By Charles F. Stanley
The ability to help others move toward an agreed-upon vision.
"He said to them, 'Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.' They immediately left their nets and followed Him." - Matthew 4:19-20
Christ as Leader
Three general categories describe the leadership style of Christ. First, He was a leader with a clear mission. Jesus’ primary motivation and purpose were glorification of His heavenly Father. Second, Jesus was a leader with consistent character. He lived what He taught and believed. Third, He was a leader with a capable team. He knew with committed, gifted individuals around Him, He would reach the world.
A clear mission serves as a compass to point you in the right direction. A mission is what you are to do as you fulfill God’s purpose for your life. A mission focuses you on what’s important. It’s not uncommon for the driving force of families or ministries to be crises or instant gratification rather than their mission. Your mission keeps you on course.
A mission serves as a filter for new ideas. You reject an idea that does not line up with your purpose. It may very well fit in another arena, but for your purpose it is unnecessary.
A mission also serves as an evaluation tool. Ministries, families, or individuals have a tendency to drift from the original purpose. A mission statement properly placed within a system can sound the alarm once a ministry, family, or individual begins to change in an unhealthy manner. Conversely, the mission statement should stimulate change when an organization or individual becomes stagnant.
A mission should reflect priorities. When you look over your life, will you be able to say, “I poured my life into what really mattered”? Through the dynamic of a clear mission, you will use the talents God has given you to their maximum potential. Not only will you “spend” your life, but you will “invest” your life in what really matters.
A clear mission statement serves as a powerful tool to keep you focused on God’s best. An unclear mission is just as powerful in allowing you to settle for good things but miss out on what really matters. Jesus had an uncanny ability of staying focused. He was mission driven and used interruptions as opportunities to apply His purpose.
Jesus understood why He was here. He knew where He was going and how He was to arrive at His destination. Jesus stated His purpose at twelve years of age. He explained to His parents, “Did you not know I must be about My Father’s business?” (Luke 2:49). The business of His Father most concerned Jesus. In a phrase, the mission of Jesus was to glorify God.
Jesus described this mission in another fashion when He explained to His disciples, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work” (John 4:34). Jesus’ whole being was bent toward doing the will of God. With all of His heart He wanted to please His heavenly Father. That is why when the temptation to quit was overwhelming and when Christ was at the point of physical exhaustion in the Garden of Gethsemane, He prayed to His heavenly Father, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will” (Matt. 26:39).
Out of Jesus’ glorification of God flowed many other purposes, but those purposes were determined by His primary mission of glorifying the One who sent Him: His heavenly Father. This brings us to the next logical questions: What was His Father’s business, and how did Christ carry out His Father’s will?
Jesus made clear His mission when He prayed, “I have glorified You on the earth. I have finished the work which You have given Me to do” (John 17:4). Knowing He was about to die, Jesus evaluated His life and, with humility and quiet confidence, stated He had accomplished His purpose in life: the glorification of His heavenly Father.
Joseph H. Thayer defines glorification in this context, “To make renowned, render illustrious, i.e. to cause the dignity and worth of some person or thing to become manifest and acknowledged.” Jesus revealed God in His life, and He was about to enter into the last stage of His glorification mission—the revelation of Christ in His death and resurrection. Jesus accomplished His life mission by glorifying His Father; however, His death and resurrection missions were accomplished by the Father glorifying His Son!
Jesus’ personal rejection and suffering did not distract Him. Instead they drove Him to remain focused on His purpose. In the darkest hours He more fully revealed the nature of His heavenly Father. On another occasion He could have let the people make Him king, but He retreated to be with His heavenly Father to refocus on His mission (John 6:15).
Though His life was a portrait of God, He did not let the love of this life delay the culmination of His Father’s plan. Jesus could have confined Himself to the synagogue to a lifetime of insightfully and accurately expounding Scripture, but He knew God’s glorification was not limited to a building. He could have spent a lifetime in the humanitarian work of feeding and healing the people, but He knew God’s revelation was not limited to the physical needs of people.
