Transformational Leadership,

Transformational Leadership | Lesson 4: Jesus, The Ultimate Transformational Leader

By Ben Lovvorn

I’m glad you’re back for this fourth part of our series on transformational leadership. In this video, our goal is to look to Jesus and understand how he led others.

Jesus the Founder of our Faith

Jesus is the “founder and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2). His greatest accomplishment and his reason for coming into the world was to redeem us! He took on human flesh and human weakness, yet he lived entirely without sin. He died on the cross for us, paying the price we deserved to pay and receiving the punishment we deserved to receive. But then he rose from the dead, triumphant over sin and death. Through believing in him and trusting in him, you can be saved. Your sins can be forgiven! You can have new life in him. That is what Jesus has accomplished.

How Jesus Led

But as we spoke about in the first video of this series, Jesus also gave us a model of how to live and how to lead others. He set a pattern that we could imitate. So there is another sense in which Jesus is the “founder” of our faith. He is the prototype of what it is to be a leader.

And when you look at the approach Jesus took to leading others, he did not have a high profile or a particularly loud or charismatic personality. He did not lead according to social norms (Forrest, 2019, p. 23). He never went to a big city center like Rome, and he never hobnobbed with the rich and famous of his day. For the most part, he avoided crowds. He never wrote a book. And he never even had a permanent address during his ministry.

But look at what he started. Jesus founded a historic movement that has profoundly shaped every culture in the world for two millennia. And it’s still going strong! Lives have been changed by him. People have gone to extreme lengths to follow him. People have given their lives to be loyal to him. Jesus unleashed the most powerful force the world has ever known, and he did it in just three years of ministry. How did all this happen?

Jesus focused relentlessly on the spiritual transformation of his followers. He hand-selected his people. He called each disciple to follow him, to live with him and learn from him. He selected them not for who they were at the time, but for who they could become. He saw not just what they were, but what they could be. And he knew what it would take to get them there.

After getting the right group of people, Jesus spent day after day training them and teaching them. He took time to show them things and explain what he was doing. He allowed them to gain experience, he involved them in the work, and then he gave them real-time coaching along the way. He sent his disciples to new places. He delegated responsibilities to them. He warned them about dangers. He entrusted them with meaningful work. He gave them a ministry.

It was not as though Jesus wasn’t able to do these things himself. He could do anything! But he wanted to do ministry through his disciples. That’s because it wasn’t just about getting the job done, Jesus was interested in transforming the disciples. This meant preparing them and then giving them space to make decisions and choices. He even gave the disciples room to fail, and then he graciously restored them afterwards. He developed them and then commissioned them, sending them out to repeat this discipleship process again by making more disciples who would in turn make more disciples. In his book, Servants of the Servant: A Biblical Theology of Leadership, Don Howell describes Jesus as an “Equipper of Equippers.” That’s exactly right. Jesus trained people to do what he did. He didn’t just want passive followers or consumers. He wanted disciples who would become disciple-makers. His leadership was meant to transform the disciples, to make them more like himself.

Jesus took time for people, especially the outcasts, the young, and the hurting. Every time he started to draw crowds or get fame he would withdraw, seeking solitude and communion with the Father. We see an example of this in John 6:14–15, which says, “When the people saw the sign that he had done, they said, ‘This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!’ Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself.” Jesus didn’t bask in his new fame or strut around looking for more compliments, even though he truly deserved all their praise. He went away to be by himself. He went away to commune with the Father.

Jesus specifically rejected what the world had to offer when it could have all been his. There’s a stark example of this during Christ’s temptation in Luke 4:5–8, “And the devil took him up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time, and said to him, “To you I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” And Jesus answered him, “It is written, “‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.’” Satan tried to offer all the world’s power and glory. But Jesus wasn’t interested. He was solely focused on God’s glory, on praising and worshipping him.

In Philippians 2, the apostle Paul reminds us of the way that Jesus humbled himself again and again for us. Paul writes, “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” Not only did he leave the comfort of heaven, he even laid down his life for us. He was constantly making himself lower so that he could lift others up.

