“Learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls,” Jesus said to those he was teaching in Matthew 11.
This verse is the only time you’ll see Christ say, “learn from me.” This humility and selflessness is the example Jesus set for us throughout His time on earth. He made it clear to His disciples that He had come to the world “not to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:28)
Leadership is not something simply handed down because you’ve got seniority or because you had enough school. Leadership, as Christ exemplified, is an honor and should be met with a servant’s heart.
“One of the best leaders I've had the privilege to follow once told me, ‘To lead is to serve; nothing more, nothing less.’ His first concern was for how he could help those doing the most critical work of the day … Together we served those we led, and he always made clear that those following us deserve our very best,” Col. Eric Kail, former course director of military leadership at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, said in an interview with The Washington Post.
When it came to feeding the crowds of thousands of people, Christ showed compassion, rather than sending them away. He challenged His disciples to think of the needs of the crowds rather than their own needs.
John the Baptist said it clearly in John 3:30, “He must increase, and I must decrease.”
Learning from Leadership Legends
Shortly after joining staff with Cru, I was sent to a foreign country to help establish a local team of believers in the Middle East.
During that time, Cru’s founder Bill Bright came to visit for five days of meetings, answering questions and spending time with the local team.
At the airport as we were saying goodbye I asked, “Dr. Bright, if you were in my place, as a young staff starting a ministry in a country like this, what would be one piece of advice that you could give me? ”
Without hesitation, he said, “Serve the Church and you will see God move through your life as you serve others.”
His words still ring in my ears four decades later. Serving others never comes at a convenient time. You won’t get a phone call for something urgent when it works with your schedule, but those moments are when you put aside self to meet the needs of others.
Selfless Leadership Has a Price
Selfless leadership can be painful. It takes thinking less of yourself and more of others, which as sinful human beings is not our natural tendency.
Philippians 2:3 tells us that we should do nothing with selfish intent, but in humility we should lift up others.
“The leader must be a man who, while welcoming the friendship and support of all who can offer it, has sufficient inner resources to stand alone, even in the face of fierce opposition, in the discharge of his responsibilities,” J. Oswald Sanders said in his book, “Spiritual Leadership.”
In a moment of feeling alone while leading, I found myself in desperate need of help to keep building up my team. I had to say goodbye to many leaders around me and agonized with tears before God.
The Lord made it clear that if I wanted to be like Christ, I was going to have to experience pain.
“Selflessness is all about strength, and it’s not for the faint of heart,” Col. Eric Kail said in an interview with The Washington Post.
Whether you deserve it or not, it often will come to that – that’s part of becoming a Christ-like leader. It can be very lonely at the top, but that's serving like Christ served.