shepherds

Leadership Transition—Jesus Style

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Here are 5 ways a true servant-leader begins and completes leadership transition. These are qualities and roles of leadership seen in Jesus, as He washes the disciples feet the night before His death on the cross (John 13:1-17).

We see how His example of confident yet humble leadership—servant leadership—prepares and makes the way for leadership transition. This is a follow up to a 2-part post on 8 Qualities of Servant Leadership—Part 1 / Part 2.

Some of these things I learned along the way in my own experiences with ministry transition but they became more clear when I stumbled upon them here in John 13. I’m sure more can be gleaned from Chapters 13 through 17 of John but this is a good start.

5 Ways of leadership transition—Jesus Style

Know the Way (verses 1, 3)

The Lord was confident in who He was as God’s Son. He knew where He came from and where He was going. He knew the way His disciples needed to go as leaders and He showed this by loving them to the very end in the fullest way.

Our confidence is not to be in ourselves nor our abilities, but in the Lord and who we are in Him. Every leader within God’s kingdom needs to be confident in their identity as a child of God. If we’re not, why should anyone put their confidence in our leadership?

Knowing the way is basic for us. The first step is to deny ourselves—our selfish nature—die to our self, and follow Jesus (Mt 16:24). It’s a way of faith guided by the Holy Spirit. The people we lead need to be confident that we know the way.

Walk the Way (verses 4-5)

By far, the most common and important element of true servant-leadership is being a living example. This is the picture we have of Jesus as He washes the disciples’ feet. Everything Jesus did was a model for all those who follow Him.

He showed them how to lead by how He walked through daily life—the way Jesus carried Himself in various situations and public settings, and how He interacted with people other than His followers.

We also see the impact of Jesus’ life example as a young man among leaders in the temple (Luke 2:46-47)—an essential element of His leadership even in His youth.

This example of walking the way was carried on by leaders such as Paul and Peter to those whom they led and mentored. This is central to God’s design for leadership.

Show the Way (verses 6-13)

Showing the way is simply an extension of walking the way but moves beyond example to help others see or know the way. How? By teaching and training in a relational and interactive manner.

Here in John 13, we see this of Jesus in His dialogue with Peter and then His instruction to all the disciples. This is not classroom or pulpit teaching but a relational discipleship process. We see Jesus do this often throughout the gospels.

In the early days of the Jesus Movement, this type of discipleship was common. It’s not today. It requires time and commitment because it’s intentional and relational. I believe this lack of interactive discipleship has weakened the church.

It’s resisted or avoided in many ways because of the distractions and insistent demand for people’s attention in our culture. Healthy leadership transition requires interactive leadership that shows the way.

Make a way (verses 14-15)

An important part of leadership is training up new leaders. Again, it is not a program but an intentional and relational process of discipleship. Discipleship done well naturally produces leaders.

The responsibility of leaders and mentors is making way for others to step up and into leadership roles. It may require creating opportunities for others to move forward in leadership or allow for innovation and creativity beyond existing leadership roles.

This requires a willingness to look beyond ourselves as leaders. Jesus had this vision from the beginning. It was always in mind in everything He said and did. Jesus knew His time on earth was short and that raising up leaders for the new church was essential.

Regardless of our leadership role we are responsible to raise others up who can take our place. Pastors don’t always have this in mind but they ought to because of unforeseen situations and knowing when to step away in later life-stages.

Step away (verses 16-17)

One of the more difficult roles of leadership is knowing when it’s time to move on or get out of the way. It’ s usually a matter of timing—the Lord’s timing not ours. For pastors, this timing can be difficult to know but it’s important to prayerfully consider it.

How a leader steps away is also important. If it’s done too quickly, it’s likely to fail. If it’s done awkwardly or too slowly, it’s difficult on everyone involved. Planning on a transition—choosing to step away—may not be something we want to do, but it’s wise.

Again, we look to Jesus as our prime example, but other examples are Barnabas and Paul. Barnabas knew Saul (Paul) was gifted by God and called for the work in Antioch and beyond. Paul gave detailed exhortations and encouragements to both Timothy and Titus for handling and leading ministry transitions.

