3 Essential Leadership Lessons from Jesus

JESUS PROMISED HIS DISCIPLES thrones in which to judge the 12 tribes of Israel, and almost immediately, they started itching to get in them. In their excitement, they mistakenly told their friends and family. 

Just moments after Jesus predicted His trial, flogging, and crucifixion, the mother of James and John made her ambitious pitch for their promotions. She probably was not there when He predicted His death to the 12, yet her timing is horrible. As she grapples at Jesus’ feet for the top two thrones for her boys, His answer is directed entirely to James and John. The others are fuming, perhaps because the Zebedee boys beat them to the punch. 

In that moment, Jesus takes the opportunity to teach these future church leaders about servanthood and humility: “But Jesus called them over and said, ‘You know that the rulers of the Gentiles dominate them, and the men of high position exercise power over them’” (Matthew 20:25).

I see three essential leadership lessons here: 

1. Deal with problems as they arise 

Although this lesson was not overtly stated when Jesus called them together, it was clearly modeled in this teachable moment. Like cancer, conflict can grow and kill, especially when competition is a factor. Early detection is important and early surgery is imperative (Matthew 18:15). 

Imagine a world where pastors prefer collaboration over competition, clap for each other instead of clapping back at each other, build each other up publicly instead of tearing each other down privately, seek the interest of others first instead of themselves. There is no world in which every pastor agrees on every issue. However, Jesus made it crystal clear that His leaders should act distinguishably different than the power-grabbing Gentiles. 

2. Be a leader, not a lord 

Kingdom business should not be handled like secular business. Jesus describes us as children, not lords—slaves, not masters. When Martin Luther defended himself before the Roman church, a history-making moment known today as the Diet of Worms, the German monk stood alone, unintimidated and resolute. Just before Luther’s audience with the Pope, the cardinals, and the emperor, a friend moved alongside the maverick monk and asked, “Brother Martin, are you afraid?” Luther’s classic response was, “Greater than the Pope and all his cardinals, I fear most that great pope, self.” Ministry leaders can be the most dangerous people in the church. Our disposition determines whether we are a danger to God’s kingdom or Satan’s. 

3. Serve others before yourself 

“It must not be like that among you. On the contrary, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life—a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:26-28). 

Jesus put a quick end to their juvenile game of thrones. So should we. Pastoring is all about giving and serving, not lording and posturing. We are called to build other people up, which only works if we assume the posture of a slave. You and I should set the tone in our church, association, state convention, and the Southern Baptist Convention by grabbing a basin and a towel instead of a scepter and a throne. 

“For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 14:11). 

Director of Pastoral Wellness
Mark Dance
Guidestone Financial Resources
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