war-torn Sudan. He was shot and killed three steps away from his East Nashville front porch. He had fled to what he believed was a safe place—only to be murdered.

We must learn to lead “the Jesus way.” Especially in our churches, we must stop killing people who have fled Satan’s stronghold of darkness to look for a safe place in Christ. We must stop producing leaders who kill our weakest brothers and sisters with their authoritarian, self-serving, dogmatic, and harsh style.

It was only established, authoritarian religious leaders who were defensive of their personal position that Jesus condemned (cf. Matthew 23). For the rest of us, his style was so gentle that bruised reeds would not break under his touch and smoldering wicks would be able to give light again (cf. Matthew 11:15-21). Hallelujah! May God raise up more leaders among us who will follow his example!

The Jesus was is the only way for people of his kingdom.Wineskins Magazine

Rubel Shelly

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