The Lord Jesus redefines true leadership in an encounter with His disciples. He was close to the end of His earthly ministry with them.
The Apostle John writes “Jesus knew that his hour had come to leave this world and return to his Father. He had loved his disciples during his ministry on earth, and now he loved them to the full extent” John 13:1 NLT.
This was the Last Supper (John 13:1-33). This is one of the key New Testament passages of true spiritual leadership. In this passage, we pick out three elements, among others, on Jesus call to true spiritual leadership.
Firstly, Self-recognition or self-identity and spiritual leadership. The text says, “Jesus knew that the Father had given him authority over everything and that he had come from God and would return to God. So he got up from the table, took off his robe, wrapped a towel around his waist, and poured water into a basin. Then he began to wash the disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel he had around him” (John 13:3-5).
Jesus was very much aware of His unique intimate relationship with the Father and the utmost authority He had over everything that exists in creation. He was in perfect harmony with His own identity and status.
But His unique identity and power did not prevent him from engaging in performing lowly task as well as lofty task. He engages in the menial or lowly servant task of washing the feet of His ministry team members who are His subordinates.
After the lowly task, He engages in a lofty task. He sets up the sacred sacrament of Holy Communion. Jesus’ sound and proper appreciation of His identity and, His pure self-recognition freed Him to do both lowly and lofty tasks.
Often we struggle with our own personal identity and insecurities. Some of these produce leadership jealousy.
Jealousy is also described as wanting to possess what you already have; struggling to gain the recognition which is naturally or legitimately yours. The gossip of team members may feed leadership jealousy.
We find an example of leadership jealousy and how not to be trapped by it shown in the leadership style of John the Baptist (John 3:26-31).
Secondly, the Lord Jesus’ call to true spiritual leadership is a call to service. Let’s listen to Him:
“You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and you are right, because that’s what I am. And since I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash each other’s feet. I have given you an example to follow. Do as I have done to you”. John 13:13-15
For the Lord Jesus, true spiritual leadership is service. It is to serve others. We are to do 3,600 leadership service. We serve those who are above us or our superiors; we serve our peers besides us; and we serve those who are below us. We serve genuinely and diligently. We serve well.
The Lord Jesus sees a spiritual leader as a person marked by humble and genuine service.
He stresses this point in a discussion with His disciples on being a true spiritual leader;
“You know that the rulers in this world lord it over their people, and officials flaunt their authority over those under them. 26 But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must become your slave. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many”. Matthew 20:25-28, NLT
The strange thing is that in God’s House today, some leaders still insist on behaving like overbearing African Village Chiefs. It is a scandal of true spiritual leadership. True Spiritual Leaders are to live exemplary lives of service.
Thirdly, the sign of true Spiritual Leadership is genuine love. Jesus says “I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples”. John 13:34&35, NLT
The language of true spiritual leadership is godly love. If we do not live in love we become noisy barrels that interfere with the clear Gospel of our Lord Jesus’ love: “Christ suffered for our sins once for all time. He never sinned, but He died for sinners to bring you safely home to God”. (1 Peter 3:18, NLT).
His is supreme love! God is love. Jesus is love. The true spiritual leader lives in love.