Jesus could have spent all His time with unbelievers, but He chose to use some of His time to build a team of believers. The point is that Christ experienced all of life and ultimately death. As He experienced life and death, He revealed His heavenly Father, so with our finite minds we can develop our understanding of who God is and what He has done for us. The leadership style of Jesus has at its heart an uncompromisingly clear mission. Not only did He have a clear mission, but He also lived what He taught with consistent character.
Leading with Character
Mission is what we do; character is how and why we do it. Mission is action and getting things done; character is the motivation behind the work. Character validates our mission. Character gives credibility to our purpose. Without character, our mission becomes a catchy cliché that fails to affect our lives and the lives of others.
Character proves to others the seriousness of my commitment. Character expresses interest in the well-being of another’s relationships as well as in getting the job done.
Character comes from within. Honesty, hard work, sensitivity, and courage flow from the life of Christ within the believer. The fruit of the Spirit is just that: the fruition of God’s Holy Spirit working in the life of a believer. You can get things done. You can accomplish much, but without love, it is useless in this life and in the life to come.
There is a temptation to compromise character just to get the job done. But for the sake of God’s kingdom and for the good of the individual and those around him, character and competence serve together. Flowing from character are trust and respect, two vital traits of an effective leader.
Character is what is within an individual. People see what’s on the outside. God sees what’s on the inside. A look into the life and teachings of Christ indicates that character seems to revolve around the heart. If your heart is right, your character is right. Your heart is your innermost being where motivation and desires reside. Jesus modeled a consistent character. Through His character, He proved Himself to be the Son of God. His character validated His mission and ministry. The key to Christ’s character was purity of heart.
Walter Bauer defines heart in Matthew 15:8, Matthew 18 and Mark 7:6 as “the seat of the inner life in contrast to the mouth or lips, which either give expression to the inner life or deny it.” Wesley Penschbachen’s Analytical Greek Lexicon defines heart in Matthew 6:21; Matthew 22:37 as “the seat of feeling, impulse, affection and desire.”
As followers of Jesus Christ, we must consider character essential. The Holy Spirit is in the character-building business. He will lead and teach us to be more like Christ. In the long run, character will prove to be the great balancer. Character will help us give proper attention to the roles we are to fulfill. Consistent character earns the respect and trust of others. It’s through their respect and trust that we can be effective leaders.
Leading a Team
Christ wisely surrounded Himself with twelve men with great potential. His team certainly had not arrived. They were rough, though ready to meet the challenge with enthusiasm. They were not perfect, but they were open to growing and learning God’s ways. They were from diverse backgrounds. The diversity was an asset rather than a liability. They built on the strengths of one another and valued the uniqueness of their perspectives. Let’s examine this team, looking at Christ’s method of recruiting, training, and relationship building.
Jesus sought His heavenly Father’s wisdom before choosing His team. Jesus prayed all night, and at daybreak He called His disciples together and chose twelve as apostles (Luke 6:12-13). Seeking God’s wisdom was Jesus’ number one priority.
Jesus drafted men whom He had observed. He watched how they related to other people and saw the potential they could offer. Jesus also recruited people from various backgrounds. Included on the team of apostles were fishermen, a doctor, and a government official. None had formal theological training, though they would learn much from Jesus. They all seemed to exhibit an entrepreneurial spirit. They were adventurous and ready for change. They showed remarkable faith in leaving their jobs and following Him. They were trusting Christ for their needs to be met.
Jesus knew He needed apostles who represented all types of people. The majority of people were down-to-earth folks; thus, He had an equal representation from the apostles. They represented a diversity of backgrounds, expecting a life of faith as they abruptly left their occupations and, in some cases, families. Christ’s followers were loyal and teachable. Recruitment was just the beginning. Training was also a vital part of Christ’s teamwork philosophy.
