What is leadership?
I get up every morning with one compelling vision; one aspiration; one picture of a preferred future for Briercrest and for our world. I want to “inspire leaders to equip the Church and engage the world.” I view every student as an influencer. They may not lead an organization, but they can and will become people of influence and that is the starting point for leadership.
Jesus was a leader. Jesus taught on leadership and modeled leadership. He brought some very distinctive and sobering perspectives to the matter of leadership. He also sought to dispel common misconceptions held by his own disciples. Perhaps the best example of Christ in the role of the servant leader is the account where he washes the feet of his disciples. You can read about it in John 13.
At this time, Jesus was preparing to share the Passover feast with his friends. As they gather for this special ceremonial celebration, it was customary to have one’s feet washed. Sandals only covered the bottoms of the feet and thus feet were usually dirty from the dusty roads of Palestine. To wash the feet of the guests at a feast was the office of a slave. The disciples of the Rabbis were supposed to render their masters personal service, but a service like this would have been unthinkable. No one did anything—until Jesus did.
Servant leaders identify needs
No one was willing to assume the role of host in these rented quarters, yet there was a need for someone to humbly do the customary washing of the guests’ feet. Jesus saw the need. Jesus constantly modeled this: He was always identifying needs and meeting needs. Whether it was the need of touch, forgiveness, healing, encouragement, release from bondage, offering hope, extending grace, giving strength, Jesus saw these needs and then offered to meet them. He knows our real needs. (He also knows our wants, but offers no promise to meet all of those.) In the Gospels, we see Jesus meeting surface needs as a means to get to deeper spiritual needs. This is what servants do—they recognize problems. They perceive needs.
Servant leaders take initiative
Jesus not only saw needs, he also responded to them. Note the kind of action that Jesus takes. In this case, Jesus simply took up a basin and did the job no one else was willing to do. Jesus took strategic, purposeful, proactive, appropriate action. Serving is the act of meeting the needs of the moment. Servants do what needs to be done. Servants offer care where care is needed, assistance where assistance is needed, correction where correction is needed, training where training is needed, empowerment where empowerment is needed, and love where love is needed. Leaders may not do what everyone wants them to do, but the real needs around them will be met. As leaders humbly serve, influence is gained and leadership takes place. Such is the method of Christ.
Servant leaders are humble
Jesus was the Rabbi, yet he was humble and selfless enough to take on the role of the lowest position in the room. Jesus was selfless. Sometimes leaders feel too important to do lesser tasks. However, Jesus showed that the character of a servant leader precedes skill, and character clothes skill. Kneeling down to serve His disciples, Jesus humbly exemplified Kingdom leadership priorities.
Servant leaders are examples
After washing their feet, Jesus instructs his disciples that they are to emulate his example. Leaders don’t just point the way, they live the way.
Servant leaders love sacrificially
Jesus concludes his object lesson with a call to observe “a new commandment.” This was new in the sense that this commandment was a superior, better, higher, commandment. While there was a command to love before, now we are to love as Christ loves. Christ loves us selflessly, with our interests and needs always in view. Christ loves us sacrificially, being willing to die for us. This kind of love costs and this love will be the most powerful witness to a suspicious, skeptical world. Love is to be our distinguishing mark.
Love may involve emotions…but it is immensely more than emotions. Love may make us feel good inside, but love is a verb; it is a decision, demonstrated in action. Love, it is said by culture, can happen at first sight, but biblical love moves beyond sight to substance. Jesus modeled selfless, sacrificial love and commanded us to love like He loves. When we love like Christ loves and not with fickleness, vacillation, or hesitancy, but consistently, resolutely, without wavering, the world will notice and want what we have. This kind of love will be grander than the savviest marketing scheme, more influential than the power of governments, more gripping than the greatest of blockbuster movies, more convincing that the most reasoned philosophical argument, more powerful than scientific evidence for intelligent design. This kind of love will become the ultimate apologetic.
And this is how we will have influence. This is how we will lead.