Virtuous Leadership: Leading with the Virtue of Christ
Do you remember how Jesus responded right after the woman with the issue of blood was healed by touching the hem of his garment? She had just finished pressing her way through a crowd to get to the Master of miracles. Jesus asked his unsuspecting disciples, “who touched me” (Mark 5:31). Why did he say that? Because in the healing encounter, he felt miraculous, healing power leave his body.
This transfer of virtue is so rich with lessons for the Christian leader. Having once performed altar ministry through the laying on of hands, I can attest that the power drain is real, and it took about 24 hours for me to fully recover from that level of ministry. But how does the transfer of virtue or miraculous power look outside of altar ministry? How does it look in everyday interactions in the church, workplace, and even the marketplace?
Empowering followers has to do with a leader sharing his or her power with followers for the purpose of decision-making. Jesus shared power in this way with his disciples, but He also shared power in a way that would imbue his disciples with the power of salvation to share his message throughout the world. It is clear that Jesus practiced power-sharing, or empowerment and there are three types of power that Jesus shared.
Jesus shared the power of the Holy Spirit
Upon Jesus’ resurrection, God the Father gave Him all authority in both heaven and earth (Matthew 28:18). He decided against lording this authoritative power over His disciples, in favoring of sharing power with them through the Holy Spirit. Jesus did not seek power over His disciples but sought to endue them with power from the Holy Spirit to witness in all the world and continue His legacy after He ascended to heaven. Why? Because Jesus understood that it was His Father’s sovereign will to reconcile humanity unto Himself through Christ, and He understood his own purpose and destiny within that vision. Jesus did not need to seek or power because He understood that all power had been given to Him.
What if you lived your life giving your all to others? Not withholding yourself from your followers. Letting them see who you are at your strongest and weakest moments. How much would that teach them to show their humanness without restraint. But it comes down to not seeking power over others. Putting power plays aside – because many unrighteous leaders look to exploit another’s weakness to increase their own power. That's how power plays work. That's not Christ’s way.
With His Father’s prophetic vision in mind while walking the earth, Jesus chose to exercise influence over authority in his relationships with them. Jesus understood that he would not always be with his disciples. So, he coached, mentored, and trained his disciples. He had better things to look forward to than his position on earth. He knew his time on earth was limited, and He gave all of himself while here – withholding nothing.
Think about Jesus’ inordinate, self-sacrificial service along with his obedience to the Father’s will. This was foundational to Jesus’ power as a leader. He modeled effective followership for his disciples and followed the Father’s will for His life, even though that meant tremendous suffering. Jesus’ service and suffering provided the foundation of his power base, where he engaged his followers by sharing his power with them. In sharing his power with the disciples, Jesus set up an effective succession plan for his earthly mission and ministry.
Initially, the disciples wanted a lesser type of power, and for the wrong reasons. Jesus deals with this saying that the one who provides the greatest service will be the greatest among them (Matt 23:11). Once he could get them to walk in the fear of the Lord and shed their desire for power and status, he could share the power of the Holy Spirit with them. Jesus shared his life with the disciples. His life contained the Gospel message, which the power of salvation (Rom 1:16).
Jesus shared the Power of Love
Followers are drawn to virtuous leaders like moths to a flame. Sadly, many leaders display the love of power, instead of the power of love. Love is a virtue and a virtuous leader does not seek to have power over their followers. A leader that displays virtue turns away from the vices of greed, power and pride, focusing their attention on what’s best for their followers. Virtuous leaders override their own self-interest and their desire for power, wealth and notoriety, all for the sake of their followers and the greater good. This type of sacrifice usually flows from unconditional love.
Love and trust come from the same family of emotions. A huge part of building trust is being honest and authentic with others, which in turn catalyzes authenticity in the relationship with them. Traveling along the coast of Caesarea Philippi, Jesus asked his disciples a powerful question, “who do men say that I am?” before asking Peter “but who do you say that I am?” (Matt 16:13-15). This last question reveals a certain level of trust developed between Jesus and Peter. To ask someone what they think of your identity – or about you in general – takes a great deal of trust, because until they answer, they have a certain degree of power. In this period, the Holy Spirit empowers Peter to respond, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matt 16:16). He could not have known this without revelation from God the Father, and Jesus trusted that he would receive this revelation. To share power with someone requires a great deal of trust. And just like Jesus trusted his disciples, what will it take to display this same level of trust with our followers?
