Leaders are those who influence people toward a desired goal. Influence is often viewed as a means to an end. Christian leaders, however, start by seeing people as God’s beloved. This impacts the way we influence, empower, and nurture those we lead. I call this “leadership of the Jesus kind” because it includes relationship.
Desired goals are important for leaders – they always will be – but Jesus’ emphasis in leading wasn’t just to reach a goal, but to build a relationship. He didn’t just lead his disciples; he built relationship with them. He didn’t say, I will make you church leaders — he said, I will make you fishers of men – leaders others want to follow. This type of leadership was learned from walking with him, from spending time with him, from being in relationship with him.
Though relationships involve influence; the primary focus for Jesus’ leadership was not influencing toward an external objective (no matter how lofty) but toward their inner transformation. This transformation resulted from Jesus loving and serving his disciples. Jesus demonstrated this radical approach to leadership at the Last Supper, where he washed his disciples’ feet while proclaiming, “I am among you as one who serves.”
When I say Jesus’ servant-leadership was relational, I am not implying it was passive. He gave his disciples a compelling kingdom vision, he challenged them, he equipped them, and he gave them opportunity to learn by serving. He gave them lots of feedback, including encouragement and correction. Most importantly, he loved them, and they knew it. As a result, their lives were transformed.
Servant-leadership is focusing on those we lead and on what is needed to facilitate their transformation. That means we may even need to change our leadership style to better fit the needs of the individual we are trying to lead. When Paul wrote to the church in Ephesus, he said his desire was to see each person grow into the maturity of Christ. This is the same Paul who told the Corinthians, “I become all things to all people so that by all means I might save some.” As leaders, we would say, I use whatever leadership style is needed in order to lead effectively.
At times, a directive style will work best; at other times, a consulting or coaching style is called for. Christian leaders follow the example of Jesus, who used different styles of leadership to build relationship with his disciples. As the disciples matured, his leadership style changed, but it always included relationship.
Jesus is alive, and through the Holy Spirit, is leading his followers on earth. He is sharing his life and love with any who follow him. In doing so, he is serving all of us in ways that help us grow – through relationship. Leadership of the Jesus kind is servant leadership, and always includes relationship. Christian leaders lead like Jesus leads.
This is Greg Williams, speaking of life.