When I first got out of college I read a lot of books on leadership. 7 different ways to influence your boss, The 23 questions Every Leader Asks, How to Lead Like a Ninja.
You know, the usual.
And maybe it’s true that our American culture has over-emphasized leadership. While we didn’t invent the King we did have something to do with inventing a new style of leadership. We have studied, researched, parsed and promoted a thousand different ways to lead. Except one…
So a few months ago, I heard Andy Stanley give one of the best perspectives on leadership I’ve ever heard. He talked about the final night of Jesus’ ministry, the one where he has his last supper with his disciples. John tells us that Jesus realized that God had put all things under his feet. For John, this is Jesus moment of greatest self-realization. The moment where His identity and role in God’s mission has gotten some clarity. Jesus now knows who He is. And as soon as he does he starts washing feet.
Leslie and I used to do this. Back when I was a college minister, we would wash our leaders feet ever semester. A practice we discontinued when it dawned on us that college students could not afford Dr. Scholl’s. And while we were trying to give them some kind of profound experience, we could never tap into today what this meant back then. Because this was an act of extreme service, of debasement, but for Jesus it was leadership.
Look at what Jesus says after he does this:
“Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.”
Jesus, when he realizes that his is the most important voice in the room, does the last thing anyone expects. He serves.
When George Washington was completing his second term as President, the United States were in a precarious spot in their development. We had a rough concept of what a democracy could be like, but we hadn’t really put skin on it yet. And Washington was wildly popular as a leader. He had accomplished a lot in his terms of office, and people were calling for a lot more. There was talk of George Washington becoming the Emperor of the U.S.A.
But that was not for George Washington.
He had enough sense of what leadership was (and wasn’t) that he did the one thing that does not come natural to most leaders. He laid down his power. When the rumor got back to King George III of England about what George Washington was going to do, The King of England said, “If he does that, he will be the greatest man in the world.”
The greatest gift America’s first leader gave us, was laying down his power.
He didn’t have to, he could have held onto it and hoarded it, but he used what power he had, for the time that he had, for the sake of others. And every 4-8 years, when we have a transition of power in America, you are seeing his imprint.
Here’s the thing about leadership. It is inevitable. Andy Stanley points out that there comes a point in leader’s lives where they realize that they have the most important voice in the room. They have the opinion that unites, motivates, or redirects others. They have power, but everything hinges next on what they do with that influence.
There’s this one time in Jesus’ ministry where Jesus’ disciples James and John come to him asking for the V.P and CEO jobs in the upcoming Kingdom of God. Like you might expect, this goes over like a ton of bricks with the other disciples, and they start arguing among themselves about who was the greatest. Now this story might seem a bit strange, but it’s only because our conversations aren’t recorded and written down for future generations. Because if we are honest, we’ve all had this talk, we just do it more subtly.
But Jesus’ response cuts right to the chase, and it has everything to do with today. He doesn’t try and stop their pursuit to the top, he just redefines what the top is. Because everybody else thinks leadership is one thing, and it’s actually something else. Everyone else thinks that leadership has to do with power and glory, but it really has everything to do with service.
Jesus, in his final night, is showing exactly what his way of leadership looks like. When he realized who He was, and the level of influence he has his first act is to serve others. When the time comes that you realize that what you think matters to someone else. Or that you have influence on what direction something goes, what are you going to do with that power? Because you have a choice. You can leverage your influence for the sake of your temporary fame, or you can tap into the thing that Jesus was trying to do all along. Lead, but in a different direction.
Because Jesus was a leader, just not like the Gentiles.