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Leading by Following

Jesus was in a prime position. When he entered Jerusalem, the adoring crowds waved palm branches and shouted hosannas in his name. He could have flexed his muscle and led an insurrection that would’ve made the U.S. Capitol invasion on January 6 look like a tea party.

But he didn’t. He willingly trudged to a cross, where he was crucified on a wind-swept hill.

The old saying is that “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Questioning that time-honored adage is Josiah Osgood, Professor of Classics at Georgetown University in  Washington, D.C. Osgood contends that “power unmasks the true identity of leaders. It brings to light weaknesses that were there all along but might have been overlooked.” For instance, the opponents of George Washington constantly interpreted his every political move as a power-play to assume monarchial status in the newly-formed United States. Deep down inside their new President, they believed a megalomaniac lurked. Yet, despite his faults, Washington was an honorable man and his presidency proved as much. He wanted nothing more than the former colonies to unite as one nation and become strong and prosperous. When speculation ran rampant that he would run for a third term and rise to the status of dictator, he humbly resigned and retired to Mount Vernon as a private citizen.

Who do you trust as a leader? So many people, who feel powerless in the great forces that shape current events, commit to those who appear strong and self-assured – even domineering. In an April 2016 article for Forbes, entrepreneur Chris Meyers noted, “From politics to business, our society is increasingly mistaking aggression for strength, and bullying for leadership.” He concludes by stating, “It’s time that we as a people fought back against our primal urges and … reject bullies. Instead, we must look to servant leaders who can be successful in the long-term. Whether it’s in business or politics, servant leaders succeed where bullies fail.”

The greatest servant leader of history was Jesus Christ. He revealed his absolute power when he restored sight, commanded gales, multiplied bread and fish, and walked on water. Despite his awesome abilities, he never misused them. In the wilderness, Evil tempted him to do that very thing by holding forth the prize of all the realms of earth. Jesus rejected this worldly agenda to advance another kingdom – the kingdom of God. Aligned with heaven, he used his power to heal people, welcome pariahs, and defeat death, thus revealing the true heart of the Father. Even when he entered Jerusalem, his so-called “triumphal entry” was more of a makeshift parade. Instead of riding in on a white war steed like an emperor, he chose to sit on a lowly donkey, the pack animal of the poor. Later that week, on the cross, he could have summoned twelve legions of angels to rescue him (that’s 72,000 angels!) — but he didn’t. He knew his ultimate mission was to die as a means of reconciliation to God. 

Would you be an honored leader? You may not helm a vast government or Fortune  500 company, but you’re still in a position of leadership. Your kids, grandchildren, coworkers, the carhop who delivers your afternoon soda — they are all looking for someone who leads. A person who walks the walk, sets a good example, makes a difference in other people’s lives – these are leaders. Lording it over others is not leadership; it is bullying. Leading by serving is true leadership, and no one is a better example of this than the humble carpenter from Nazareth. When we follow Christ, we are leading others to consider the same.

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