Stepping away requires self-denial on the leader’s part who steps away. The timing is difficult for those of us who are church-planters and founders of ministries. It’s a lot like letting go of our young adult children as they grow into their own lives.

5 Ways to transition leadership summarized—

So, for a healthy ministry transition—whether pastoral or ministries within or beyond the church—here are 5 ways Jesus demonstrated His transition of leadership.

  • Those we lead and mentor need to be confident we know the way.

  • Those who follow us need to see how we’ve walked the way if we expect them to lead as we do.

  • We need to provide an interactive and living example that shows the way for others under our leadership.

  • We need to look for and create opportunities for others to step into leadership as we make way for others to lead.

  • We need to be attentive to when and how to step away from our role as a leader or pastor.

If you’d like more information or guidance on pastoral transitions, please let us know. It’s what we do at Poimen Ministries!

8 Characteristics of A Servant Leader–part 2

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In a previous post, we looked at three characteristics of servant leadership as seen in the example of Jesus in the first five verses of John 13. This post is a follow-up that covers five more characteristics of servant leadership. These are drawn from John 13:6-17.

If you want a refresher on the first three characteristics of servant leadership, click on this link— 8 Characteristics of Servant Leadership.

4– Authority with Purpose (verses 6-9)

Authority is one of the most misunderstood and abused elements of leading others, regardless of circumstance—work, home, church, business, even within the military.

Webster’s definition—speaks of—power to influence or command—but also—freedom granted by one in authority.

When it comes to the role of authority as a servant leader within the Kingdom of God, Jesus is our prime example.

He received His authority from His Father. Those of us called to be leaders within God’s kingdom receive our authority from Jesus and Him alone. Not a government, nor a board, nor any ecclesiastical (church) authority.

Authority—as seen in the life and ministry of Jesus—is both a responsibility and a privilege.

It is a privilege extended to us by the Lord for His purposes and it carries a double responsibility. We are directly responsible to the Lord whenever exercising any authority within His kingdom, which includes any and all local churches. We are responsible for those Jesus gives us charge over.

Abuse of authority happens when a leader loses sight of this double-sided responsibility.

This is what we see of Jesus through His example in washing the disciples’ feet. Sometimes our authority over others needs to be set aside, just as we see Jesus setting aside His outer clothing to strip down to the level of a servant (verse 4).

At times, the Lord’s authority must be exercised for a purpose beyond the immediate situation. This is seen in Jesus’ dialog with Peter in verses 6-9. Jesus was washing the disciples' feet as an example but Peter didn’t understand this. So, Jesus exercised His authority as Messiah to make it clear Peter needed to allow Jesus to wash his feet.

Whatever authority the Lord extends to anyone is a gift because it has value and purpose beyond the person who bears it. It’s not ours to wield in whatever way we want. Its purpose is to bless and strengthen others. Authority in the role as a servant leader is not a position held or a role to play but leadership that guides others with a gentle strength.

Authority given by our Lord Jesus is both a responsibility and a privilege

5– Discernment and Restraint (verses 10-11)

When the Holy Spirit reveals things to us about others, we don’t have to reveal it to them. We need to use discretion. Discernment is too often lacking or neglected by many leaders, as well as learning to wait on the Lord. Patience isn’t just a virtue it’s a fruit of the Holy Spirit dwelling in us as believers (Gal 5:22).

In other words, discretion on our part as leaders means we need to exercise restraint. We don’t need to confront, defend, or warn someone unless the Holy Spirit directs us to do that after prayer and intercession. Otherwise, we may interfere with what the Lord wants to do in someone’s life.

Have you ever wondered why the Lord didn’t warn Judas about betraying Him and the consequences that would follow? In my younger years, I would have jumped into action. Actually, I did too often. I needed to learn the hard lesson that I don’t always know all there is to know (Pro 18:17).

So, why didn’t Jesus warn Judas? It was more than fulfillment of prophecy (John 13:18). Jesus knew the nature and character of His disciples. He knew Judas would betray Him sooner or later.

