the shape of leadership

Jesus vs. the Pharisees, Part 2

Following Christ’s example in leadership

There is a stark difference between the leadership Jesus modeled and the leadership some Pharisees exhibited. This two-part series examines six differentiators. Part 1 focused on the first three. We learned that Jesus’ leadership is full of integrity, helpful and humble. The Pharisees’ leadership, on the other hand, was corrupt, hurtful and prideful.

Reflecting on Jesus’ indictment of the Pharisees in Matthew 23, I want to share three additional differentiators between the approach Jesus took to leadership and that of the religious leaders of His day.

Sacrifice vs. Privileges

Jesus continued His pointed description for this group of Pharisees’ abuse of power with these words: “They love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues” (Matthew 23:6).

Self-centered leaders only care about the privileges they can acquire. In other words, they focus on the things that make them feel important. It’s all about what others can do for them rather than how they can sacrifice for the people God called them to serve.

If you are unwilling to sacrifice, you’ll expect everybody else to serve while you sit comfortably on the receiving end of their service. If you are unwilling to sacrifice, you’ll expect others to make bold and sacrificial financial pledges to your next vision campaign while you make the tithe the ceiling of your giving.

Not Jesus. He sacrificed His life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45). He never sought privilege. In fact, Jesus gave up privilege when He left heaven to come to Earth.

Purpose vs. Positions

Some of the Pharisees had developed a habit of finding their identity in their position of power. Their position blinded them from the purpose God had entrusted to them.

Jesus said in Matthew 23:7-10, “They love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and to be called ‘Rabbi’ by others. But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one Instructor, the Messiah.”

Position says, “I’m more important than you because my position is higher than yours.” If we’re not careful, our identity will become wrapped up in our position and we’ll lose sight of the greater purpose God has called us to serve. The position will hold us instead of us holding the position.

Let me make this painstakingly clear: If you’re the CEO of a company, the president of an organization, the pastor of a church, or the director, leader, organizer, owner, or department head of something, all that means is that you have more people you get to serve. As author and pastor Gerald Brooks says, “The higher you go in leadership, the less you get to think about yourself.”

Jesus’ leadership approach was radically different than that of the Pharisees. He didn’t let the praises of people (or His ultimate position of power and authority) delude His purpose. Jesus came to seek and save the lost. He was committed to the task assigned by His heavenly Father.

The moment position replaces purpose, your leadership becomes nothing more than a megaphone to tout your own importance.

Our Lord wasn’t out to climb the religious ladder. He wasn’t out to flaunt His title as “Messiah” or demand respectful greetings like “reverend” or “pastor.” Jesus was on a mission, and it wasn’t to acquire mere accolades or titles. It was to redeem humanity.

What about you? Are you more concerned about the title over your name or the task assigned to your care? Are you more worried about the position you hold or the mission God called you to fulfill? Are you more concerned about what people call you or the purpose God has called you to?

The moment position replaces purpose, your leadership becomes nothing more than a megaphone to tout your own importance. Resist that temptation, and let God drive His mission deep into your soul.

Servanthood vs. Selfishness

Jesus put the icing on the cake when He said, The greatest among you will be your servant. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted” (Matthew 23:11-12).

Author Ken Blanchard once said, “Leaders who are servants first will assume leadership only if they see it as the best way they can serve.” The Pharisees assumed leadership to serve, but they slowly drifted toward an expectation to be served. Jesus resisted that lure. He kept an unequivocal focus on serving, and His influence grew exponentially.

Servant leadership isn’t a style; it’s a nature. It’s who you are, not just what you do.

Mark 10:42-45 further expounds on the difference between servanthood and selfishness. Jesus said, “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. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

There is an interesting outcome of these two approaches to leadership. Jesus’ leadership was blessed by His heavenly Father. His choice to lead with integrity, helpfulness, humility, sacrifice, purpose and servanthood revealed the fingerprints of the Father on all Jesus did. Jesus was blessed as He walked the bless-able path — one directed by the Holy Spirit (Luke 4:1,14).

But the Pharisees’ leadership had an entirely different outcome. Rather than being blessed by God, they were judged by God. Jesus said, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to” (Matthew 23:13).

Jesus spent the remainder of Matthew 23 describing the judgment that awaited these Pharisees who led in a way that was corrupt, hurtful, prideful, and who sought a path that was full of privilege, position and selfishness.

What a sad indictment. People with such extraordinary leadership respect, capacity and potential had abdicated their influence for self-serving purposes. And God held them accountable for it.

The same will be true for you and me. God will hold us accountable for our leadership. James even said, “Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly” (James 3:1).

Which leadership approach does your leadership most resemble? If you really want to know, ask those you lead. Then have the courage to do the hard work of leading like Jesus.

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