The last time I saw my grandfather alive he made fun of me for being a pastor. You’ve probably heard the jokes or even made them yourself. “What does a pastor do all week anyway? You only work like one hour.” I wanted to tell my grandpa we have two worship services on Sunday morning, and they go for three hours by themselves....
Jesus refused to lead in the way the world suggests. In fact, he often took a path in leadership that was quite the opposite of what you might think. In this article, I want to highlight three more essential characteristics that made Jesus the best spiritual leader: his compelling communication, his kingdom-focus, and his adaptability.
His Compelling Communication
James Humes, a speech-writer for five American presidents said, “The art of communication is the language of leadership.” He couldn’t be more right. Leaders communicate, and good leaders do so regularly. Great leaders do so precisely, intentionally, and with purpose. The best leaders communicate things that are compelling to the hearer.
Jesus Christ was the most compelling communicator the world has ever known. Jesus’ compelling communication is seen when you look at the source of his information and the clarity with which he spoke that information:
“For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment—what to say and what to speak.” (John 12:49)
Jesus’ compelling communication came forth from God the Father. It was this same source from whom he derived information to give to his disciples (John 6:49-50; 15:15). He did not do or say or minister without initiation from the Father.
Have you have ever heard a leader communicate only to feel like the speech was as clear as mud? Nothing can be more frustrating than lack of clarity in a message. But Jesus, who had the ultimate source of spiritual truths, always spoke his messages with clarity.
Sermon on the Mount
One of the greatest sermons ever given was the Sermon on the Mount. It started with descriptions of what God’s kingdom was going to be like for people.The opening of that sermon is filled with specific qualities people could anticipate in the Christian life. These phrases were obvious, concise, and compelling.
Jesus reoriented people’s paradigms and rearranged cognitive wiring by including phrases like “You’ve heard it said…but I say to you” (Matthew 5:43). This kind of communication would have stopped the thinking listener in his tracks to reconsider a new possibility or higher awareness of God’s purposes. Today’s leaders can learn from this kind of precision and argumentation. Our speeches, sermons, lectures, and conversations could be drastically improved if we were to model this kind of compelling communication.
Another example of Jesus’ unique clarity was his use of parables and examples. Jesus often illustrated his message in such a way that the listener could see pictures in his mind. He made distinctions with words and arguments so the hearer would have to make decisions mentally.
Jesus words had a target. That target was to see the kingdom of God break forth and grow in the ages to come.
Secondly, all good leaders have focus. They have a vision in mind about where they want to see people go. God’s agenda was the kingdom, and Jesus was moving people toward it. For the present-day believer, we understand this kingdom to have an already-but-not-yet scope, meaning, the kingdom is here, people are being redeemed, but they do not entirely exist in the final and eternal kingdom the Bible reveals.
There is still a real problem of sin. When did this kingdom first show up in the Bible? Initially, John the Baptist helped inaugurate this kingdom idea publically when he declared, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). His stated purpose is simple, yet profound. He was focused on the kingdom and displayed it in his leadership, calling for the necessity of the crowd to share that focus. Good Christian leaders will have a God-based vision and will be able to share it.
Good Christian leaders also know how to adapt their message so that it speaks the same truth to a different set of people. The Jewish people, the covenant people, rejected the kingdom, and so Jesus changed the way he spoke about it, particularly to the common folk and the Gentile:
He put another parable before them, saying
“The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field. It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown, it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.” (Matthew 13:31-33)
Teaching in parables like these showed Jesus’ focus on the kingdom and his adaptive way of communicating truth. These were statements painted in such a way that the ordinary person could understand the profound truth. The hidden truths became understandable illustrations of first century Israel.
As we reflect on Jesus’ leadership ability, know that there has not been anyone like him nor will there ever be again. Learning from the most exceptional leader of all time takes time. It takes a relationship. A relationship with Jesus forms when you clearly understand what God has revealed in his Word.
Do you have a relationship with the greatest leader of all time? You need to. The rich young ruler came with his leadership and moral credentials to Jesus and asked a profound question: “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life? (Luke 18:18). Jesus got right down to business and told him to give up everything he had in this world to have life in the next.
We aren’t entirely sure what this leader did when the gospel was presented to him, but we do know he had something to match his great wealth, which was great sadness. Perhaps his highest kingdom-value was his money and not Jesus.
What is your highest kingdom-value? Leader, you and I need Jesus. Only Jesus can lead us to himself as we seek to lead others to him.