Prior to commissioning the twelve apostles, Jesus was teaching, preaching, and healing. Jesus was a powerful teacher. He knew that what His followers could see and understand, they would retain. Jesus took everyday experiences and illustrated truth to the disciples. He taught about God’s provision by pointing to the birds and the lilies. The birds were fed and the lilies grew not because of their efforts but because of God’s faithfulness.
Consistently, the disciples heard this clear teaching. Over a span of three years, the words of Christ were recorded and discussed. His teaching helped them to begin a systematic way of belief. It all made sense. Loving God and loving people became the theme of the disciples’ lives. The strongest teaching tool reached beyond Christ’s words to His life.
The actions of Jesus were the greatest education for the disciples. Some of the most effective sermons Jesus preached occurred through His healing touch. His compassion for people who were sick was sincere and real. His disciples saw Him mingle among people with leprosy and other serious illnesses. He went to places that most people viewed with contempt. The disciples watched Christ. Many times they were astonished at His humility and servant spirit.
Jesus humbled Himself by washing the disciples’ feet (John 13). He took on the role of a servant as an example to the disciples. He left for them an example of what a disciple of Christ looked like. As Jesus washed their feet, there was misunderstanding, almost mutiny, but as they saw the sincerity and true servanthood of what Jesus was doing, they in turn were humbled and recognized their need for His cleansing. Jesus was an effective educator. He taught His followers by word and deed.
Leader of Relationships
Jesus knew the value of relationships. He modeled a dynamic, loving relationship with His heavenly Father. Out of that relationship flowed a tender love with those around Him. Out of the twelve apostles, He developed an intimate relationship with Peter, James, and John.
During crucial and pivotal experiences, Jesus involved Peter, James, and John. He included them at His encounter with God on the mountain of His transfiguration (Matt. 17). His ministry was not isolated from sharing His feelings with friends. He confided in them in the Garden of Gethsemane: “My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death. Stay here and watch with Me” (Matt. 26:38). Jesus needed the prayer and support of friends. Jesus showed His greatest love for His friends by dying for them (John 15:13).
They saw Him grieving at the tomb of His friend Lazarus. They witnessed His anger toward the hypocrisy of those using the temple for financial gain. Jesus fulfilled His roles in an honorable manner. His family relationships were important as well. He looked at John while He was dying on the cross and asked him to take care of His mother.
Jesus knew strong, healthy relationships would weather persecutions and trials. Because of His three-year investment in relationships and the proof of His authenticity on the cross, His investment is still paying dividends. Recruitment, training, and relationship building were important to Jesus. You can apply these principles more specifically to growing and building your team.
Integrity and maturity are two character traits vital to the heart of a leader. Without them a leader has no credibility. No credibility means the leader forfeits the right to lead. The lifestyle of Jesus exemplifies these two areas.
Maturity understands that some people respond better to a direct, candid approach while others need more understanding and explanation. Maturity understands what motivates an individual and then leads him or her by that motivation. If recognition is important, the mature leader delivers sincere compliments both privately and publicly. If status and position are important to others, the wise leader at the proper time will promote and place them in areas of their expertise.
Courage and sensitivity mean the leader is interested not just in the destination but in the quality of the journey as well. The mature leader balances sensitivity with accountability. He knows when to give a little and when to stand firm.
Jesus balanced courage and sensitivity. He could be candid, as He was with Peter before washing the disciples’ feet (John 13). Peter refused to let Christ wash his feet. Jesus told him, “If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me.” Later He showed consideration by offering an explanation for His unusual actions. He said, “For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you. Most assuredly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master; nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them” (John 13:15-17).
Jesus was wise to confront when He needed confrontation and to give a sensitive explanation when more compassion was required. Christ was consistent in His character; therefore, He earned the right to lead. People respected His ability to live what He believed. Integrity and maturity are important traits in character.
A clear mission, consistent character, and capable team are all essential for us to be the leaders of God’s people. The example of Jesus gives us a pattern to follow. May all of us follow Him so we can lead others for His glory!
Adapted from “Charles Stanley’s Handbook for Christian Living” (2008).
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