One of the biggest tests of my unconditional love came a few years ago when I worked as a barista and had the opportunity to minister to a no-nonsense shift supervisor, ten years my junior. I entered the kitchen to pick up a milk craft, and saw her sitting at the desk, head in hands, crying. She told me that she owed a clothing bill that she could not pay and from what I gathered, she thought it was the end of the world. Not only that, she was ashamed and embarrassed about it. I could have preached to her about the debt of love that Christ paid for us, but instead I explained that she could talk to her creditors and they would more than likely work with her. I shared that creditors are people too, and they understand that life happens. From that day on, she became a lot nicer around the coffee shop. But it required me to catalyze authenticity and pull unconditional love from the depths of my soul where I didn’t think any existed. By not judging her and showing love and a genuine interest in her life, I was able to connect with her in a powerful, yet practical way. It's surprisingly simple how God often chooses to use virtuous leaders to share the power of Christ’s mission with others. A lot of times it's just to build bridges. These folks may not ever read a Bible. They may not ever step foot in the church. But virtuous leaders show others what the love of Christ feels like - just walking in Christ’s shadow – sharing His love with them.
How we communicate often reveals the level of love we have for others. There aren’t many better ways to communicate love to someone than to listen to them, and we can follow Christ’s example by listening to followers on a deep level. Not for the purpose of catching them on mistakes and or using it against them later. Remember, this is not about power plays. A virtuous leader listens for the purpose of bringing clarity, along with emotional and spiritual healing to the other person. You’re not listening for your benefit, you’re listening for their betterment.
Certain types of love are based on the emotions, but unconditional love is a choice that leaders make to believe the best in their followers, regardless of how they feel. Virtuous leaders make that choice on a daily basis. Virtuous leaders are not perfect, but they are strengthened by pursuing the greater good for the organization and their followers, in spite of the personal sacrifice required. Virtuous leadership is a labor of love.
Jesus shared the power of vision
In his time on earth, Jesus casted the vision for the Kingdom of God. He had a passion for developing His disciples according to that prophetic vision, redemptive focus, and the Father’s sovereign will. Think about the times that he redeemed Peter and realigned him with his destiny after the future-apostle experienced a deformation of faith (Luke 5:8-10; John 21:15-19).
Peter’s transformation from an outspoken, impulsive fisherman into a rock, a leading apostle, who the Lord used to form the foundation of the church is a testimony to God’s redemptive vision. To the extent that in his epistle, the once flippant Peter, advises believers to clothe themselves with humility toward one another as “God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble” before telling believers to humble themselves under God’s powerful hand, so that He may exalt them in due time (1 Peter 5: 5-7). This demonstrates a high level of maturity and circumspection that he, no doubt, developed as a witness to the death and resurrection of Christ, and in his promotion from fisherman to disciple to apostle. Despite Peter’s unbridled personality, Jesus knew that under God’s processing, this unruly fisherman, could become the rock on which the church was built (Matt 16:18-19).
Years ago, I conducted a presentation for a group of pastors and marketplace leaders that started with the question “do you have a vision?” I had begun to notice that for the churches within my circle, their visions began to look alike. To build something...a senior center, a youth center, a family life center, a Christian community. That’s when it occurred to me. Church and faith-based visions look very similar to each other. But that’s not where vision stops. Or even where it starts.
In its purest form, vision starts with a burden – not a building. The prophet Habakkuk's vision started when he saw that the Lord was not intervening in the pain and suffering of his people. When he asked the Lord when it would end, the Lord answered that he should write down his vision plainly so that folks who read it would run (Hab 2:2). Nehemiah’s vision began with a burden that he had to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem (Neh 2:4-5). God's Spirit transported Ezekiel to a valley of dry bones, where he spoke to him about the entire nation of Israel asking after Ezekiel made clear that God was the only one who knew if the bones could live (Ezekiel 37). And let’s consider the largest vision of all: God’s desire to reconcile humanity and creation unto Himself in order to walk and live among humanity as our God, and we as his people (Lev 26:12; 2 Cor 5:18). Providing direction through an inspiring, shared vision is one of the greatest acts of service that a leader can provide to a follower.
A key to pursuing vision is to celebrate small wins along the way. When Jesus told the lady with the issue of blood, “daughter, your faith has made you well,” he could recognize a change in her (Mark 5:33-34). Something positive had happened, so he looked for her to explain what had happened. Jesus made sure that she knew that it wasn’t his garment that made her whole. It wasn’t necessarily because he was the Master of miracles that she became healed. Similar to Abraham’s faith being counted as righteousness (Gen 15:6), Jesus credited the woman’s faith with making her whole. She believed that He could heal her, and when she failed to touch his person, her faith reached out for His garment. Naturally Jesus was impressed by her display of faith, because without faith it is impossible to please the Lord (Heb 11:6). She embodied, in that moment, the type of faith that not even his disciples had so boldly demonstrated.
When I think of virtue leaving Jesus’ body – about power leaving from Him - I think of the virtuous leader. The leader who specializes in sharing power with others and trusts God to replenish their spiritual virtue through the power of the Holy Spirit. A leader who serves their followers through crafting a common vision with shared values. A leader who does what is best for their followers and puts other people’s needs before their own. As Christian leaders, we are to live our lives empowered in this way and also to empower others – followers, family, customers, and stakeholders – according to the principles that Jesus modeled in the Gospels.