15 Ways to Lead Like Jesus

By Eowyn Stoddard, Jun 8, 2017

Lead like Jesus? I know! This title sounds almost blasphemous. But honestly, I sometimes feel like we are getting more and more of our leadership paradigms from a business world model than from Jesus whom we proclaim. Our reality as missionaries is that we are called to a ministry, not a business, to a vocation, not a paycheck. There are no career ladders to climb, other than the climb down the rungs of service.

Sometimes it’s tempting to adopt a business model in missions because it simplifies things, it’s easier to cut our losses, distance ourselves from the pain, and it is so much more politically correct. For followers of Jesus who are called to be leaders, here are some observations on the topic of leadership.

You may say, “Yeah, well that was Jesus, for crying out loud! That’s not me.” And it’s true that we cannot know the depths of people’s hearts or cause a storm to be still at the sound of our voice. But Paul is not bashful to call us to be imitators of Christ. His Spirit lives in us and therefore, we will be amazed at how He is able to work in and through us. But it does presuppose leading His way, not ours, and the results will be in His hands, not ours.

So how did Jesus lead?

 1. He bore much responsibility.

There is a sense of weightiness about Jesus’ leadership. His task was the greatest any human was ever sent to do. Accepting that task was a big part of Jesus’ service to us. His disciples never really understood the gravitas of His mission, even up to the very end of His life. They napped through His greatest moment of need in the Garden of Gethsemane. This can be true for us too. There is a loneliness to leadership, but unlike Jesus we do not have to bear the weight of the world on our shoulders. We are part of His body and can find rest and reprieve there. We need to find people with whom we can share burdens.

2. He needed time to pray and fellowship with the Father.

No comment needed. Well, allow me just one: If Jesus, the Son of Man, needed to spend many hours in prayer talking to the Father, how much more do we? In modern terms, He balanced being alone with God and ministry to people.

3. He invested in a few disciples.

Jesus taught the masses, but invested in the leadership training of a few. He spent much time, sharing life with 12 men, going deep in His teaching, and applying it to them specifically. They learned by watching Him do. Jesus, the Word of God through whom all things were made, chose 12 men to fulfill His task. What? Such a small plan for influence? More is not always better, as Jesus demonstrated. Multiplication was the key.

4. He delegated.

Jesus sent out various groupings of disciples to do what He did. He did not go with them or oversee them closely, but let them make their own experiences and mistakes. He empowered flawed people with His task. He was all about building His Church through weaklings in order to show God’s power and glory. Can we release control, believing that the message is more powerful than the messenger? It’s not about us, but about the message of the gospel.

5. He met physical as well as spiritual needs.

Jesus was not like an academic in an ivory tower, or a preacher who spends most of his time at a desk. He led by going out and meeting people’s needs (physical, emotional, spiritual), sometimes all at once, sometimes one need at a time. He always prioritized what was ultimate, without ignoring what was immediate.

6. He knew how to party.

He delighted in the world He created by going to places where people were gathered to celebrate. He led by living a full life of joy! He was present at weddings and dinner parties, enjoying good wine and making friends and good company out of sinners.

7. He knew how to receive the service of others.

Jesus led by allowing others to serve Him. Whether it was a woman washing His feet with her tears, Martha serving Him food, people laying their cloaks down before Him, or the women with Him at the cross, He received their humble acts of service freely. Do we allow others to help and serve us?

8. He was not above touching the broken.

Jesus broke all social norms and touched the untouchables, leading by example and courage. Leadership is not about maintaining the status quo, but rather, humbly realigning outward realities with God’s heart, wherever possible. If something structural or cultural is in the way of God’s mission, it needs to go. And, as a leader, if God has given you the position to do it, you should. There are no castes or holy cows, only God’s holy will.

9. He spoke truth.

A lot of Jesus’ leadership involved speaking the truth both in public and private settings. He was not afraid of confrontation and could get angry about the right things. He rebuked sin and spoke harshly to hypocrites. This is an aspect of leadership we sometimes shy away from for fear of being controversial. But peace is not always the best state to pursue if God’s honor is not being defended.

