Beginning the Journey of Leadership in the Upside-down Kingdom

Begin with Jesus, the Chief Cornerstone

Every journey begins with the first step, and on the journey into leadership in God’s upside-down Kingdom, we must begin with Jesus. He is our beginning point in every endeavor—the chief cornerstone on which every solid foundation is laid. Jesus’ coming to establish a new kingdom was prophesied in Isaiah (Is 28:16), and He quotes the Psalms when He tells the people that the rejected stone would become the chief cornerstone (Lk 20:17-18). The disciples reiterate to the people that the crucified and risen Christ was the rejected stone (Acts 4:11), and Paul writes to the church in Ephesus that Jesus has become the cornerstone of the church (Eph 2:20). Therefore, a Kingdom understanding of servant leadership means that we must begin by examining the life and person of Jesus.

From the beginning of His ministry Jesus proclaimed His mission, His purpose, His vision, His goal. He quotes from the prophet Isaiah to share with the world the vision which God set before Him. Luke writes in his gospel:

14 Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee, and news about him spread throughout the whole countryside. 15 He taught in their synagogues and was praised by everyone. 16 Jesus went to Nazareth, where he had been raised. On the Sabbath he went to the synagogue as he normally did and stood up to read. 17 The synagogue assistant gave him the scroll from the prophet Isaiah. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:
            18 The Spirit of the Lord is upon me
                        because the Lord has anointed me.
            He has sent me to preach good news to the poor,
                        to proclaim release to the prisoners
                        and recovery of sight to the blind,
                        to liberate the oppressed,
                        19 and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
20 He rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the synagogue assistant, and sat down. Every eye in the synagogue was fixed on him. 21 He began to explain to them, “Today, this scripture has been fulfilled just as you heard it.” Luke 4:14-21 (CEB)

Everything Jesus did from that day forward flowed from or contributed to that visionary mandate He received from His Father. He was so focused on it that at several times, as He was equipping His disciples, He highlighted that He only said and did what He heard and saw the Father saying and doing (Jn 5:19-20, 8:28, 12:49-50, 14:10-11). Jesus was utterly committed to doing God’s will even at the cost of His own life (Jn 4:34, Lk 22:42).

Learning Jesus’ mission is key to discovering how to lead in God’s Kingdom and is important to understand for development as a servant. Gene Wilkes, in his book Jesus in Leadership, highlights that we learn to lead as we learn to serve the Leader, Jesus Christ, by understanding how He is leading in our lives and local congregations.

Submission to God and to the divine mission for your life is the first step to servant leadership. You will never become a servant leader until you first become servant to the Leader. Your mission and purpose in life spring from the relationship you have with God. While many people invite you to determine your own destiny, God calls you to live out a divine plan through your life. [1]

Likewise, God has commissioned the local church and each believer to carry forward that vision declared by Christ. Before He ascended after His resurrection, He charged believers to carry on what He began as He taught them of God’s Kingdom. He commissioned us to be carriers of His mission to the ends of the earth.

 18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age. Matthew 28:18-20 (ESV)

Charting and Navigating a Course

Capturing this commission and its vision is critical for developing healthy and God-honoring habits and behaviors for our lives. Creating a personal vision statement the reflects this charge is a way to declare God’s purpose and intent for our lives. As we define and adjust our goal on our life journey with God, we know Him and ourselves better and we are able to step into greater measures of purpose and responsibility. Our vision statement then acts as our guide and helps point the direction we want to journey.

Take a few moments to reflect on Matthew 28:18-20. Consider how your life reflects the charge Jesus gave to His followers. Is there a simple statement you can make to help guide your life and to carry that charge into your daily interactions?

Once we have the vision, we must next decide how we will get to our destination. Navigating the course is an exercise in adaptation as we constantly shift our goal to meet present needs and circumstances. We never change the vision, we just shift our strategies as we navigate the hazards and challenges of the shifting world around us. Just as Jesus dealt with people on an individual basis to bring the will of His Father to bear, so too we must be willing to change our methods without abandoning our principles and goal.

Final Thoughts About the Next Steps

All throughout Scripture we see God raise up leaders from the most unlikely places to became key instruments of God’s plans and purposes. At all times, especially in our world today, God is looking for those who are willing to serve Him as He accomplishes His work in and through them to bring about His Kingdom purposes in this hour.

Jesus spent the first thirty years of His life in preparation as he “matured in wisdom and years, and favor with God and with people” (Lk 2:52)—all for a brief moment of ministry. God prepared Him over the course of His life for the tasks He set before Jesus. God is as interested in the journey you are on with Him as He is in the vision He has for your life. Remember that our focus is on growing in Christ and in our love and devotion to Him. He is responsible for the results! Patience in preparation to reach the goal is essential—it takes time to grow into a competent and confident servant leader.

In the coming articles, we will examine principles for moving into greater realms of leadership in the Kingdom of God and in the local church. We will examine fundamental principles of what Kingdom leadership looks like from a biblical viewpoint. We will also lay a foundation on Christ for the character that carries Kingdom authority. Then, we will examine acts of devotion and obedience that are crucial to leaders as they operate with ever increasing authority and responsibility. Next, we will learn about and apply servant leader concepts that equip and empower others. Finally, we will explore how to build teams to raise up co-ministers and to increase the impact of our mission.

My prayer is that we will come to a better understanding of Kingdom principles and models of leadership. Jesus modeled perfect servant leadership and we will see how we can apply those principles to our own lives. Whether we are actively leading in ministry or not, God is always preparing us. As well as gaining a deeper understanding of the principles, we will also take time for application and reflection to help internalize the principles and begin to live them out in our lives now. May God bless you richly as we focus on how He would prepare us to lead like His Son.

[1] Gene Wilkes, Jesus on Leadership: Timeless Wisdom on Servant Leadership (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1998), Location 380, Kindle Edition.


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