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The Leadership Style Of Jesus

John 13:1-5, 12-17

The greatest leader history has ever known is Jesus of Nazareth.

We are living in a time when the concept of leadership is being debated, discussed, explored, and exalted in every aspect of our society’s life and yet, I suggest without any fear of being contradicted that Jesus of Nazareth is the greatest leader the world has ever known. Jesus possessed a strength superior to that of the greatest of the military commanders – yet He possessed a tenderness which drew little children to Him. Jesus had awesome powers of concentration and a mind as quick and decisive as a steel trap – yet He maintained a remarkable sensitivity for dealing with difficult people. Jesus’ power and authority were attested even by His enemies – yet He was quite comfortable with the meek and lowly of heart. Jesus’ purity was absolutely without blemish – yet He could move with perfect ease amongst the most despised of sinners. No other personality in all of history has gained the allegiance of so many – not Mohammed, not Buddha, not Confucius, not Zoroaster, not anyone else. Jesus is the leader of all leaders. Therefore if you wish to study the nature and effectiveness of leadership styles, I believe you have to start with Jesus, the greatest leader the world has ever known. Furthermore to study the leadership style of Jesus inevitably results in becoming more committed, more valuable, and more significant followers of Him. That is our task today. Now, you know, that if you give me a week off and thus a few more days to prepare a particular sermon then I’m going to have great fun playing with the words. That’s why I want to try to capture the leadership style of Jesus in four phrases – you’re going to love this! – and here they are: He shapes the creed. He meets the need. He leads by deed. He sows the seed. Now, having played with the words, let’s play out the themes. Jesus is the world’s greatest leader because

He shapes the creed.

Jesus creates and determines what we believe. If it is true, and I believe it is, that truthfulness is the foundation upon which all great leadership is built, then it is worth noting that Jesus always, but always, spoke the truth. The phrase which is so often applied to our leaders today – “He or she misspoke” – that phrase could never be applied to Jesus. He said what He believed, and you can believe what He said. He spoke the truth because He is the truth. You cannot find where He ever cut the corner on ethics, ever fudged on a commitment, ever shaded a standard, ever spin-doctored an issue, or ever watered down an unpalatable idea. Everything He said and everything He did existed in perfect harmony. And in everything He said and in everything He did He offered us the perfect pattern for the perfect life. Build your beliefs on His beliefs and you will have a significant life.

You and I know how important truthfulness is to the human experience. That’s why the church has never agreed with Benjamin Franklin’s dictum that “honesty is the best policy.” Honesty isn’t the best policy – it’s the only policy. We are to seek the truth, speak the truth, love the truth, live the truth, obey the truth, and stand for the truth, cost what it may, just as Jesus did. One of the reasons that more people have followed Jesus than have followed any other leader is because He shapes our creed. He determines our beliefs. He has always told and will always tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth so help Him God. He is the greatest leader who ever lived because He shapes the creed, and because

He meets the need.

Jesus said to His followers, “I do not call you servants. I call you friends.” That was true. When you study the Gospel narratives, it is clear that Jesus spent much more time with His companions than He did with the crowds. There is no record that He ever called congresses, or conferences, or conventions. But there is an extensive record of long walks beside the Sea of Galilee with His disciples and time spent together beneath the shade of olive trees or sitting around a fire at the end of the day sharing the things that only friends can share. That’s an important point. The greatest need we all have is to enjoy significant relationships in our lives – friendships which will inspire and encourage us to more significant living. Jesus, better than anyone else ever has or ever will, meets that need.

You know Jesus’ faith in God His Father is quite amazing when you read about it in the Bible, but I must tell you that I’m even more amazed at the faith He showed in His disciples. Remember please, that these disciples were no great prizewinners. They were not great intellects. They were not headline makers. They were simple, ordinary, uneducated individuals. Yet Jesus galvanized them into a group who wound up changing the course of human history. How did He do it? You get a clue on the night before He died in the prayer He prayed. It is recorded in John 17. For what did He pray? Listen, “Father, I pray for these 12. I do not pray for the world. I pray for these. They are mine. Keep them as Your own.” You see, they were His friends. One reason more people in history have followed Jesus than have followed any other leader is that they have found Jesus to be “the friend who sticks even closer than a brother.” Yes, Jesus is the greatest leader of them all because He shapes the creed, and because He meets the need and because

He leads by deed.

