Leadership is much in the news these days because of presidential elections and controversy associated with them. There are all kinds of things being said about leadership. There are different styles, different personalities, different approaches and different philosophies of leadership being discussed.
As I’ve listened to the debates and comments on this subject — who is good, who is bad, who is successful, who is dynamic, who is failing — I thought of the story attributed to General Dwight D. Eisenhower. General Eisenhower was asked what he thought about leadership. The General took a simple piece of string to demonstrate the art of leadership. He put it on a table and said, “Pull it, and it’ll follow wherever you wish. Push it, and it will go nowhere at all. It’s just that way when it comes to leading people.”
That is a very simple way of saying that leadership is not just a leader pulling on ahead, it is people following along, voluntarily sharing in the task of a mutually-agreed upon goal out ahead. There is a vital relationship between leadership and followship.
Jesus was a leader who drew people around Him and sought to instill in them His principles and goals. He demonstrates His leadership in His determination to go to Jerusalem. “And He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He spoke this word openly. And Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him. But when He had turned around and looked at His disciples, He rebuked Peter, saying, ‘Get behind Me, Satan! For you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men’” (Mk. 8:31-33).
Jesus returned to this fact again and again. Through the gospels, this is a recurring fact after a certain point in His ministry. Jesus was preparing His followers for what was going to happen to Him. As human beings we are slow to learn. We like things as we have them. We don’t like to change. Mark records in 9:31-35 this theme again. Note that “they did not understand this saying, and were afraid to ask Him.” They argued about who was the greatest, but they were afraid to ask Jesus the meaning of what He said about His suffering. It is not in human nature to make that inquiry. They wanted to know who would have the best position, the most influence in the new kingdom. Jesus openly expressed His view on this, saying to the 12 disciples, “If anyone desires to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all” (Mk. 9:35).
First, we need to define leadership. What is leadership? The worldly, fleshly idea of leadership is very different from that of Jesus Christ and His Church. This passage before us specifically outlines for us how Jesus saw leadership and how He demonstrated it.
Leadership is being alone and ahead of the crowd. I’ve talked about balance in our lives. In this area there needs to be balance — aloneness and social contact. All through the Bible you find leaders who were forged in the times apart from the crowd — Moses in the wilderness, Elijah alone with God, Jesus alone in preparation for the cross. There must be this special, preparatory time in the life of every leader. Then there must be that time when leadership is demonstrated in the social context.
In a democracy there are very few leaders who can survive. A democracy is aptly described in Judges when it says, “Every man did that which was right in his own eyes” (17:6). There are two kinds of leaders, and we need both kinds. All leaders must be one at one time and the other at other times.
James McGregor Burns says there are two types of leaders — “transformational” and “transactional” leaders. The “transformational” leader has an all-consuming passion. He leads by calling his followers to a transforming vision, a grand plan. He is charismatic in personality, dynamic in manner. He is a George Washington, an Abraham Lincoln, a George Patton or a similar kind of leader. This kind of leader must be inspirational, visionary. He is a leader for the crisis hour.
There are the “transactional” leaders who can draw out group goals, negotiate the agreement of different personalities. This is the leader for the calm period of time.
Neither leadership style is right for all situations. In a crisis, people look for transformational leaders; in calm situations, they look for transactional types. We need to have both in our work. We need to build a team approach to ministry and leadership where the strengths are realized and weaknesses compensated for. Otherwise we become cannibalistic in our behavior. This is precisely what Paul dealt with when he said, “But if you bite and devour one another, beware lest you be consumed by one another” (Gal. 5:15)!
Second, leadership is maintaining courage in the midst of fear. Jesus was courageous in going to Jerusalem. There are three emotions in this passage — amazement, fear and courage. Jesus illustrates the courage of a true leader. He doesn’t fear what is ahead and he isn’t amazed. The disciples are amazed at what Jesus says is going to happen. The crowd is afraid. A leader who has courage isn’t one who is oblivious to fear and amazement. He isn’t overcome by either of these. It takes courage to keep going. A true leader continues on with courage in the face of fear.
Third, leadership is authoritative and responsible. Two things are clearly related — authority and responsibility. If a person is going to be held responsible for something, he must be given the authority necessary to see that things are done right. That is a key thing in any organization. If a person is going to be held responsible for a job, but not given the authority to get it done, then it is wrong to charge a person for it not being done right or not being done at all. With authority goes responsibility.