Ministry Today | Serving and empowering church leaders

Without Jesus being first, true leadership isn't possible

The church worldwide is facing a leadership crisis. Not only does it have too few leaders, but many of those leaders have weak spiritual lives. Media headlines in recent years attest to the compromise, worldliness, moral failure, human ambition and error in the church.

What's the underlying cause of this spiritual deficiency? A "disconnection" with Jesus. We must return to the centrality of the person of Jesus Christ. An inward union with Him isn't merely an important part of Christian leadership, it is the very nature of Christian leadership.

During His earthly ministry, Jesus lived in continuous union with His Father. This inward, spiritual fellowship was the source of everything in His life and ministry (see John 5:19). From this inward union came wisdom, discernment, power and miraculous works. As a result, Jesus perfectly revealed the Father: "If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. ... Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father" (John 14:7-9, NIV).

In the same way that Jesus lived by the indwelling life of His Father, so we are to live by the life of Jesus in us. We are to be in constant inward fellowship with Christ by His Spirit. Jesus' own leadership came entirely from His union with His Father, and He commissioned us to lead in the same way.

Biblical Christian leadership is not vision-based, competency-based, success-based or even values- or character-based; it is Christ-based. Everything must come from an inward union with Him. This is not merely semantics for the sake of influencing behavior. It is truth that goes to the very heart of how we understand Christian life and Christian leadership.

Making this distinction doesn't undermine the importance of vision, competency or character. In fact, it establishes that true vision, competency and character come from the indwelling life of Christ and not from human effort or capacity. "If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; [for] apart from me you can do nothing" (John 15:5, NIV).

Jesus isn't just describing the "best" way to true Christian leadership; He is showing us the only way. He is revealing that everything else is mere human works. He is pre-eminent (see Col. 1:18), and is the only true foundation for our lives and ministries (see 1 Cor. 3:11). Like a body without a head, true leadership isn't possible without Christ being first—not merely as a doctrine we agree with or a set of values we hold, but as a living, inward experience in our personal leadership.

Many Christian leaders are intellectually familiar with God and the things of God, but they are not intimately united with Him on a daily basis. Sadly, this lack of intimacy is aided in part by our current popular understanding of leadership. Today, much Christian leadership teaching consists of little more than business models of leadership or motivational "success" anecdotes from basketball coaches, football stars and wealthy businesspeople.

In the biblical paradigm, however, union with Christ and the cross, and dependency on the Holy Spirit are at the center. Jesus Himself is the beginning and end of all Christian leadership. He will not accept second place. He is worthy of absolute pre-eminence in our lives and ministries. Apart from Him, we will accomplish nothing of any lasting value. This is our only solution to the current leadership crisis—Jesus Himself

MALCOLM WEBBER is the founder and executive director of LeaderSource, which equips churches to build healthy leaders. His monthly Leadership Letters are read by thousands of Christian leaders worldwide.

With its extensive catalog of resources, courses and training opportunities, monthly serves as an online hub for a truly global initiative to develop godly, healthy servant-leaders. A must-visit for those interested in maturing as a leader.

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