by MAJ John Cross, USA
“FOLLOW ME!” Leaders throughout history have used this phrase to inspire and lead men. I came to know it as the motto of the United States Army Infantry. This phrase is on the patch of the Infantry Center at Fort Benning, Georgia, as well as on the statue that stands in front of Infantry Hall.
Despite such current use of this phrase, the greatest impact it had on the world was when a carpenter-rabbi from the village of Nazareth said it to four fishermen on the Sea of Galilee. The Gospel of Matthew records this incident when Jesus called to Peter and his brother Andrew and said to them, “…’Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men…'” (Matthew 4:19 RSV).
As a Christian officer in the military today, I need only look to Jesus for the example to follow. Jesus provides the premier lesson on leadership by focusing on three areas: serving others, doing the will of His Father, and forsaking the world’s view of leadership.
Serving others may sound like an odd way to lead. If we’re appointed as leaders, people are supposed to obey our orders and follow us. Servant leadership is not new to this age, but can be traced back to first-century Judea. In Mark’s Gospel account, Jesus redefined leadership for His disciples.
This redefinition came on the heels of a request by James and John to be seated on the right and left of Jesus in Heaven. Upon hearing of the brothers’ request, the other disciples became upset and began to quarrel. Jesus gathered them and said, “…’whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all'” (Mark 10:44 RSV).
Serve others if you want to lead. This new concept was hard to swallow then and still is today, because of the self-focused tendency of human nature.
The key to serving others is to have a humble heart. Jesus provides the example of a humble heart and servant leadership at the Last Supper.
“Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under His power, and that He had come from God and was returning to God; so He got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around His waist. After that, He poured water into a basin and began to wash His disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around Him” (John 13:3-5).
Jesus’ humility came from the facts that He knew who He was, where He was going, and what He needed to do. He did not “put on airs” or flaunt the fact that He was the Son of God. He told His disciples earlier, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). By the power of the Holy Spirit and through prayer, we too can have a humble heart and serve others, as Christ would have us do.
Seek the Father’s Will
The second part of Jesus’ leadership lesson was that he constantly sought to do His Father’s will. He continually sought secluded places in order to pray and to seek His Father’s will. Jesus was accountable to His Father and had to get one-on-one time with His Father to ensure that He, Jesus, did His Father’s will.
While Jesus introduced new paradigms to fulfill the old ways, He was operating fully within the guidance and intent of His Father. This could only be done because Jesus took the time out of his daily schedule to seek the will of His Father.
Today’s leader is in a similar situation. He is a person held accountable by a higher authority. Since a leader is held accountable by a higher power, it makes sense that he should seek guidance from this authority. Even President Bush is accountable to the American people for his actions. Furthermore, President Bush also recognizes that he is accountable to God for his decisions. Because of this recognition, he starts every day with a time of quiet meditation over the scriptures and prayer, seeking the will of God and not the desires of men.
Seek Jesus as a Role Model
The third aspect of Jesus’ leadership style deals with the world’s idea of leadership. The world’s view on leadership today has not changed much since the days of Jesus. Many leaders in the world seek positions of leadership in order to exercise authority and esteem themselves as better than the people they are leading.
These attitudes can be seen in how they interact with others and how they seek to keep themselves in power. Dictators often build networks of terror to maintain power while living in the lap of luxury. This type of behavior does not occur only in despotic countries of the third world. America has its share of leaders who seek to stay at the top of their organizations by any means, in the corporate world, in politics, and even in the military.
Whether it is the Romans of the first four centuries A.D., the Papacy during the Middle Ages, or the efforts of several European states to exert power in the seventeenth through nineteenth centuries, man has constantly sought to lead others in a manner that subjugates the weak.
This style of leadership often resulted in rebellion and revolt. The conquered tribes of Northern Europe revolted against the Roman Empire, Protestant Reformers rebelled against the Church of Rome, the American colonies revolted against Great Britain, and the people of France revolted against the King, all as a response to “lording leadership.”
How can we, as Christian leaders, apply Christ’s lessons to our own lives? First, we should see leadership and command as opportunities to serve the people who serve our Armed Forces and the country. With Jesus by our side, we do not have to rely upon our strength alone, but can fully rely upon Him.
The Apostle Paul writes, “I can do everything through Him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13). Second, we should seek God and His will every day. Daily prayer and meditation is key to remaining in God’s will for us. This can be done through the use of a “quiet time” or other method of prayer and scriptural meditation.
Finally, by focusing on Jesus as our leadership example, we too can disregard the world’s idea of leadership and, like Him, have a clear, focused vision of what God would have us do. While we may never have to give our lives as a ransom for many, we should be prepared to do so. With Jesus as Lord of our lives, we should not look to be served, but to serve.