Jesus modeled leadership skills, but He taught character. Leadership training sometimes focuses on skills. When choosing a church council, for instance, the emphasis is sometimes more often on skills. I heard a pastor say, “He is not a mature Christian, but he’s good with finances.” Danger sign.
The problem: difficulties on leadership teams result more often from character flaws than inadequate skills. King Saul had some leadership skills, but he lacked character. Skills are what a leader can do; character is what a leader is. George Washington and Abraham Lincoln had both skills and sterling character, and they enjoyed great influence, unlike Bill Clinton.
I once hired a man to work with our young adults who had skills and vision. I overlooked the warning that he had some unfinished business. Remind me not to do that again.I went on promise more than performance—and regretted it. Skill does not make a leader.
A DESIRE FOR GREATNESS
Do you desire significance? You’re not alone. Two young fishermen had not only been chosen as disciples of Christ; they also found themselves a part of the inner circle. They alone saw Jesus transfigured, and they accompanied Him in the Garden. As they considered the approaching kingdom, perhaps they thought, “There are only two seats. We had better go for them before Peter grabs one.” They asked: “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory” (Mark 10:37).
What was good about their request? They wanted to be with Jesus.They saw that Jesus had prominence in His future. They were bold, and Jesus had said, “Ask, and it shall be given to you.” They had an ambition to be leaders, and greatness is a legitimate longing. They were thinking into the future and planning ahead. Bravo!
But their timing was clearly off. Their request came on the heels of Christ’s announcement of suffering. And it showed that they did not understand leadership—Jesus’ style.
THE ROAD TO GREATNESS
The response was not: “You shouldn’t be making such a request.” Jesus gave them a two-fold answer. “You don’t know what you are asking. Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?” (38). In effect, “You’d pay a high price for those seats.” Once they signed on, He told them that He couldn’t give them the seats anyway. It was assigned seating, and the Father did the assigning.
Courage is a function of character, not of personality, and courageous people are willing to pay the price. Leadership requires boldness, and many play it safe. Some would rather live with mediocrity than pay the price.
The other disciples heard the discussion and became indignant, probably because James and John had beaten them to it. Jesus then gave the second part of His answer, taking the normal picture of leadership and standing it on its head: “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all” (42-44).
Jesus said in effect, “It is not how high you go but how low you get.” Gentile leaders are sitters, not servers. Slaves, by contrast, have no rights, no titles, no seat, and no ambitions. They are not served; they serve. This is leadership from the bottom up, not the top down. Want to lead like Jesus?