Skip to main content

The Teachings of Jesus: On Leadership

Johan Smulders has a . B.A, B.ED and M.A in Education, Theology and Counselling. Works as an evangelist and counsellor.


The Teachings of Jesus on Leadership

As Jesus started his public ministry he called together a group of disciples to take the message of salvation out into the world. The obvious question that was foremost in the hearts and minds of all was how was Jesus going to approach the religious leaders of his time? Over the years a very rigid and controlling structure of leadership had developed in Israel. Political and religious leadership was somewhat intermingled and confusing. Ultimately any form of local leadership fell under the overriding rule by Rome. The Pax Romana was an institution that was used by Rome to see that everything in the Roman Empire ran smoothly. So in Jerusalem at the time when Jesus came onto the scene, the Jewish authorities were allowed to run their own affairs but were overseen by the Roman Governor who maintained certain powers. Under the Roman Governor there were the Roman troops that he could call on if needed, to keep peace in the Roman Empire.

The Jews were looking forward to the arrival of the Messiah who would then become their King in the model of David of old and free them from the controlling powers of Rome. So the question on the minds of the followers of Jesus was: “who is Jesus going to appoint as his main leader or leaders?” A natural question to have thought about, but not an easy one to broach. Mark records in 10:35-45 that the disciples, James and John, came to Jesus to request the important places in the coming Kingdom. Jesus called his disciples together and told them that to be considered a leader in the Kingdom a person would have to become a servant. In John chapter 13, the writer records how Jesus taught his disciples an important graphic lesson on leadership when he took on the slaves-towel and washed their feet. After the final Passover Supper, Luke records that an argument broke out among his disciples as to which one of them should be the most important (Luke 22:24). Here Jesus is recorded as teaching again that leadership entails service and reminded them that he came as a servant (vs.27). At the same time a place of honour is reserved for those who give their lives in service as he did (vs.30).

Matthew recorded in his Gospel account that Jesus had already approached the subject as he condemned the hypocrisy of the teachers of the law and the Pharisees and warned that you must not take on names like “father” because you have only one Father in heaven and nor should any of them be called “teacher” because one is your Teacher: the Christ (Matthew 23:9, 10).

This human attitude of wanting to be a leader and in fact wanting to have a leader, goes back to the time of Samuel when the Israelites wanted to have a leader/king: “just like all the other nations around them”. When they got their own way and Saul was appointed king ,Samuel was told by God that is was not Samuel that they are rejecting but rather God himself.

So the teaching of Jesus on leadership is complex and needs to be looked at on different levels. He recognized that there were political leaders and even religious ones that needed to be respected. Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s is what Jesus taught (Matthew 22:21 ). In Matthew 23:1, while recognising the importance of the religious leaders of his time, because they “sit in Moses seat” at the same time Jesus condemned them for their failure to live up to their responsibilities: “for the bind heavy burdens hard to bear and lay them on men’s shoulders but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers” (vs. 4). So Jesus condemned the religious leaders of his time and encouraged a change in heart if they were to be blessed by God.

Scroll to Continue

To his own disciples he simply taught that, to be important in the Kingdom of God, they were to be servants.

At the same time taking on titles that in fact belong to God should not be allowed. We have one God, our Heavenly Father and one Teacher, the Messiah. Leaders in the church are all brothers and sisters and when they seek big and important positions and titles they have missed the whole point of Christian service.

As the Church grew, leadership positions were earned by those who served and there is no reference in the history of the early church, as recorded in the book of Acts to indicate otherwise.

As we look at the religious world of today it is obvious that what has happened is far away from what Jesus taught .Men have taken on positions and names that were condemned by Jesus. In the Church, disciples are all simply servants: brothers and sisters. There certainly does not need to be a hierarchy of positions. The appointment of local and regional leaders, who then meet in Councils to make rules that are then used to divide the Church into different groups, was not part of the plan. This was rather condemned by Jesus in several places in the Gospels (Matthew 7:21; 15:8, 9).

It seems that in every age Christian leaders forget that they are servants. As soon as they take on big titles and wear impressive garments they have missed the point. Rather they need to take up the servant’s towel and start serving their followers (Mark 10:45).

References: :NKJV Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on July 22, 2021:

Very educating. Thanks.

Related Articles