Leading by example

“You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. 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.Very truly I tell you, 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. – John 13:13-35

I have been thinking a lot about leadership this week and the qualities that a good leader should possess. There have been many books written on the subject and experts have created a variety of theories, principles and strategies for leadership. There are many facets to being a good leader and different situations and positions require different leadership styles, but there is one thing that every leader should possess – to be able to lead by example.

In John 13 we find a brilliant example of how Jesus demonstrated true leadership. The disciples clearly held Jesus in very high regard and they had spent three years with him as he demonstrated how to live for the Kingdom; teaching, discipling and performing miracles. They knew he was the Son of God (even if they didn’t fully understand it) and they left everything behind to follow him.

As they prepared for the Passover feast Jesus did something that was generally reserved for servants – he washed their feet. Peter, who was usually the outspoken one, objects to this because he considers it too lowly for his Master. Jesus corrects Peter and tells him “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me”, indicating that in order to be a disciple of Christ, he must accept the sacrifices made by his leader. This is perhaps a foretaste of the much greater sacrifice Jesus was to make on the cross, and a way of preparing the disciples for a monumental event, not only in their lives but in the whole of history.

Humility was despised in the culture of the time as a sign of weakness, and so this act by Jesus was radical and demonstrated very powerfully how he had come to serve, not to be served. He turned the conventional idea of leadership hierarchy on its head. Human nature hasn’t changed and it is not fashionable to put yourself last. Success in the eyes of the world is very much centred around self-promotion and disregarding the needs of others to get ahead.

Although Jesus acknowledges his status as “teacher” and “lord”, he emphasises that his disciples should follow his example. As he has served them, they should serve others and in doing so they will be blessed.

You may not consider yourself to be a leader, or you may have a high level of responsibility at work or in another sphere of life. You may not think you have any leadership qualities, or you may have been on all the courses and read all the books. Whatever your circumstances, you are called to be a leader in the same way that Jesus was a leader. You are called to lead people to him by demonstrating love to the people around you. You are called to serve others and to set an example of selfless and sacrificial living.

Later on in John 13 it says:

34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

Essentially being a leader is very simple. Love one another as Christ loved you! People will see this servant-hearted attitude and be drawn to the love of Christ, whether this is as a parent, teacher, business person, pastor, friend, politician – any area of life!


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