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Leadership according to Jesus

Charles Wiley

Focusing on Christ’s message and person can help us guide others. |  Read: Mark 1:16–20

What kind of a leader was Jesus? How was Jesus an effective leader? These kinds of questions have spurred a cottage industry of leadership according to Jesus. A simple web search on Jesus and leadership yields millions of results, some of them quite intriguing. You can read about Jesus as a maker of servant leaders, Jesus as a leader who met all his goals, Jesus as a visionary leader and so on.

However, this question of Jesus as an effective leader seems completely unimportant to the writer of the Gospel of Mark. There is no reflection on Jesus’ leadership technique, what principles guided him as a leader or how he understood himself as a leader. But that he was a leader is unquestionable. Consider these verses from Mark 1 (Common English Bible): “As Jesus passed alongside the Galilee Sea, he saw two brothers, Simon and Andrew, throwing fishing nets into the sea, for they were fisherman. ‘Come, follow me,’ he said, ‘and I’ll show you how to fish for people.’ Right away, they left their nets and followed him. After going a little farther, he saw James and John, Zebedee’s sons, in their boat repairing the fishing nets. At that very moment he called them. They followed him, leaving their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired workers.”

Jesus calls—the disciples answer. That seems to be the long and the short of it. Jesus leads, and the disciples follow. I don’t know if we can learn any leadership techniques from this picture of Jesus. As a father of two teenagers, I can assure you that the “I call, you follow” approach is not an effective model of leading teenagers. But Mark’s Gospel has a more important question for us: What does it mean to follow Jesus? 

Jesus is the one whose way has been prepared, the one whom the Holy Spirit has sealed as the one who is to come. He speaks as one with authority, an authority that comes from heaven. To reduce this divine vocation to a set of generic principles is a way of reading our concerns into the way Jesus conducted his ministry; it can cause us to miss the singular mission of Jesus.

So what do we do to learn good leadership? We can co-opt the best leadership tips out there, wherever they come from. There are plenty of biblical examples, good and bad. We can also learn from business, academics, sports and other areas what works and doesn’t work. Maybe lessons from Coach K (Duke University’s Mike Krzyzewski) on being a basketball coach inform you (“People set rules to keep from making decisions”). Or maybe Dwight Eisenhower is more your speed (“You don’t lead by hitting people over the head”). Or maybe your personality and situation lend themselves to Mother Teresa’s bottom-up approach (“Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person”). Any of these might be helpful, given the right context.

But there is a significant limiting principle—namely, Jesus and the gospel he proclaimed. Those called to lead the church need to be focused on what we see enacted in Mark: the power of Jesus’ message and person. Leadership according to Jesus is not so much about imitating his leadership style as much as it is about making sure our leadership style, whatever its sources, is consistent with the kingdom Jesus preached. Whatever style you adopt and whatever techniques you use must cohere with the message of Jesus in Mark 1:15 (CEB): “Now is the time! Here comes God’s kingdom! Change your hearts and lives, and trust this good news!”

Pray: John 17

Using Jesus’ own prayer from John 17 as a guide, pray for wisdom and strength as a leader.

Study: Leading and following

Read Mark 1:16-20 several times. What do you see about being a leader and being a follower? Read chapters from each of the other Gospels that describe Jesus’ early ministry. Which aspects of the way Jesus conducts his ministry guide you as a leader?

Remember: Mark 1:15

As you memorize this verse, give thanks for the gift of being a follower of Jesus.

Live: Guided by Jesus

As you practice leadership this week, consider ways to align your practice with Jesus’ teaching and person.



  • Thank you for direcing me to Mark, and to read the verses 16-20 of Chapter One. I am impressed afresh with how lean Mark is, and what his careful and Spirit-guided brevity means for Pastors today. (I am 85, but still preach and help lead with worship on occasion.) I must admit that at times I wish I were 30 again, but then remember my 60 years of ordained ministry being marked with long Pastorates and in more recent retirement years, globally trotting around the world as a volunteer--and on occasion--paid missionary. by Vernon G. Elgin on 11/14/2012 at 2:56 p.m.

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