Note: The Severn Leadership Group believes the historic Jesus of Nazareth embodies the timeless and transcendent virtues of love, integrity, truth, and excellence, all within the context of healthy relationships. As such, we look to his life as an example of how to live out these virtues. This article is the first of a three part series of leadership lessons we can learn through observing the life and leadership of Jesus of Nazareth. Although Jesus of Nazareth was a religious leader, this series intends to focus on his leadership, not the religion.
By Jerry Zazzera
The Severn Leadership Group’s model for leadership is unique in many ways; however, the leadership-followership paradigm is particularly distinct. It posits that leaders and followers are interdependent, and each must fulfill their critical roles for team success. This interconnectedness is highly relational and centered around purpose. One must learn to be a good follower before one can become a good leader.
From the earliest writings in the bible, Jesus demonstrates what it looks like to be a good follower. In Luke 2:49 he says to his mother, “Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” As a boy, he knew he must learn and follow his father’s word.
Similarly, scripture is replete with references as to how he followed his father’s will throughout his three-year ministry, even to the point of death. Matthew 26:39 tells us his response to knowing that death would be required of him: “And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.”
It begs the question, how many of us would be such a follower as to be willing to die for the leader we are following? Tradition tells us that is exactly what Jesus’ and his followers did.
Being a good follower was Jesus’ 30-year training ground for his three-year ministry.
After mastering the skills and responsibilities of being a follower, Jesus launched his ministry just as all leaders do; he called his followers by casting his vision. Jesus’ vision was to save the world from its sinfulness and restore humanity to a right relationship with God. His mission was to infiltrate enemy lines (earth) and rescue humanity by offering his life as an atonement for its crimes – an exchange of prisoners of war – so that humanity may be free. Jesus said, “So if the Son sets you free, you are free indeed.” (John 8:36).
This rescue mission, like all missions, has terms that must be agreed upon by all involved if it is to be successful. Again, leaders and followers both have critical roles to play to achieve success. Jesus laid out the terms and responsibilities for his followers: 1) the confession of one’s wrongdoing 2) a change in attitude to desire to do right 3) believe that Jesus cannot only forgive the wrongdoing, but he is the only one who can.
It was Jesus’ clarity while casting his vision and mission, as well as the roles and responsibilities of his followers, that enabled success. Leaders must define the purpose of their team through a clear vision, mission, and setting high standards.
Once a leader has established the vision, mission, and standards, they can begin cultivating the purpose by addressing how to fulfill the mission. In Jesus’ case, his “how” is the organization called the church.
The church was – and continues to be – the vehicle through which he would reach humanity across every nation on earth. The structure had to have guiding principles that all of its members could rally around and implement each day. These principles had to be all-encompassing since the vision and mission are worldwide, and they had to resonate with any follower as something a follower could both believe in and practice daily.
Jesus gave us two: 1) Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength 2) love your neighbor as yourself (Mark 12:30-31).
By having these two guiding principles Jesus tapped into the raw material that everyone possesses: the capacity to love. However, it is one thing to have the capacity to love, but quite another to be led to both desire and choose to love others.
Leading by example is a catchphrase used countless times in books, articles, speeches, and seminars; but to do it consistently requires a discipline and intentionality that few have. Jesus was not only intentional but perfectly consistent in loving his father and others.
Whether you are launching or taking the lead of a new team, the lessons you can learn from Jesus are invaluable. First, don’t forget the training you have received in being a follower. Second, cast a clear and compelling vision and mission. Third, lay out the expectations and clear standards you have for your followers. And finally, give your followers guiding principles to follow and set an example for them.