Why did the apostles leave everything behind to follow Jesus of their own free will? For most, this led eventually to death. What held them to such a determined change of direction for their lives? It was the person of Jesus himself; they believed in him. It is to him and for him that they gave their lives in martyrdom. He was the greatest leader of all time.
While it is true that Jesus has absolute authority and holds the highest ‘office’, we must remember that this was not self-evident to the Apostles until after the resurrection. Jesus revealed his authority gradually by the way he related and ministered to people. He revealed his authority in his leadership, that is, his ability to attract followers who stayed with him to the end.
Jesus made his leadership ability manifest in a very profound way. He gave commands but he never coerced, threatened or manipulated anyone to do anything. Humanly speaking, his leadership was evident in his effectiveness with people, not his attempt to control or impose upon them. That effectiveness was possible because Jesus was eminently skilled in personal relations and building an organization to carry out his work—undoubtedly, a work of both grace and nature. He knew how to engage, inspire, draw, organize and mobilize people to build his Kingdom.
Among his followers, Jesus established the Kingdom on the free response of those who called him “Master.” Fear did not compel the disciples; their intrigue for the complete goodness they encountered in Jesus’ personal presence propelled them to discipleship. Jesus led by liberating people from oppression, as opposed to lording his authority over others. He taught them not only how to exercise authority, but also what authentic leadership looks like. Jesus’ leadership flowed from the divine love that emanated from his Sacred Heart.
Jesus’ example of leadership is why leadership development is so important to the life of the Church. Grace builds on nature. The multiplication of disciples in the Church depends upon effective leaders, both clergy and laity. The salvation of souls depends upon the ability to attract followers whom Jesus can redeem and with whom he can further the work of his mission. To be in charge is not the same as leading. What Jesus modeled for his apostles was a charism of leadership that was redemptive and shepherd-like—grace-filled and competent—what experts in the field of leadership development call, servant leadership. His leadership style was also priestly, that is, fundamentally humble and service oriented.
Jesus’ embodied his ability to attract followers in a simple principle of divine relationality, which he taught and exhibited in countless ways. It is simply this: the greater shall serve the lesser. When we find ourselves in a place of greater ability, resources, influence, position or power, we are to lead others by standing under and for the ones God calls us to serve.
Jesus summoned them and said to them, “’You know that those who are recognized as rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones make their authority over them felt. But it shall not be so among you. Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all. For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many’” (Mark 10:4-5).
In this stunning passage, Jesus shows us how God rules the world. The disciple-leader must not cause affliction but removes it. God makes no allowance for ego, rivalries of influence, or politics.
In addition to the principle, the greater shall serve the lesser, what characterized Jesus’ charism of leadership is that he led his followers to their due end, their heavenly Father. Jesus did not segregate his ‘headship’ from his mission. His leadership was not about a personal agenda or prerogative. He never defended his turf or demanded his way, ever. He was constantly about his Father’s will. Jesus’ goal was the work of redemption. His effectiveness raised people up to participation in the life he shared with the Father.
Jesus’ leadership also created space for his disciples to exercise their gifts in a variety of different ways. The Church has a word for this approach to leadership, subsidiarity. Accordingly, those in a higher position empower those they serve to greater capacity and participation in the life of the community. Jesus did not model a leadership style of command and control or micromanagement. He called forth gifts and entrusted to others the tremendous work of collaboration for the kingdom.
One way to read the Gospel narratives is to see that Jesus spent the better part of three years forming his Apostles to be servant leaders of his Church—a team capable of cultivating and deploying the gifts entrusted to the Church for the work of evangelization and the mission of building the Kingdom of God on earth. This leadership formation for the Apostles was disciplined, developmental, practical, and inspired by Jesus’ vision of a better future for humanity. With the assistance of grace, they learned how to lead his Church; they were not born with ‘apostolic genes’. Leadership was not necessarily natural to them, as is evident in Peter. Yet neither was it all grace; the undeveloped gifts of the Holy Spirit were insufficient. Rather, grace drew forth the potential God had placed within each of them for this higher purpose.
In a world as complex as ours, the focused formation of strong disciple-leaders is of paramount and timely importance. This is why the Preambula Group is dedicating itself to providing the laity with deep formation at the heart of the Christian experience, As we move forward with the work of the New Evangelization, raising up strong lay leaders is essential to the future vibrancy of the Church.