In a recent sermon, my pastor said that a friend of his offered to give him his library of leadership development books. When Brent asked him why he was giving away these books, his friend, who has been a pastor for more than 30 years, said that for the rest of the time that God gave him the grace to serve, he just wanted to lead by following Jesus. Although I have benefited greatly from others’ wisdom by reading leadership books, I can understand this pastor’s desire. Nothing is is more important to Spirit-led Christian leadership than simply following Jesus.

In Making Neighborhoods Whole, authors Wayne Gordon and John Perkins affirm that Jesus taught and modeled the kind of leadership that should define our leadership style:

Jesus was proactive and intentional in choosing the people who would eventually become leaders of the early church. He was accessible to those he was developing. He spent lots of time with them, including quality time. He took advantage of opportunities to teach people the things they needed to know in order to become leaders. He modeled authenticity by sharing with this disciples his vulnerability–his pain, his fear and, sometimes, his frustration and anger. Far from putting on an act, Jesus ‘kept it real’ (84, 85).

The leaders of the early church, those to whom Jesus said “Come, follow me,” were not professional clergy. They were fisherman and tax collectors. In other words, Jesus was intentional about developing indigenous leadership — leaders who were part of the community. This is an important leadership principle for today’s church leaders as well. I often encourage pastors to look to see where God is working among the people in their congregations. What is God up to? What kinds of passions for ministry is he instilling in the hearts of his children? The kinds of ministry that a particular church might engage in is directly related to the gifting of the congregation. Unfortunately, many times church leaders decide on a ministry first, and then try to find the leadership to implement the ministry. This is the opposite of indigenous leadership development. Good leadership development recognizes the God-given strengths of believers and equips them for whatever work God is calling them to do.

Jesus also led by spending time with people. He and his disciples traveled many miles and shared many meals together. He taught them through preaching and parables, and he also modeled leadership “on the go” as they traveled from town to town. Consider, for example, the amazement the disciples must have felt when they witnessed Jesus healing two blind men just outside of Jericho (Matthew 20:29-34). Furthermore, Jesus asked his disciples to do even greater works than they had seen him do: “Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father” (John 14:12). Jesus empowered and equipped his leaders to carry on God’s redemptive work in the world. Similarly, great Christian leaders are overjoyed to see their protégés reach exceptional levels of maturity and accomplishment.

Finally, Jesus developed leaders by letting them witness his humanity. Jesus and his friends satisfied their hunger by eating grain as they picked it from the field. The disciples saw Jesus cry as he mourned the death of his friend, Lazarus. They saw him turn over tables in the temple, and agonize to the point of sweating blood in the garden of Gethsemane. Jesus and his disciples shared real life. His followers knew that Jesus, fully God but also fully human, could understand their own temptations and grief. Most importantly, Jesus’ conquest of death gave his disciples eternal hope, even when life was immensely difficult.

Leading others by following Jesus ensures that we are pointing others to Christ instead of to ourselves. To paraphrase the apostle Paul, I only want someone to follow me as I am following Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1). God has so much more in store for the people we are leading than we could ever imagine. Through the leadership of indigenous, Spirit-filled people, God can bring healing and wholeness to broken relationships, families, and communities.

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