Meander through the pages of the New Testament with the concept of leadership on your brain and you will discover that Jesus doesn’t always lead from “up front.” Something doesn’t ring true here. When I think of leadership, I think of the “top dog” who is visibly leading from the front. I think of the charismatic type who holds the attention of the enamored followers, those being led. In my mind I envision someone with influence and sway, with the right amount of power and control to get things done. In the end, I see someone who is popular and attractive OR someone who is powerful and successful. These are the leaders I’ve been accustomed to, both inside and outside the church.
Yes, I’m going somewhere with this. I’m not one to advocate that Jesus was God incarnate so that we could have glimpse into the looking glass to discover “what a true leader is.” Nonetheless, we can certainly pick up a few things now can’t we? Is Jesus the charismatic, influential tycoon that we see of most “leaders”? On one occasion, Jesus sends the disciples ahead of him in a boat…and doesn’t join them until the middle of the night. On another occasion, he sends a couple of disciples into town to get the colt for his entrance into Jerusalem. On yet another occasion, he sends the disciples out in pairs to be the good news to village after village. Then, Jesus gives them a mission, leaves them permanently, and tells them to wait for the Spirit to come. These images came to my mind recently when I read this from Nelson Mandela’s autobiography Long Walk To Freedom:
I always remember the regent’s axiom: a leader, he said, is like a shepherd. He stays behind the flock, letting the most nimble go out ahead, whereupon the others follow, not realizing that all along they are being directed from behind.
This, I believe, is true of the early followers of Jesus (the Great Shepherd) and us the followers of the 21st Century. The nimble (not perfect and powerful) go out ahead whereupon others follow. This is what Jesus did in his day and the pattern is set to repeat itself: the leaders shall move to the back and lead from behind. Easy to see, I suppose, but difficult to do. Will our leaders move to the back and begin directing from behind? Or will they be so settled (addicted) to the front—the power, accolades, influence, attention, control—that they miss the opportunity (or worse, refuse) to lead from behind as a shepherd does?
I’ve seen both. It is neither a pretty nor hopeful sight to see leaders grasp and cling to the front as if it were eternal life itself. But when you see a leader let go of all that enslaves us to the front, it is a beautiful display of a kind of leadership that doesn’t sell many books. It is quiet, steadfast, and trusting. Thanks and kudos to all of you that strive to lead like this.
Thanks, especially, for my brother, friend and mentor--John Frye, who I have had the privilege of seeing this kind of leadership lived out in the flesh. John, you da man (chest bump)!
Who do you know that leads in ways that don’t typically make it into books and articles?