6 Leadership Principles from the Gospel of John

When it comes to leadership, Jesus broke and continues to break the mold. His bold actions and words separated him from the leaders of his day, and they still contrast starkly with many of the widely-practiced habits of leadership today. Our world clamors to get ahead and fights for control. Jesus looked to the Father and did not grasp for equality with Him, but humbled himself to death on a cross. Servant leadership is a concept Jesus displayed better than anyone, and studying the way he led his disciples and the rest of the world around him gives us a plethora of insights into how God would have us lead, regardless of our professions, but particularly in faith-based companies.

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1. Prepare for the Future 

Jesus then said, I will be with you a little longer, and then I am going to him who sent me. 34 You will seek me and you will not find me. Where I am you cannot come.”

John 7:33 [ESV]

Though right now it may seem like you’ll be in the driver’s seat indefinitely, one day you will no longer be around to guide the organization. It’s difficult to wrap one’s mind around, particularly if the company is your ‘baby,’ but one day you will have to pass the torch. Jesus was constantly aware of his limited time on earth with his created people. He used every moment to instill wisdom and guidance into his disciples — words they would later remember and call on when spreading the good news to the rest of the world. He reminded them that one day he would no longer be with them and urged them to take his words to heart.

Don’t make the mistake of assuming you will always be present to shape and guide the trajectory of the organization you lead. One day someone else will carry on its mission, and it’s important to infuse that mission into the DNA of the organization itself as well as its future leaders.

2. Be more effective by communicating in different ways to different groups of people.

I have said these things to you in figures of speech. uThe hour is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figures of speech but will tell you plainly about the Father.”

John 16:25 [ESV]

 Jesus used many different means of communication when speaking to people on earth. He told parables. He spoke plainly. He rebuked. He gave straightforward commands. He referenced scripture. Depending on the point of view of the group to which he was speaking, Jesus altered his communication style, whether the intention was to help them understand more clearly or to veil complexities from those who opposed his Truth.

At times he spoke to Pharisees and hostile Jews. Other times he spoke to a Samaritan woman or the 12 apostles. Sometimes he simply addressed crowds that gathered around him. Regardless, Jesus always kept his ultimate mission the center of all he communicated: who he is, why he came and the sowing of our belief in Him.

As leaders we can take from Jesus’ approach the importance of adjusting our communication styles for the audience at hand in a way that will most resonate, while keeping the mission of the organization at the core of all messages we speak.

3. Lead like a shepherd.

When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers. 

I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13 He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. 14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.

John 10:4-5;11-15 [ESV]

One of Jesus’ most powerful metaphors for his character is describing himself as the Good Shepherd. A shepherd cares for his sheep deeply, individually. He has a personal stake in the well-being of his flock. He guides them every step of the way and leads them to safe places, but the sheep must trust him and follow. A shepherd must earn that trust, though, before they will follow him.

Jesus’ shepherd-like leadership is a vivid picture of how we should aim to lead our teams. Knowing each person’s name and what they bring to the team is a crucial component of servant-leadership. Jesus also acknowledges that “hired help” does not have the same personal investment and commitment level that someone with a personal stake in the flock’s well-being. In the same way, someone who is not fully committed to the organization’s mission and helping it thrive will be much less effective than someone who is all-in.

4. Glorify God above all else.

“He must increase, but I must decrease.”

John 3:30 [ESV]

Perhaps one of the clearest principles Jesus’ leadership teaches us is the importance of glorifying God over oneself — even for God’s own son. Jesus consistently points to the One who sent Him and asks that the Father’s will be done over his own. John also espouses this fundamental belief, as he declares plainly in the gospel, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:30) Though John baptized people and many asked if he was a prophet — or even the Christ, he was quick to point to Jesus, whose sandals he said he would not be worthy to untie.

No matter how much worldly success our company attains, if we’re to remain biblically focused and committed to furthering God’s kingdom through our leadership, we have to remember whose glory we live for.

5. Be Inclusive.

Just then his disciples came back. They marveled that he was talking with a woman, but no one said, What do you seek?” or, Why are you talking with her?”

John 4:27 [ESV]

Jesus wasn’t afraid to interact with people who were considered “outsiders” or “less than” by other people. In John 4, Jesus stops to talk to the woman at the well, who was not only female, but was also a Samaritan — the ultimate “other.” He validated her worth simply by speaking with her, but he also extended grace and the hope of salvation to her. The disciples were surprised and confused by his actions, but Jesus rarely stuck to the norm.

As leaders we should not be afraid or too prideful to embrace people who are different from us or considered “less than,” even if it is only a matter of company rank. Each person on your team brings a unique perspective to the organization, and it’s the leader’s job to see the value in it.

6. Trust God When Things Seem Impossible.

When the people saw the sign that he had done, they said, This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!”

John 6:14 [ESV]

In the well-known loaves and fishes miracle Jesus performs in John 6, He shows God’s ability to do something that seems impossible from a human perspective. Jesus looks to Heaven, assumably communicating with the Father, and starts by testing the disciples, asking how they are to feed the multitudes with only the five loves and two fish. Soon the disciples see that with Christ, anything is possible.

Trusting God with the ways in which our organization will be used for His glory can be difficult at times, especially when it seems impossible to make a way. But God is capable of more than we ask or think. Whether it’s raising funds for a new mission project, finding the right leader for the job, or simply the day-to-day operations that at times feel overwhelming, Jesus performed miracle after miracle in the book of John, proving again and again that He can make anything happen for the glory of His kingdom.