Pastor’s and spiritual leaders joined the Good to Great 1 cheering section soon after publication of the best seller in 2001. Author Jim Collins had researched 1,435 companies to discover the traits that differentiated them from so many other organizations. Eventually the Collins’ study focused on eleven entities that had experienced notable statistical and financial turnaround and resulting consistent performance. They had moved from the ranks of good companies to the smaller inventory of great ones.
One of the defining marks of corporate greatness in Collin’s study was the character of those occupying the executive suites. Collin’s dubbed them Level 5 Leaders. They were noted primarily as individuals of personal humility and strong will, among other leadership qualities. Good to Great and Level 5 Leadership became talking points in pastor and church leader accountability groups and staff meetings. Who in the contemporary church cohort wouldn’t want to advance their church to the next level of mission, whether good to great or even mediocre to good? Even more, the Level 5 Leader, at first glance, resembled the servant leader so identified in Scripture as necessary for spiritual leadership.
Sixteen years later leadership remains a critical issue in most congregations. Level 5 leadership didn’t translate to church settings as easily as expected, even though there was some resonance with the leadership qualities discovered in Scripture. The essential dissonance was a square pegs, round holes dilemma. The premise of Level 5 leadership wasn’t spiritual or Biblical in nature. Collins admitted no religious leanings in his personal life or corporate research. Any resemblance of Level 5 Leadership to the servant leadership of the Bible was coincidental. Or, at best, an unidentified reflection of the personal systems driving the leaders studied. It was another proof that executive strategies, even those with the highest moral and ethical standards, weren’t applicable in a spiritual setting like the local church.
Then, there’s what I’ve chosen to call Chapter 13 Leadership. Early in ministry, after nearly a decade in banking and hospital financial administration, I prayed for a leadership template that would prepare me for thirty-five years of spiritual leadership in Christ’s church. Chapter 13 Leadership is comprised of five leadership principles derived from the text of John 13, John’s record of our Lord’s final night of teaching the twelve disciples. These five principles have been the formative elements of servant leadership in serving four congregations.
(1) Jesus loved them spiritually.
John noted that Jesus “loved them to the end” (v. 1). That he used the Greek root “agape” clearly defines this love as spiritual in nature, greater that friendship, fondness, or affection. It was communicated to them throughout their time together, even in his final moments of intimate instruction.
(2) Jesus lowered himself to serve them.
Later I would study the theological concept of “kenosis” and the emptying of self that characterized his entire earthly ministry. When he washed the disciples feet in Chapter 13, he was demonstrating the self-denial necessary for servant leadership.
(3) Jesus exemplified a servant heart to them.
The servant spirit was a recurring theme in the ministry of Jesus. He had taught them, over and over again, the Kingdom hierarchy of greatness exemplified by his servant heart. At The Last Supper these teachings were demonstrated in actions. The servant heart was more than words.
(4) Jesus gave them an example to follow.
After washing their feet, Jesus told them, “I have given you an example that you also should do as I have done to you” (v. 15). From this text many Christians practice foot washing as a discipline of the Christian life. In my estimation it was given as an example of their roles as servant leaders.
(5) Jesus expected them to replicate his example.
Jesus promised, “If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them” (v. 17). There was the expectation they would follow his example of servant leadership.
Chapter 13 Leadership, in my opinion, is following the example of Jesus through the dual traits of a servant spirit and divine calling. Jesus said, “For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me” (John 6:38). This is in stark contrast to the two character elements identified by Collins in Level 5 Leaders. As mentioned above, the Level 5 Leader noted in the Collins study demonstrated humility and strong resolve, both admirable qualities. They are, however, applied in a secular fashion, still with basically egocentric objectives. The Chapter 13 Leader specifies two significant spiritual adjustments: adoption of a servant spirit, and release of personal will to the will of the Father. To possess this servant heart and a sense of divine calling or mission is to incorporate the thrust of Jesus’ teaching in a spiritual leadership role.
The allure of Collin’s Level 5 Leadership may indicate another harsh reality regarding church influence in the spiritual landscape of our nation. Church leaders seem eager to implement secular strategies to reverse declines in their local congregations. Writing in churchleaders.com on August 6, 2013, author Mike Breen suggested, “So many pastors are looking for the Silver Bullet. They are looking for the one thing that can save the day and keep their church (and the church in general) from the precipitous decline they are facing”2. As a result, processes like Level 5 Leadership seem a first glance compatible with church mission, the final answer desired by so many church leaders.
There is, however, the biblical truth about world systems and those of the Kingdom. The Apostle Paul wrote, “For the wisdom of this world is folly with God” (1 Corinthians 3:19). Level 5 Leadership is good stuff in the corner offices of corporate America. But, Chapter 13 Leadership is a biblical model for Kingdom leaders.
For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. (1 Peter 2:21)
(1) Collins, Jim, Good to Great, Harper Business, New York: 2001.
(2) Mike Breen, “Tempting and Alluring: Microwave Churches Looking for a Silver Bullet”, August 6, 2013. www.churchleaders,com