The Effect of Christ’s Transformational Leadership in the Life of Peter

At this point, I bet you’re already starting to feel an objection coming on. And I feel it too. Well yes, of course Jesus is the best leader! He’s the best at EVERYTHING! He’s God! But where does that leave me? I can’t be Jesus!

Well in the most important sense, of course you’re to feel that way. Jesus is unlike any other leader who has ever lived. He is the only begotten Son of God, 100% God and 100% man. He is our once and for all sacrifice, the perfect one who made atonement for sin. He never failed and He is holy and perfect. We’re not Jesus.

But we have examples to draw upon in Scripture that show us how transformational leadership can look for the rest of us. We can’t be Jesus. But we can strive to imitate him. We can use him as our model and pattern for every part of our lives. That includes how we act as leaders, and how we can influence and improve the lives of those we lead.

I think Peter is one of the best examples of how this works. Peter was just a roughneck fisherman from a small town. He was impulsive and reckless sometimes. He got things wrong, like when he rebuked Jesus for saying the Messiah must die. He got so scared and filled with shame that he denied even knowing Christ, right when Jesus needed him most. He was far from a superhero or a perfect man. He was not Jesus. And he didn’t come to resemble Jesus overnight. The transformation took time.

But he was transformed. Just read the first several chapters of the book of Acts. Peter’s boldness is still there, his passion is still there. But it has now been channeled towards God’s mission and purpose. He is preaching and healing and leading without compromise and without fear. God has taken the natural abilities and gifts and personality of Simon and He has transformed them by His grace. He has turned Simon into Peter, the “Rock,” who could lead, mentor, and coach the next generation of leaders in the church. He has filled Peter with His Holy Spirit, to empower Him to do the good works that he was called to do.

This same process, this same transformation, and this same empowerment—all of it is available to us in Jesus Christ today. By His Spirit, we can be made ready to do His work, to lead well, and to bring about transformation in the lives of those we lead and serve. When God is at work in us, then we can be sure that He will work through us to accomplish the transformation that we could never bring about on our own. We can never be Jesus, but Jesus has promised to be in us, by His Spirit, to extend our feeble efforts and take them farther than our strength and skill and planning would ever take us. And as we point others to the power of the Holy Spirit that is already working within us, they too will be transformed by Christ! Christ is the ultimate transformational leader, and by His grace, He makes us transformational leaders in His service wherever He has called us to be.

How Jesus Enables Us to Lead

Not only does Christ models what it is to lead well, but we also need to remember that he is the one who enables us to lead well. Christians are to live according to the image of Jesus Christ, but their sin nature interferes with their ability to do so (Forrest, 2019, p. 23; Grudem, 1994, p. 445; Kilner, 2015, p. 149). However, as John F. Kilner notes in his book, Dignity and Destiny, in Christ “people are liberated to fulfill all that God intends them to be as human beings created in the image of God” (Kilner, 2015, p. 234).  He does this by sending his Holy Spirit to strengthen and empower us. As Kilner writes, Jesus is “both the standard and enabler” of Christian leadership, making it possible for believers to live and lead according to his image (Kilner, 2015, pp. 52–53, 233; Rom. 6:1–5). Because he is the ultimate transformational leader, he leads us and transforms us, and then we’re in turn enabled by him to transform others. As Christian leaders, our primary goal is to influence others to become more like Christ (Col. 1:28-29; Jn. 21:17; cf. 1 Thess. 3:10, 13; Phil. 2:16-18). So you could say that Christ is the model, the means, and the goal of transformational leadership. He shows us how to do it. He enables us to do it. And he is what we’re trying to become, the outcome we hope to see and achieve. We want to be like him and to live with him forever, and we want that for those we lead.

Well I hope this has been an encouraging look at the ministry of Jesus and his way of leading. Now in our final video, I want us to take an honest look at ourselves. What kind of leaders are we? We’ll work through a series of question that will help us find out.