For years now, I have been reading the passage where Jesus washed His disciples feet, and I never read it without being awed by the fact that the only begotten Son of God, the Alpha and the Omega, the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords would get down on his knees and wash the dusty feet of His disciples. Mind you, no self-respecting gentlemen of the Middle East, then or now much less a great leader, would ever stoop to do such a thing. It was unthinkable. Yet here Jesus was giving Himself to an act of loving service and by so doing, He was demonstrating to His followers how they are to serve. I have a great friend named Samuel Green. He is a Bishop in the African-Methodist Episcopal Church, and to my great delight, Samuel Green preaches like a run-away freight train. I love to hear him preach. Just recently he said something that wrapped itself around me and won’t let me go. He said, “Jesus sits high, but He looks low!” Now that will preach! In a single line Samuel Green captured this idea that the Lord of the universe loves us enough to lower Himself to washing our feet. The King of all glory cares about the littlest, lowest, smallest, most insignificant care of your life and mine. Jesus sits high, yes, but Jesus looks low.

Here’s a book to read: Servant Leadership by Robert Greenleaf. For 30 years Greenleaf climbed the corporate ladder at AT&T until he reached the top. In that exalted position, the temptation to pride and power almost overwhelmed him and forced him to reexamine his whole understanding of leadership. It was in Jesus of Nazareth that he discovered the concept of a “servant leader.” In fact, he points out in his book that the servant leadership idea is mentioned no less than 1,300 times on the pages of the Bible. When you get to the top, when you get to the place where everyone speaks well of you and kowtows to you that’s when the gangrene of pride begins to rot away your center. The only way to defeat that, Greenleaf says, is to see yourself as Jesus saw Himself – as a servant. From Jesus there is never tyranny, only tenderness – never a tirade, only a towel -servant leader. Jesus sits high, but He looks low. So Jesus is the greatest leader because He shapes the creed, He meets the need, He leads by deed, and because

He sows the seed.

Jesus understood that nothing can happen through you until it has happened to you. He understood that you gain something from experience that you can never learn any other way. That’s why He sent His disciples out on testing missions. He didn’t insist on doing it all Himself. He planted within His followers the seeds of His power and His wisdom, and then He let them share both the responsibility and the glory. That’s a great principle of leadership. You can read about it in Matthew 10 and Luke 10. When Jesus got ready to send His disciples out, He called them together and planted in them the seeds that they would need. He told them that they had power, and He taught them how to use it. He told them what opportunities they would encounter, and He taught them how to master them. He told them that they would run into opposition, and He taught them how to respond to it. He told them the practical things they would need to know, and He taught them how to meet those needs. Then He sent them out. He planted the seed. They would bring the harvest. Sure enough, they came back crying out, “Master, You should have been there! You should have seen it all.” And Jesus with what I believe was a great smile splitting His face then said, “I know. I was there. I saw you knock Satan all the way to hell!” You see, Jesus gave His followers what I call the three “T’s”: TRUST – He trusted them to do His work. TOOLS – He gave them all they needed to get the job done. TRIUMPH – He let them share the victory and the glory.

Today, we are ordaining and installing a new batch of lay leaders for this church, and Jesus is giving our leaders here what He gave His disciples. He is trusting these new leaders to do His work. He is giving them all the tools that they need. And He is going to let them taste the triumph. He has planted the seeds in them. They will bring the harvest. They will lead us by following Him. For Jesus is the greatest leader of all because He shapes the creed, He meets the need, He leads by deed, and He sows the seed.


Everything I’m trying to say here is found in one of my favorite hymns. You know some great works of art, or literature, or music are created by long effort and perspiration while some arise out of a momentary flash of inspiration. The hymn of which I speak falls into the latter category. On March 26, 1862, Joseph Gilmore, a 28-year-old Baptist Minister, was the guest preacher at a Wednesday night prayer meeting at the First Baptist Church of Philadelphia. He spoke on the 23rd Psalm. Later that night over refreshments at the home of Deacon Thomas Watson as they discussed Gilmore’s sermon, suddenly Gilmore was overcome with what he called “a sense of the blessedness of God’s leading in life.” Quickly then, Gilmore took a pencil and paper and though he had never written a hymn before, the words quite literally flowed out of his heart as fast as he could write them. He handed them to his wife and thought no more of it. Later, without his knowledge, his wife sent his lines to a Christian magazine. Before he was even aware of it, his words were set to music and began to spread throughout the church under the title “He Leadeth Me.” Today, we sing the words again.

He leadeth me. He leadeth me, by His own hand He leadeth me.
His faithful follower I would be for by His hand He leadeth me.

Yes, Jesus Christ is the greatest leader the world has ever known. He leadeth me. He leadeth you, and that is why in this church, we shall always follow wherever He leads…

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