If Anything Else, Leadership is THIS

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Path in the green forest in summer

“What is leadership?”

This question is asked in just about any course taught on leadership. I remember a seminary class on leadership where we were asked that same question at the beginning of the semester. To be honest, I don’t really remember any of the definitions that were suggested. I’m sure most of our answers included words and phrases like influence, followers, and common vision.

Those are certainly relevant words to use when talking about vision. I’ve probably used all of them when talking about leadership, perhaps even when writing about it in this blog. But as I’ve learned as a leader, made lots of mistakes as a leader, and experienced what people respond to in a leader, there’s one thing that I’ve noticed separates the good leaders from the great ones. And we actually find it very early on in Jesus’ ministry:

Passing alongside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.” (Mark 1:16-17, ESV)

This passage usually is noted for the immediacy of Simon and Andrew’s decision to follow Jesus. Or it is highlighted in a sermon on evangelism, pointing out the Jesus’ primary call to discipleship was that of telling others about Jesus. Both applications hit the mark, but there is something else there that we usually don’t notice.

You see, Jesus was calling Simon and Andrew to make an immediate decision. And he was calling them into a life in which — unbeknownst to them at the time — they would help change the entire world for millennia and on continents they didn’t know exists by spreading Jesus’ Gospel after his death and resurrection.

But the heart of what Jesus was calling them to was this: something bigger than themselves.

To say that seems almost insignificant, even cliché. At the very least, it’s quite unspecific and very unsatisfying. Something bigger than themselves? Did fisherman even think in those terms? Perhaps not. But the reason they heard that call and followed was because Jesus was giving them something they lacked: purpose.

No offense to those reading this in the fishing industry, of course. I’m a big fan of grilled salmon and fried cod, so I don’t mean to diminish that particular line of work. But Andrew and Simon lacked purpose, and Jesus gave it to them when he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.”

You see, we often tell people that if they follow Jesus, it will make their lives better. And to some extent, it will, but not in the way that we often think it willOr we tell people that following Jesus will make them happier (which of course, is a promise we can’t make good on). We try in every which way to convince them that following Jesus is something they need personally. And they do, of course. There is no life to be found outside of Jesus. But perhaps it’s that and more.

As leaders, if we do anything, we need to call people to something bigger than themselves, to a purpose bigger than themselves. Of course the biggest thing we are called to is God himself and the mission he gave his Church.

So when we lead, we point people to Jesus and invite them to be a part of the same mission, the same purpose that he invited Andrew and Simon to be a part of on that shore all those years ago.

Leadership is many things, but it is at least THIS: Inviting people to be a part of a purpose bigger than themselves.

It’s what Jesus invited us to do when he invited us to follow him. When we point people to Jesus, we invite them to do the same.

So what purpose are you leading people into this week?

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