Jesus turned leadership on its head (Matt. 20:25-28). It’s not how high you get but how low you go. These truths come from His words:
Leadership by character is compelling. Leadership by position isn’t. Billy Graham has had influence more because of his character than his preaching. The Pharisees ruled by position; Jesus led from character. He said, “Come to me…I am meek and lowly in heart.” Pastors who lack character might use humor, personality, or intimidation to get the job done.
We lead by serving, and we serve by leading. The biggest need of sheep is to be led and fed (Matthew 9:36; Psalm 23:2). Some parents over-control and under-lead, as did the Pharisees. Leaders who give people what they most need rather than want are serving them.
We lead by going low. The disciples, with glory on their minds, liked the view from the top. It feels good to sit and be served. Jesus got off His seat and served. He “made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant…” (Philippians 2:7), grabbing a towel when the disciples were unwilling to budge (John 13:4,5). True leaders look for ways to get under, to influence not by position but by performance. How low can you go?
Serving requires character more than leadership skills. A psychologist who has excellent counseling skills but a messed up family can do more damage than good. Who we are often impacts people more than what we say. That is why when Paul lists fourteen qualities necessary for those aspiring to leadership in the church (I Timothy 3), at least twelve deal with character qualities rather than skills. Those who lack the necessary character are not qualified for ministries of oversight. God is concerned with what He can do to us in order to work through us. Character is shaped in the crucible of suffering, and that means going low.
One liability of leadership is wanting to be served. We may think that our vision is more important than those “under” us, that our position is more critical than theirs. And we would rather be over than under. Where people fail to respect us, we are offended. When they criticize our leadership, we judge them rather than forgive. Our offense shows that we are going high, not low.
The face of humility is courage. The Lamb of God is the Lion of Judah. The humble are the most courageous because it isn’t about them. They risk their reputation because they don’t have one.
Courage leads to insecurity, which leads to vulnerability, which leads to relationship. If you are secure, maybe you are not risking enough. The fight on the front lines can be ferocious, which produces insecurity. If intimidated by our insecurity, we back off. If we acknowledge it to others by transparency, it increases fellowship, which brings courage, enabling us to risk!