the shape of leadership

How Jesus Sees Leadership

Three qualities that set spiritual leaders apart

What qualities are most essential in a leader? Research by leadership authors James Kouzes and Barry Posner suggests people want leaders who are honest, forward-looking, inspiring and competent. These qualities are certainly important. Few people would intentionally follow a leader who doesn’t cover these four bases.

Interestingly, Jesus has a “leadership qualities” list as well, and He summed them up in one conversation with His disciples. After arriving at Capernaum, Jesus asked His disciples a question that would have created a bit of awkwardness in the moment: “What were you arguing about on the road?” (Mark 9:33).

I can only imagine the disciples’ eyes growing wide just before their heads dropped in embarrassment. The disciples didn’t say a word because they had just finished a heated debate about who was the greatest.

From this encounter, Jesus launches into a thought-provoking discussion that elevates the importance of spiritual leadership. In fact, Jesus articulates three qualities that set spiritual leaders apart.

Spiritual Leaders Are Servants

When Jesus asked the disciples what they were arguing about, He didn’t need an answer. He simply responded, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all” (Mark 9:35).

Isn’t it interesting that many people want to be leaders, but they don’t want to be servants? Jesus didn’t separate the two. In fact, the posture of a servant leader is someone who steps aside so others can step ahead. And the only leaders who can do this successfully are those who are secure, which brings us to the second point.

Spiritual Leaders Are Secure

After Jesus elevated the value of servanthood, John said, “Teacher, we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us” (Mark 9:38).

Isn’t it interesting that many people want to be leaders, but they don’t want to be servants?

When you read those words, you can’t help but hear John’s insecurities getting the best of him. Were these people a threat? Was driving out demons only reserved for Jesus’ small group? Were John and the other disciples scared Jesus might trade them in for better disciples?

Jesus’ didn’t waste any time with His response: “Do not stop him. For no one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, for whoever is not against us is for us” (Mark 9:39-40). These words have extraordinary relevance for us today.

When Christian leaders play the “not one of us” game, Jesus is simultaneously saying, “whoever is not against us is for us.”

Insecurity will rob the best of you. It will make you lash out in jealousy, and it will lead you to a place that replaces your joy with comparison. In the long run, insecurity will undermine your ability to surround yourself with high-capacity leaders, delegate authority, and empower people to maximize their gifts.

Don’t let the “not one of us” mentality make you an insecure leader.

Spiritual Leaders Are Salt

Jesus concluded His conversation with these words: “Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can you make it salty again? Have salt among yourselves, and be at peace with each other” (Mark 9:50).

What does salt do? It preserves and flavors. Likewise, the best leaders model these two distinct qualities. First, they preserve their environments from moral decay and ensure their lives model purity and holiness. These individuals recognize the importance of leading by example, and they are careful to preserve what matters most.

Second, wise leaders add flavor to their environments. In other words, they make their culture “taste” better by seasoning it with grace, truth and love. These leaders understand the importance of creating healthy environments that value people, draw out the best in others, and inspire people to rally around a shared vision.

Spiritual leaders are servants committed to stepping aside so others can step ahead. They are secure, willing to let others excel, and choosing to cheer on leaders who are “not one of us.” And they are salt. Spiritual leaders make things better.

Which quality needs the most attention in your leadership?

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