By Whose Authority? The Unusualness of Jesus' Leadership Style
Jesus has a very unusual leadership style. Arguably, Jesus is the most successful leader who ever lived. His followers have quite literally changed the world. In spite of its less than sterling historical record, the mission of the church has been remarkably successful. And yet, to me, Jesus’ leadership looks a bit odd. I’ve been thinking a lot about leadership lately. I turned 30 this last June. In addition to acquiring the new vice of drinking coffee, at 30 I also completed my first full year as “Senior Minister” at the congregation where I serve. I put that in quotation marks instinctively when I typed it. It’s my actual job title, but I find myself putting it in quotes because I still find it an uncomfortable fit.
So I’ve been tossed into the deep end of congregational leadership, which means I’m thinking a lot about leadership these days.
What does it mean to be a leader? How can I lead others in the way of Jesus? How can I lead like Jesus?
This year, our church is focusing many of our spiritual growth opportunities around the Gospel of Luke. We’re going to do a more traditional study of Luke a little later this year, but we’re also wondering what would happen if we take Luke’s message very seriously in our congregation in other ways. In particular, what would it look like for us to actually do the stuff Jesus says to do? What if we actually tried to live like Jesus says we should live?
This may seem like a no-brainer. Of course we should live how Jesus says we should live! But, I’ve been reading Luke, and Jesus says some pretty wild stuff in Luke! In Luke, Jesus says things like, “sell everything you have and give it the poor,” “use worldly wealth to make friends for yourselves so that when it’s gone, you will be welcomed into the eternal homes,” or “when you give a banquet, don’t invite your friends—they might pay you back! Instead invite the poor, crippled, lame, and blind.”
Maybe he’s being rhetorical…maybe these teachings are situational…maybe historical distance lets us off the hook somehow...but then again, maybe not?
So, in keeping with this trajectory, I’m wondering what it means to lead like Jesus. And I keep noticing something. Maybe it’s a bit reductionist, but in a nutshell, Jesus’ leadership style seems to be this: Jesus gives his disciples authority to do things, and then he sends them out to do them. Jesus also does some teaching and instruction, but a lot of his teaching seems to also include giving his disciples authority to do things...and then sending them out to do them!
Jesus starts his public ministry in Luke 4. By Luke 9, Jesus is already sending out the Twelve to do the same things he’s been doing—casting out demons, healing the sick, and proclaiming the Kingdom of God. He calls them together and gives them “authority and power over all demons and to heal sickness.” That seems like some mismanagement, if you ask me! That’s a lot of responsibility to give some guys who, a little later in the same chapter, demonstrate that some demon-casting-out is beyond the scope of their ability (9:40), follow up their failure by arguing about which one of them is the best (9:46), and then threaten to call down fire from heaven to consume a Samaritan village (9:54).
That string of events might be enough for some leaders to reevaluate their strategy. Maybe you should look at your discipleship training program again, Jesus. Any chance they weren’t quite ready for all that responsibility?
Instead, guess how Jesus responds. In chapter 10, he calls together six times as many disciples as before, gives them authority and instructions, and sends them out! (Luke 10:1) How reckless is that?
This has got me thinking—maybe Jesus knows some things I don’t know. (What a novel thought, right?) Maybe leadership in the Way of Christ requires more trust than management. Maybe it’s more about empowerment than training for specific outcomes. Maybe it has less to do with technique and strategy and more to do with liberating us—one step at a time—into a new way of life.
Maybe it’s more like saying to each other, over and over again, “You have the authority to put God’s will into practice in your life. You won’t do it perfectly, but give yourself some time. You’ll learn. In fact, we can all learn together.”
In any case, here’s one 30-year-old “Senior Minister” who is grateful that Jesus seems content to throw us into the deep end, and gives us grace to teach us—slowly—how to swim.