Learn To Lead
October 18, 2015
All of you have probably seen ads in the newspaper or in magazines or on TV or heard them on the radio for Leadership Training seminars such as Dale Carnegie or Zig Ziglar or some other person who holds these types of workshops and seminars. When I lived outside of Reidsville I attended some classes at a place off Lake Brandt Road in Greensboro called “The Center for Creative Leadership”. Leaders from all over the world went there for training. Leadership training courses are very popular. Many of the advertisements for these courses promise things like an increased ability to lead, an increased ability to get your ideas approved, an increased ability to communicate your ideas more effectively, and an increased ability to win friends and influence people. These courses are focused on making you a better leader.
What would you think about an ad that read: “Whoever wishes to become great must learn to be the servant.”
How many people do you think would sign up for such a seminar? Probably not many. You may wonder: “What does that have to do with leadership?”
We don’t really like the idea of serving others. We want to learn to be great, to be served, and to have people follow us. It’s a lot more fun to be the leader and tell others what to do than it is to follow what others tell you to do.
But Jesus says: “It shall not be so among you!”
So what does Christian leadership, the kind of leadership Jesus teaches, look like? It looks like serving, giving, and following. It does not look like being served, being given to, or pushing for our way and our way only.
In our Gospel lesson for today Jesus is speaking to James and John, then to the other disciples and therefore to us, and saying that if you want to be the greatest of all, you must serve all.
It is not what we would expect, is it?
For James and John, just being a part of the group of disciples around Jesus was not enough. They wanted to be above the others. They wanted prestige. They wanted to be special. They wanted to be more important than the others. They were more interested in their own prestige and their own greatness than they were about the group’s cohesiveness and group solidarity. They wanted to put their wills and ideas above the wills and ideas of the others. They were more interested in their own self-importance than in the importance of the rest of the group. They were not interested in following. They wanted to lead. And Jesus says that this attitude is not right.
“Whoever wishes to become great among you must be the servant.” Jesus says.
If you had to choose between an opportunity to give or an opportunity to receive, an opportunity to lead or an opportunity to follow, an opportunity to serve or an opportunity to be served, which would you choose? You would probably choose opportunities to receive, lead, and be served. Everyone would rather receive, lead, and be served, right? But Jesus says to choose opportunities to give, to follow, and to serve. That’s what being a follower of Jesus, what being a Christian, means. It means giving. It means following. It means serving.
How do you achieve greatness in the kingdom of God? By being a servant of all. By doing what others want instead of being so concerned about what you want. By doing the “dirty work” yourself instead of asking someone else to do it for you.
I know these things don’t sound so great, but Jesus says it’s these things that make you truly great. This is the leadership that Jesus gives us a pattern for.
What does this pattern of leadership involve? It involves taking risks. It involves giving up ideas of self-glorification for the good of others. The key is to maximize your benefit for others, while minimizing your benefit to yourself. The key is to look for ways and think of ways to serve others instead of looking for and thinking up ways for others to serve you.
Your greatness as a Christian is measured in terms of who you comfort, who you serve, who you love, and who you take God’s love to, and not your power or position or who serves you. Your calling as Christians is to be the greatest servant you can be. This is what your life, and our church, should be dedicated to.
But how? How can you do this? Only by not wanting to be the leader of your life, but letting Christ be the leader of your life.
You learn to lead by learning to follow Christ.
Let Christ be your leader. Follow Christ, and learn from Him how to lead. Follow Christ into a life of serving others. Follow Christ into a life where you think of ways to benefit others. Follow Christ into a life where you look for ways to serve others. Follow Christ into a life where you give of yourself for the good of others. Christ will teach you how Christian leading is found in serving and giving, not being served.
I’m not saying it’s easy, because it’s not! You may have to do things you would not normally choose to do. You may have to go out of your way to help others. Who knows, you may have to go out of your way to support the work, worship, fellowship, and outreach of the church. It’s not the easy way, but it’s Christ’s way! If you want to be great as a Christian, follow Christ into His way of life.
The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  described what he saw in society and how it may match the request of James and John in our scripture passage before us today and Jesus’ response in a sermon he entitled “The Drum Major Instinct”.
“There is,” King observed, “deep down within all a desire to lead the parade. It’s a kind of drum major instinct, a desire to be out front, a desire, a desire to be first.” Then he reflects on the answer Jesus gave to James and John’s request. “What was the answer that Jesus gave James and John? It’s very interesting. One would have thought that Jesus would have said, ‘You are out of your place. You are selfish. Why would you raise such a question? But that isn’t what Jesus did. He did something altogether different. He said: “Oh, I see you want to be first. You want to be great. You want to be important. You want to be significant. Well, you ought to be. If you’re going to be my disciple, you must be.’ But then he reordered their priorities. He said, ‘Yes, don’t give up this instinct. It’s a good instinct if you use it right. It’s a good instinct if you don’t distort it and pervert it. Don’t give it up. But I want you to be first in love. I want you to be first in moral excellence. I want you to be first in generosity. That is what I want you to do.’
Jesus says if you want to be great and lead, you must serve. Be great, but be the greatest servant. Be first, but be first in love and generosity. Be first in service. That’s what being a leader in the Christian sense of the term is all about. To do this you need to put Jesus first in your life and find a way to make His priorities your priorities.
Once you put Jesus first in your life, here’s a very practical way to put His teachings on leadership into practice. Steven Covey is one of my favorite “Leadership Guru” whose books, tapes, and other stuff is on the market today. I like him because he teaches about what he calls “Principle – Centered Leadership”. He says that you select the principles, the bottom line things that are important to you, then organize your life around these things. He suggests that you develop a “mission statement” that expresses what you want your life to be like, what is important to you, then every week review it and plan your week around it, and every day plan activities that match your mission statement. I like that. I believe that you can prayerfully develop a statement based on what God is calling you to do, then put actions around that. That can help you remember the principles of Christ and help you put them into action in your life.. It isn’t the only way to do this, but it is one way. However you do it, you can develop a way to prayerfully keep in touch with Christ and what He calls you to do. You can develop a way to help you remember what He calls you to do and the specific ways He calls you to do it.
You see, Christ, who leads by serving, can strengthen you to lead by serving also. To lead as Christ teaches you to lead you must first have a life in Christ, then follow Christ. To give of yourself, you must first let Christ fill you. You must discover Christ and His will for your life. You can not serve others without having a vibrant life in Christ, and you can not have a vibrant life in Christ without serving others. Develop a life-changing relationship with Christ, and serve others. That’s Christian leadership.
Whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant.
Let Jesus teach you His seminar on leadership training. Learn to lead – Jesus’ way. Amen