Humility and Leadership

Humility and leadership seem to be contradictory to each other.

Think with me for a moment on what people would like to see on an application of someone applying for a position of leadership. They want to hear of assertiveness, hard bargaining, big reputation, clear vision, and great success. What do people think regarding humility? To most, the words of defeat, unknown, ineffectiveness, indecisiveness and the lack of success. The Godly Man: When God Touches a Man's Life

Would we want a humble executive to lead the company? What about a humble pastor? The world's definition for leadership, whether it be in or out of the church, is based on the model of "Want it; get it!"

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Jesus Christ left us no such picture of leadership or humility. One pastor has outlined five dangerpoints to pride:

  • Pride harms our relationship with God
  • Pride cuts us off from the blessings of God
  • Pride robs glory from God
  • Pride gives us false security
  • Pride harms our relationship with others

If this is the case, we no longer need to wonder as to why many Christian ministries and church board meetings went awry. They are pride-configured; conflict is more noticeable than humility. Our minds go back to the request of the mother of two great disciples of Jesus. She wanted the two most esteemed positions for her two boys. We can't blame her for not asking!

"Thus the last shall be first, and the first last."

And as Jesus was about to go up to Jerusalem, He took the twelve disciples aside by themselves, and on the way He said to them, "Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem; and the Son of Man will be delivered to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn Him to death, and will deliver Him to the Gentiles to mock and scourge and crucify Him, and on the third day He will be raised up."

Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came to Him with her sons, bowing down, and making a request of Him. And He said to her, "What do you wish?" She said to Him, "Command that in Your kingdom these two sons of mine may sit, one on Your right and one on Your left." But Jesus answered and said, "You do not know what you are asking for. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?" They said to Him, "We are able." He said to them, "My cup you shall drink; but to sit on My right and on My left, this is not Mine to give, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by My Father."
(Matthew 20:16-23).

We should firstly clarify that Jesus never rebuked them or their mother for seeking honored positions. This perspective is affirmed by Paul in 1 Timothy 3:1, "It is a trustworthy statement: if any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do." We shouldn't assume Jesus is rebuking their aspiration.

The problem that Jesus pointed to was one of preparedness. They asserted they were ready to drink Jesus' bitter cup, but, in fact, they were not ready at that point. God had more work in their heart to do before they were able to drink that great cup of humility. We observed their unpreparedness by the way they ran away from Jesus at the cross rather than staying by His side. Later on, though, we see the powerful work of the Holy Spirit in their lives. This reminds us of three points:

  • We often think better of ourselves than we ought.
  • We can have good aspirations but be unequipped for the job.
  • God sometimes calls His disciples to walk the very humble path to martyrdom.

Jesus' response to the indignant disciples further challenges us.

And hearing this, the ten became indignant with the two brothers. But Jesus called them to Himself, and said, "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. "It is not so among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many." (Matthew 20:24-28).

Jesus did not quench their aspirations. They were good. However, Jesus in the end did reveal the rule by which true leaders would be found in the end. We see a contrast with the leaders that the world acknowledges. There is a clear difference.

Great Men in the World

Great Men in God's Kingdom

Lord it over
They act superior

Be the servant (Greek word is diakonus deacon) to others
They care for the needs of others

Exercise authority over them
Command others around

Be the slave (Greek word is doulos - slave) of other
Stand at the other's command

The way we assert our pride is to have others do our wishes. Pride exudes from having others do what we could. Instead of figuring out ways to get others to do what we wish, Christ's disciples are to be attentive to the needs and wishes of others. Jesus creates sensitive leaders by training them to be attentive to the needs of others. They are responsive to what the occasion calls for. They can take commands. If Jesus did not set up a clear model through His own life, I don't think we would begin to understand what God really wants for us. Asi it is, we often fail.

    "... just as the Son of Man did not come to be served,
    but to serve, and
    to give His life a ransom for many.

We are humbled at how the One who should be served, stepped down, put on a Servant's outfit, and served the ones not deserving service. The protocol was clear. Servants serve masters. Jesus' actions silence all our possible complaints.

"He doesn't deserve it."
"It is my turn."
"It is not fair."
"It's so hard."

We have Christ's glorious and gracious example of the cross hanging before our eyes. Jesus went so far to even give up His life because of this principle. We must resist calculating the effectiveness of our leadership style on the predictable outcomes of life. From every perspective it seemed that Jesus had made a great mistake when He died on the cross. Evil triumphed. The good left in the disciples ran away. But humility triumphed in the end. We must keep steadfast serving by the servant principle. We do not have time to think about our greatness when we have so many needs surrounding us. God takes care of His blessings. We would do well to aspire to be those dedicated and faithful servants caring for the needs of others.

There can be perhaps no greater sign of humility than when the greater serves the lesser, the leader aids the ones he is among. This type of service defines humility. The boss is willing to do anything that his men do. As a parent, this means I occasionally work with or in place of my children in their chores. As a pastor, I am ready to make copies, bring a meal, pray for someone in need. As an employer, I watch out for hazards and difficulties that I ask others to bear. I work alongside them rather than over them.

And for those of us who are just starting, we can aspire to be great in God's kingdom. We do it not by thinking about greatness but by humbling ourselves and taking on the tasks that our good Lord appoints us. No griping. No complaining. No giving up. No whining. We do our best caring for those for whom He died. We are just following in His path.

Humble, not Proud: A Biblical series on Humility

The Pattern of Humility Moses & Humility
Kinds of Humility Pride replaced with Humility
Jesus, Pioneer of Humility Humility in Ministry
Humility and Leadership Steps towards Humility
Dying to Self Testimonies on Humility
The Godly Man Series: Pure heart, not Divided, Righteousness not compromise, Fear God not fear man, Goodness and Contentment, Waiting upon God, Faith and unfaithfulness, Truth not deception, Love not lusts, Grace and graciousness
Righteousness, not Compromise
Grace and Graciousness
Truth, Not Deception Faith and Faithfulness
Goodness and Contentment Fear God, Fear not Man
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Biblical Foundations for Freedom

Paul J. Bucknell