10. He knew how to apply God’s Word to every human heart.

With Jesus, there was no cookie-cutter approach to people. He led by challenging every individual in a different way, according to the situation and context. This is true wisdom—to know how God’s Word uniquely applies to every heart. We should strive to grow in our knowledge of God’s Word and theology and seek opportunities to help others apply it to their diverse situations.

11. He made people hungry and thirsty for more of God.

Jesus’ leadership had a moreish effect on people. This is what He also commanded us to do: to have our speech seasoned with salt. We are to make people thirsty for God. But a warning—good leadership will sometimes make others feel uncomfortable because salt stings where there are open wounds. Sometimes our words will even be the flavor of death to those who are perishing.

12. He lived on a mission.

Jesus had a sole purpose and everything He did funneled into that purpose. It was no less than God’s plan of redemption for the world. This makes a good leader sometimes sound redundant. Don’t you ever talk about anything else other than God’s kingdom or saving the lost? There may be specific things God is calling us to pursue. “For such a time as this” may be a phrase to ponder for yourself and your leadership. What is God calling me to do here and now?

13. He did not defend Himself.

Jesus led by silence. He was silent in front of His accusers, bearing rejection and shame because He knew God was His ultimate defender. He was both strong and weak. This is probably one of the hardest things for us to do. We are tempted to protect our own reputations, our territories, our spheres of influence. Can we let those go for the sake of Christ’s kingdom?

14. He understood His suffering as part of God’s plan.

Jesus led with an eternal perspective on the here and now, especially when it involved suffering. Submission to God and drinking the cup of God’s wrath was the only way to His exaltation. Jesus has seen the result of His suffering and is satisfied. Can we trust that the sufferings we take on for Christ’s sake will bear fruit, even if we can’t see it yet? A good leader needs to be able to live it and point others to the hope of this truth as well.

15. He forgave others even though they were unwilling to repent.

Jesus led in forgiveness. The most powerful moment of His servant leadership is the scene on the cross when Jesus forgives His assassins. There will be many moments in the life of a leader when someone unjustly opposes or publicly “crucifies” you. It will take nothing short of Jesus in you to respond in the way Jesus did. We are so weak and often so unable to respond like this. Because we are not perfect like Jesus, we will need to lead by repenting of our failures to others and in willingness to forgive even those who are not yet willing to repent.

Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.
– Hebrews 13:7


Eowyn Stoddard serves with MTW in Berlin, Germany

Please login to continue
Forgot your password?
Recover it here.
Don't have an account?
Create an Account
Sign Up for Free
Choose Password
Confirm Password


Youth Ministry Leaders
Member Care Coordinator: Americas
Next Generation Missionaries to the Muslim World
1–11 Months

A Missions Conference With a Global Impact

As the PCA Global Missions Conference approaches, we asked a few former attendees to share how the last GMC impacted them.


Sovereignty, Integrity, Creativity: A Conversation on Evangelism in Any Context With Rico Tice

We sat down for a Q&A with Pastor Rico Tice, co-founder of Christianity Explored and GMC speaker for a conversation about evangelism today.


From the Coordinator: A More Important Decision This November

If there is anything that will bring us together in an age of division, cynicism, and doubt, it is rallying behind our common mission.


Pray for our single missionaries serving internationally in the midst of their unique struggles. 

Pray for missionaries to remain faithful in the mundane and not get caught up in striving to perform for the praise of others. 

Pray for missionaries who are doing valuable work yet have trouble raising support because their work or field is deemed less exciting or less important than other mission work by some in the church. 

Pray for missionaries raising support and for potential donors to grasp the eternal importance of supporting missions.

Pray for missionaries who are experiencing homesickness on the field.

Please pray for God’s protection over new missionaries and our MTW family as we engage in God’s kingdom work.

Pray for current missionaries, future missionaries, sending churches, and donors to be willing to ask the question, "How could God use me?"

Pray for missionaries on the field who struggle with loneliness.

Pray that the global church, including the PCA in the U.S., would make evangelism a priority, and share the truth with those around them. 

Pray that God would draw many PCA church members, pastors, students, and those passionate about global missions to the GMC conference in November.


Good news in your inbox, once per week.