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Why every leader must descend to greatness


In business, music or sports, greatness isn’t that hard to define. For example, the statement that Michael Jordan was a great basketball player is hardly contestable. His six championships, Olympic gold medal, MVP awards, appearances on all-star teams, scoring records and game-winning shots prove it. His actions and awards place him above all his competitors. Boxer Muhammad Ali, football receiver Jerry Rice and golfer Tiger Woods have accomplished in their own sports similar feats that demonstrate greatness.

But how do we define greatness in the realm of Christian leadership? Can checking attendance sheets, number of baptisms or the size of the yearly budget provide a clear standard for evaluating greatness? What are the true marks of a great leader when it comes to ministry—and how do we mimic those characteristics?

It’s easy to get sidetracked by our own arbitrary ideas of what great leadership looks like or what standards we use to measure it. Yet because the greatest leader of all has already defined greatness for us, we would be wise to learn what He says. Just as golfers pay thousands of dollars for instruction from Butch Harmon or computer software engineers listen intently to every word from Michael Dell, we should drop everything and tune into Jesus’ approach to greatness.

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This Is What Greatness Looks Like?

Jesus knows—and has always known—of our need to look to Him for a definition of greatness. And by our account, He had numerous prime opportunities throughout His life to show us the meaning. Yet His way of modeling greatness wasn’t exactly what we thought it would be.

For starters, it seems fitting that He would have started off His time on earth with a grand entrance. Christmas morning should’ve been more like the Fourth of July, with fireworks coming out of heaven to light up the whole earth. Jesus should’ve flown in like a comet whose blazing light dwarfed the radiance of the sun, so that every human would have been awakened by His arrival and overwhelmed by the warmth of His presence.

Then He could have ordered His seraphim posse to start up a universal chant and shake the atmosphere with their shouts of His holiness. The ensuing light, heat and earthquake would certainly have moved all the people on the planet to cover their eyes, tremble in awe and instantly acknowledge that someone greater than all others had descended on their world.

He could have been born in a palace to a great king and queen, had silk diapers, cashmere blankets, the purest baby food, gold teething rings—the whole nine yards. But nothing of the sort happened.

Instead, the Son of God came out of Mary’s womb to an audience of animals in a small Judean town called Bethlehem. His earthly parents were from a town in the Galilean backwoods with a reputation for producing nothing good (see John 1:46). His adoptive dad was a blue-collar worker struggling to make an honest shekel, and His mom got pregnant with Him before she was married. That had to have had people talking—a pregnant girl “showing” before the wedding.

Jesus came on the scene like just one more illegitimate child, born into a poor backwoods family, with little hope of doing anything great in His life. Why would Jesus, the Son of God, come to earth that way, birthed around smelly farm animals and dung droppings? Sure, a few angels showed up to make a special announcement to a group of local shepherds, and some rich men from the Far East came to pay homage. But aside from these exceptions, the world went on essentially undisturbed.

That just doesn’t seem to communicate greatness.

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Dr. Mark Rutland's

National Institute of Christian Leadership (NICL)

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