Beware of any literature that starts with these words: "Jesus was the greatest leader of all time." The sentiment behind those words may be true, but the point they make is irrelevant. It doesn't matter if Jesus was the greatest leader of all time. Jesus is our leader (and, in a holy sense, we're stuck with him).
The issue at hand is far from nit-picky. Evangelicals have long been accused of domesticating Jesus - making him one of "us" (often white, middle-class, socially respectable, and politically conservative). The glut of Jesus-as-leader books runs a tremendous risk as it attempts to introduce Jesus into the economy that surrounds 21st century leadership.
Jesus the leader endangers our view of Jesus the savior. Frankly, Jesus the leader is less threatening. He's an organizational director that would fit in wearing business casual and sitting in a conference room. I believe wholeheartedly that Jesus wants to control how I behave, think, and lead in when I'm in the conference room, but I don't have much confidence in Jesus as the teacher of strategic leadership lessons.
I'd like to get back to Jesus the savior, the one who sends the Holy Spirit to lead us. I'd like to bring the Jesus-as-leader genre of books along with me. I have a number of such books on my shelf right now. Several of them misrepresent Jesus the Messiah as Jesus the executive director; the others more or less get him right.
The major problem with the books that get him wrong occurs in the area of interpretation. Take John 10:10, Jesus saying, "I came that they might have life and have it abundantly." Let's evaluate the reflection on that verse published in Jesus, CEO: Using Ancient Wisdom for Visionary Leadership:
Many times leaders and managers expect their employees to leap through the flames for them but do not define what the purpose or reward will be. Then they wonder why nobody is leaping?. As Harry Pickens, a marketing seminar leader, said, "People are tuned in to one station: WIFM. And those letters stand for "What's in it for me?"
Jesus clearly defined his staff's work-related benefits.
No. Jesus was not demonstrating any principle about the year-end bonus, revenue sharing, or 401(k) matching. In the cosmic battle between God and Satan, John 10:10 sets up Jesus, the sacrificial Good Shepherd, against Satan, the thief. Jesus wasn't talking about - and never meant to imply - anything about "work-related benefits."
Reading the Gospels for leadership principles like team building, vision casting, or "seeing the potential in others" makes a mockery of authorial intent and historical-cultural backgrounds. Such readings appear to take the Bible seriously, but they don't do it justice; they simply create anachronistic interpretations. Could Jesus-as-leader book be flirting with recreating Jesus as one of us (or one of who we hope to be)?
Jesus has much to say to leaders, but we (especially those of us who lead) can only hear him clearly when we remember that Jesus is not primarily a leader. He is God's Anointed One, the Suffering Servant, the prophet greater than Moses.
The Christian leadership books that get Jesus right operate in that realm, never assuming that there is a "leaders track" in discipleship. Instead, they believe there to be a "servants track" for all Christ-followers. Our leadership books should move us toward this, challenging us to go down to Jesus' level, not attempting to bring him up to ours. As Henri Nouwen writes in In the Name of Jesus: "I am deeply convinced that the Christian leader of the future is called to be completely irrelevant and to stand in the world with nothing to offer but his or her own vulnerable self."