The definitions of leadership we looked at yesterday from Hebrew and Greek are based primarily on a human understanding of leadership. But are any of these THE style of leadership we should adopt? It makes sense at this point to look at how Jesus’s leadership jibes with — or does not jibe with — these styles.
The idea of a leader as the one who is first, the highest, the one to be most honored was shattered by Jesus. Although Jesus was eventually understood to be the “head” of the church (ro’sh and kephalēn), during his lifetime he would say, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head” (Luke 9:58). His was not a place of honor among the elite of the land. As the Son of God Jesus was certainly the first (prōtos) among the creation to which he had come, but he was not recognized for his power or glory. The family chosen to raise the baby until he became a man was not influential or worldly, but impoverished and humble.
Then we have the concept of a leader as being the one “lifted up” (nasi’ and nagid) to be admired. Jesus said, “when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself” (John 12:32). Instead of being honored as a leader to emulate, he was forcibly lifted up with his hands and feet nailed to a criminal’s cross. Although he possessed limitless power (dynatos), he did not use that power for himself, but only to heal and to demonstrate God’s power. He did not seek positional authority (melek, king, or sar, prince), but refused outright to be named as a worldly leader: “Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself” (John 6:15). Jesus’s authority for leadership was not bestowed upon him, but was a part of his very nature. Nearing the time of his execution, he proclaimed: “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place” (John 18:36).
Over and over again Jesus takes our temporal ideas of what a leader looks like, and turns them inside out.
So… where do we start?
I believe we start here: Mark’s gospel, chapter 12, verses 28 through 31. Jesus is asked to summarize the entire Jewish scriptures by telling the crowd which of all the commandments was the most important. Jesus did not hesitate or equivocate in his answer:
One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, “Which commandment is the first of all?” Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”
All too often we begin our discussion of leadership with the leader: strengths, weaknesses, experiences, and opportunities. Or with the outward actions of leading: presenting with authority, creating teams, networking, the “how to” of leadership. These are important, of course, and we’ll be looking at leadership from these angles over the course of this series. But starting with the leader or the leader’s actions is not the right — or even best — place to start! We need to start exactly where Jesus tells us to: “Love the Lord your God.”
If we start anywhere else, we will be easily sidetracked. We can forget why we are in leadership, and who it is that we represent in our leadership. Love of God. That’s where we begin, both literally and figuratively.
The Greek verb we translate as “to love” — agapaó — is completely fascinating. The English version simply does not do it justice: (1) to feel great affection, (2) to feel romantic love for someone, (3) to like or desire, to take pleasure in. Agapaó is a much more powerful verb. It is love “based on evaluation or choice, a matter of will and action.”
Tomorrow we’ll look deeply into the implications of this type of love for our leadership… and for our lives.
When was the last time you felt truly joyful about leading?