Rick Sessoms

The predominant image of leaders in Jesus’ time – not very different from our own time – was that they were egocentric, oppressive, and in charge. Perhaps this is why Jesus never used the word “leader” when referring to his disciples. It seems that the conventional leadership values in his time were not those Jesus wanted to transfer to the future leaders of the church.

For example, one of the values that distinguished Jesus’ way of leadership was his priority on the followers’ potential. Jesus as a leader was focused on his disciples’ Kingdom potential rather than on His well-being. Furthermore, the weight of the Gospel writings indicates that Jesus spent very little of his time building an organization. Although he could have grown a huge church himself, Jesus opted to invest in people with the goal of reproducing his heart for the world into those who would carry the Gospel torch after his departure. On the night of his crucifixion, Jesus foretold the coming of the Holy Spirit who would lead them to do even greater things that they had heretofore experienced. Also, in his appearance to them just before his ascension, Jesus exhorted his disciples to be empowered by the Spirit and be witnesses. The church’s healthy beginning was linked to Jesus’ sacrificial resolve to lead by focusing on his followers’ highest potential.

Let’s face it:  most leaders desire to be successful. After all, how will the organization be effective in fulfilling its mission unless the leader is successful?  So this example from the leadership of Jesus is risky. The religious establishment of his day was perpetuating a system that seemed infinitely stronger and more permanent than what Jesus was doing.  But he was building people to be their very best. In reality, the church was a byproduct of Jesus’ primary focus during his three years of ministry. He developed a few followers who were transformed to reach their highest potential.

Jesus had one leadership focus: the potential of those he called disciples . . . and friends.  He did not have a back-up plan. If this is true, the message is profound for leaders who want to lead like Jesus. If this is true, it distinguishes Jesus’ leadership from the utilitarian models that are discarded if they aren’t successful  If this is true, those who lead Jesus’ way do so not because it is necessarily the most successful way to lead, but because it is the right way to lead.

My first experience in ministry leadership was a bad one. During my last year of seminary, I became pastor of a small, struggling congregation.  I had set out to rescue them, but eventually resigned in failure and had decided not to pursue vocational ministry.

However, two weeks before graduating from seminary, our phone rang. The voice on the other end of the line said, “I am Pastor David Muir. We have never met. Our church is looking for an assistant pastor.  Would you be open to candidate for the position?”

I replied, “No, I’m not interested.”

He said, “Look, I’ve heard about your journey. You’ve had a rocky start, but I think you have potential. Would you just come to visit our church for a weekend. No commitments.”

Why I accepted his invitation to visit is still a mystery to me. During the weekend visit, he said, “Rick, if you come as assistant pastor, it won’t be for what you can do for us, but for what we can do for you.” That statement changed my life.

From the beginning, it was crystal clear that David Muir and the people of the church were committed to my spiritual and leadership growth. They were incredibly patient. He carefully mentored me, even when my mistakes resulted in turbulence in the church. He praised me lavishly and corrected me like a father when I needed it. Once I broke a confidentiality, and it broke his heart, but he didn’t give up on me. He invested in me his resources, and he was generous with his time.

The lessons were not all easy ones. He was a taskmaster, committed to discipline and excellence. He was intolerant of staff members who violated non-negotiable values.

He never took a course on mentoring. He knew his limitations and talked about them. He modeled the way; what he believed was consistent with how he lived.

Over the years, he committed himself to develop emerging leaders like me. A primary focus of his life and ministry – like Jesus – was to mentor young men and women to reach their fullest potential for the Kingdom of God. Many current leaders serving in various ministry capacities around the world can trace their beginnings to this servant.

Two weeks ago, I phone David Muir. He has settled into retirement. With a recent stroke, his eyesight is failing, and his strength is waning. But he still speaks with joy about the young leaders he mentored. At one point in the conversation, I expressed appreciation for his influence.  He choked back emotion and responded, “I just wanted you to be all you could be . . . for the Kingdom of God.”

May God raise up many others with this kind of heart to lead like Jesus.