Discernment and restraint are essential for good leadership

6– Instruction by Example (verses 12-13)

Teaching is not all there is to instruction. Instruction must go beyond words. People need to see the truth illustrated by our leadership. Our life example is always louder than any preaching we do.

This is the basic responsibility of leadership and always has been. Instruction by example is the point of this short story only found in John’s gospel. It’s an unmistakable illustration of servant leadership.

When Jesus stripped down to the role of a servant, He knew it would not be understood (vss 4-5, 7).

When He finishes washing all the feet of the disciples, Jesus returns to the formal role of teacher and asks them, “Do you understand what I have done…?” He then reminds them who they say He is and confirms it. Was the lesson learned and passed on?

Peter, a recipient of Jesus’ physical example of servant leadership, makes it clear in his teaching to fellow leaders that we are to be examples to the people of God (1 Pet 5:1-4). In both of Paul’s epistles to Timothy and Titus, Paul puts great emphasis on the importance of life example.

Do we really understand what Jesus demonstrated by washing the disciples’ feet? Or has it only become an illustration or turned into a ceremony? Our responsibility is to give clear, simple instruction that people understand and visibly see at work in our lives.

Do we really understand what Jesus taught by His example of servant leadership?

7– Exhortation by Example (verses 14-15)

A well-known, obvious, and important element of good leaders—servant leaders—is to lead by example. This means we are to be a model of what is expected of those who follow our lead. On one hand, this is obvious. But as obvious as it may seem, it doesn’t always register with those we lead.

I remember one Sunday checking on the set up for a morning service—checking the thermostat, straightening chairs—with a young believer tagging along with a myriad of questions.

At one point he grabbed my arm and said, “Pastor, I’m trying to discuss important spiritual things with you!” I turned and responded, “Maybe if you help me with the set up I’ll have more time to talk.” But sadly, he walked away in frustration.

Jesus knew the disciples often discussed who was the most important among themselves and He knew His time with them was short. So, when Jesus finished washing the disciples' feet, He again took on His role as Rabbi-Teacher and told them what He expected of them.

It’s okay to have reasonable expectations of those we lead. Actually, it’s our responsibility as leaders.

People have expectations of their leaders, as they should. They expect us to lead! But we need to show them what we expect, then remind them of what we expect and make it clear how to do so. This is especially true when delegating responsibility and tasks, but also in any form of discipleship.

The apostle Paul said, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Cor 11:1).

Servant leaders need to be able to confidently say, “Do as I do. Follow my example, as I follow Jesus.” This echoes what Jesus said to the disciples as He sat down to instruct and explain to them why He washed their feet.

Can you confidently say—"Do as I do”—Follow my example as I follow Jesus?

8– Exhortation to Action (verses 16-17)

Most people do not want the responsibility of leadership. They are, as Jesus saw them, “sheep without a shepherd.” They need leadership and the obvious responsibility of leaders is to lead.

Just as Jesus does with the disciples in this story, we need to challenge people to put truth into action. This is not optional.

Yet, too often people are exhorted to make application of truth without understanding why. So, we as leaders need to follow the Lord’s example of explaining why a certain truth needs to be applied in life.

We cannot expect people to have integrity in their daily lives if they don’t have integrity in their spiritual life. Likewise, they need their leaders’ lives to exhibit what we expect of them. They need to see how our life matches what we teach and preach when we exhort them to follow our example.

It’s great to have biblical knowledge and a spiritual mindset and heart, but if it doesn’t translate into real life then it’s suspect. Real discipleship should result in actions that bring a changed life.

This is underscored by the Lord here in John 13 and also at the end of the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 7:24-27). Apostles John and James (the Lord’s brother) also confirm this (1 John 3:18; Jam 1:22). Whatever truth we hold to internally needs to be translated into action externally.

Leaders need to challenge God’s people to put the truth into life action as they follow our example

8 Characteristics of a Servant Leader

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In a previous post, I shared the story of Jesus washing the disciples feet as an example of servant leadership. As mentioned in that post, the idea of servant leadership has become more popular wherever leadership is discussed. However, transferring talk into action is always a challenge.

Knowing why we need to be servant leaders is answered by Jesus in John 13:12-17. But knowing how to do it—how to actually be a servant leader—is not always clear.

