Setting aside the politics of the healthcare ruling – if that is possible – think for a moment about the gravity of making such a decision. We can say a lot of things about the Supreme Court’s decision, but being one of the individuals responsible for that decision is a position of incredible pressure.
Being in a position of leadership is not easy. Being responsible for decisions that have an impact upon the lives of others is a tremendous responsibility.
Our leaders are charged with incredible responsibilities, some of them being, literally, life and death decisions.
Our response to those decisions is generally based on our already formed opinions – if a leader makes a decision we agree with, we see that leader as being a genius; if they make a decision we disagree with, we fear they may be an idiot.
In a world that is becoming evermore complex and dangerous, our political leaders are given the gargantuan task of leading us through those dangers and complexities.
And in the religious world, where the landscape is changing so rapidly and so many questions about the future confront us, our leaders are facing the unenviable task of discerning how to adapt to those changes.
As we continue our series of message on spiritual gifts, this morning we study the gift of leadership.
There are so many points to be made about leadership, but we have time only for a few. You can read some of the other points about leadership in the study guide that goes with this message. One of the assumptions I am making about leadership is that the type of leadership displayed by Jesus is a very unique way of leading, and is the kind of leadership he calls us to emulate. What Jesus teaches us about leadership is –
Leadership is about influence, not power.
Sometimes leaders have power, but not always. Martin Luther King, Jr. did not have any formal power. He held no elected office so he had no formal political power.
He had no power, but he had tremendous influence. His speech in front of the Lincoln Memorial on August 28, 1963 was only seventeen minutes long but it changed the course of our history.
Jesus certainly had no power in the way we usually think of power. In fact, Jesus was decidedly uninterested in any type of political or coercive power. When James and John sought to use their association with Jesus as leverage to gain power he very quickly rebuked them.
Jesus possessed the power of influence, which is the mark of a great leader. Jesus stood on a hillside and a multitude followed to hear his words. The Sermon On the Mount has profoundly influenced history and continues to influence how people see and understand the world and one another. His influence was so powerful that the political and military might of Rome wilted in comparison.
We can find many more Scriptural examples. Nehemiah, who led a group of people back to their devastated homeland, and when finding it in ruins, led the effort to rebuild the city of Jerusalem. Paul, after his arrest and eventual imprisonment in Rome, brought faith to the household of Caesar himself because of the power of his influence.
You can quickly find the leaders in a church – who are the people that get the attention of others when they speak? Who are the people who have the ability to cause others to say – if they’re on board with it, then I am also.
True, effective leadership does not depend upon the power of coercive force, but upon influence.
Leadership is about vision.
One of the most famous political speeches in the history of our country is President Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural address. It is a very short address, and concludes with this statement – With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan—to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves, and with all nations.
That is a great vision. It is a vision instilled within us as a people, at a tragic time in our history, that shaped the values to guide us into the future with a sense of peace and fairness.
And what did Jesus have to offer his disciples? Anything tangible? Not really. No riches. No earthly power. No land. No titles. What Jesus offered was a vision. That’s the essence of the Sermon On the Mount. You have heard that it was said, but I say to you… Over and over again he offered a vision for what the world could be, what people could be.
Vision must be constantly cast, as it can slowly ebb away from us. We become worn down by the demands and responsibilities of life, so vision must be kept in front of us. This is what Jesus did for his disciples.
Leadership casts vision that keeps us on what is most important. When I’m working on my sermon I keep in mind that I am not ready until I can sum up the message in one sentence. What is the essence of what I am trying to say?
The one word vision of the leadership of Jesus is this – love. He affirms this in the Sermon On the Mount when he tells us to love our enemies (Matthew 5:44); he affirms this when he tells us to love God with all our heart, soul, and strength (Matthew 22:37; he affirms this when he tells us to love our neighbor as we love ourselves (Matthew 22:39); and he affirms it when he said my command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends (John 15:12-14a).
This is the greatest example of leadership in all of history. May we pray.