First of all, for pastors and leaders in churches it is fitting for us to be servant leaders because that’s how we see Jesus lead. This is reflected in what Jesus says about Himself and for His followers in Mark 10:43-45—

But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.

It is also the very nature of Jesus—

… and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart. (Matt 11:29)

But what if you aren’t a pastor or leader, at least not in a recognized sense?

All believers are leaders in some way in various roles in life. Wherever we have influence in people’s lives—whether among family or friends or at work—as believers, we are called to be examples and this is an important qualification for any leader.

Even within the church, whether we are recognized by others as people having influence, we are called to fulfill God’s purpose for our life within His church body (Eph 4:15-16).

Here are the first 3 of 8 characteristics of a servant leader, as seen in the leadership of Jesus in John 13:1-17.

1– Motivated by love (verse 1)

This is always our first priority. We are to be compelled by love to serve others with our leadership—not ambition, nor obligation.

We need to see people as Jesus saw them and love them as Jesus loved them. Jesus had compassion on people as “sheep without a shepherd” (Mark 6:34). Jesus was compelled by His love for the Father. It was always His number one priority. But is it ours?

When Jesus “knew His hour had come,” it says Jesus already had loved His own and would now show them the fullness of His love. Who does this include? Those who seek and follow Him near and far, then and now, even those who've ignored Him and His love.

It says He “loved them to the end.” This is expressed in the well-known declaration found in John 3:16.

His all-important mission—the purpose of Jesus being sent to earth by the Father—would be completed through His death on the cross and His resurrection from the dead.

Are we as leaders compelled by the love we have for Jesus to serve as He served?

2– Humility based on confidence (verses 2-3)

If our confidence is based on anything else than our personal relationship with the Lord, it is a feeble confidence—empty of any spiritual authority. In fact, we need to be emptied of any confidence in ourselves so we become confident in Him alone.

Jesus had nothing to prove and nothing to lose. Jesus knew who He was, where He had come from, and why He came from heaven. Jesus willingly stripped Himself of His glory to fulfill His Father’s will.

His relationship with His Father, His mission, and His nature as a Son were His base of confidence—not His position as Messiah.

Godly confidence is relational. It can’t be gained by any other means—education, hard work, recognition, nor anything else—and no one but the Lord can confer it upon us.

Godly confidence is relational

John’s narrative in the first three verses are given as a backdrop to illustrate this simple lesson in servant leadership.

Because Jesus was the Son of God—His confidence based in His relationship with the Father—had freedom to stoop down as a servant to wash the disciples’ feet. It was intentional and relational.

If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have given you an example… (John 13:14-15)

As leaders, our motivation for serving is love and our confidence to serve needs to be based on our relationship with the Lord.

3– Denial of self and giving ourselves to God first (verses 4-5)

The picture of Jesus stripping down to the role of a common servant, then stooping down to wash the disciples’ feet is an extraordinary display of servant leadership. It gives us a mental picture of the Son of God transformed into the servant of God (Phil 2:5-8).

It’s important to remember that in serving others we are not their servants but servants of God. This is the example of Jesus in John 13.

Jesus was denying Himself in this lowly act of service after submitting Himself to His Father’s will. This is something Jesus told the disciples often (John 4:34; 5:30) and later demonstrated in the Garden of Gethsemane in prayer (Matt 26:36-45).

If we claim to be followers of Jesus and leaders of His people, we need to keep in mind the most basic call of following Jesus as found in Matthew 16:24—

Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.

This is a basic foundation for leadership in the Kingdom of God—servant leadership.

If, we cannot look beyond ourselves—our own needs, desires, dreams—how can we hope to lead anyone beyond ourselves for or to the Lord?

Giving our self to the Lord first by denying and dying to our self prepares us to follow the example of Jesus in serving others.

When we do this, it will be seen in our relationship with others—our attitude towards others and how we treat others.

How do you treat people you interact with on a regular basis?

What is your attitude toward others when you serve them?

We’ll look at the other 5 characteristics of servant leadership in the next post. For now, pastors—what are your thoughts on these first 3 characteristics of servant leadership?

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