Jesus is Not a CEO
A guide for the next time you pick up a Christian leadership book.

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)?

May 20, 2008

Displaying 1–10 of 28 comments

Jenny Talwartz

January 01, 2015  5:01pm

>>I believe wholeheartedly that Jesus wants to control how I behave, think, and lead... Wow, I guess we know where you stand on the whole Free Will thing, huh.

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May 29, 2008  7:31am

I appreciate Gary Downings comments that Jesus' act of washing the disciples' feet was noteworthy because it wasn't something He usually did, therefore they were not comfortable with it. I agree, so there's obviously something more to be seen in this, as His decision to lay His life down in numerous other ways, while still requiring of his guys (telling them to go get the donkey, prepare the room, fish on the other side of the boat) indicates that He had no problem giving commands. However, the commands were in the context of His own choice to submit to the overarching decision to die for His people. Leaders still need to lead, and doing the washing up at the pot luck dinner (as you Yanks call fellowship tea) maybe ok at times, but it is far more effective to be talking to the people who need to know that they are of value to you because of their willingness to be together in the vision with you.

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Ardie Bea

May 28, 2008  8:54pm

Dunno about that comment Rev. Dr Gary. I reckon becoming the washing bowl for a whole world on the cross is reasonably servant-like. I reckon Paul, in Phillipians 2 and consistently elsewhere, in relation to Jesus and himself, sees leadership as servanthood. I reckon you may need to go back to your New Testament.

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May 28, 2008  11:34am

"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." Instead of "primarily" one perhaps should use "only." If memory serves me Jesus is also "Lord" and "King" which even in the Greek are powerful leadership designations.

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Rev.Dr.Gary W. Downing

May 28, 2008  10:54am

Godd thoughts!! I'm challenged to reconsider my assumptions. For example, despite the "parable" of servant leadership in many books and articles, Jesus was NOT a servant leader! The beautiful story of Jesus washing His disciples' feet is noteworthy only because Jesus did NOT usually wash them. The Leader symbolically took off His outer garment and washed their feet as a household servant in a teaching moment - call it interactive mentoring. We have no other record of Jesus ever doing this again.

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May 27, 2008  11:03pm

I have the book Jesus CEO at work right beside my dictionary and computer. I find it helpful to deal with the stresses of the workplace in a Christian manner. I also have found that Jim Collins book Good to Great for the Social Sector is very helpful to people trying to serve God doing kingdom work in a community setting. For analytical action oriented people these types of approaches to help us live out our faith are actually helpful. I am also a big fan of Bill Hybels whose book Courageous Leadership is one of the best leadership books I have read. Jesus leads me by the holy spirit to use my gifts (leadership and administration) for the benefit of the kingdom. I am currently reading Phyllis Tickles book The Words Of Jesus which is a very interesting review of the many facets of our Lord.

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May 27, 2008  4:44pm

I'm taken aback by the apparent disregard for the author's intent in the criticism of Jesus CEO by Laurie Beth Jones. This author, far more than the negative author of this article, gives to us in Jesus CEO a model of leadership that honors and glorifies our Lord. And that is much more honorable than writing words that simply fill a column by an author who seems to take much glee in bashing work that is extremely helpful, practical, and always pointing to our Lord. In my view, this author's article misses the point entirely.

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May 27, 2008  4:41pm

With regard to 'Jesus as CEO' and those who think Jesus was the 'greatest Leader of all time:' Are you friends with your boss? The hardest workers don't get promoted. The most likable people get promoted. Think about Idiot Bosses. These are the people that get ahead in life. Jesus died [partly] because he didn't get along with the Big Wigs. He didn't come to make friends but to divide families and rule out the religious. He wasn't friends with the boss. Strike one.Are you working on high-profile projects? Do you work on the project that everyone else wanted? The key to making yourself useful is to work on the stuff that matters to your boss. Jesus had his own agenda. The Jews wanted him to overthrow the Roman Empire – it was 'prophesied.' He came proclaiming that 'the Kingdom of G-d is within.' Strike two.Are you paid at the high end of the range for your position? Investigate the salary range for your job. If you're at the low end, you were not highly valued to begin with, so getting people to switch their opinion of you is going to be hard. Do it by asking your boss to get you to the top of the range; back up your request by listing all your achievements. In our culture, money = power. Jesus wasn't paid for what he did. In fact, he talked a whole lot about giving away everything you had. Strike three...Do you work fewer hours than everyone else? You should not be the hardest worker because that makes you look desperate. But you can't work the fewest hours either, because then you look like you don't care. And that's being a bad team player, even if you're getting the work done. If you find you have a lot of extra time because you're a total genius and finish everything early, spend more time networking at the office. Jesus wanted us all to be servants. Servants are on the clock 24/7. They have no choice in who they serve, how they were treated, or if they were recognized. This whole Christian thing is suddenly not sounding too appealing...Do you feel like you're due a promotion because of your experience? Give yourself a point for setting aside time each day to let people know how great you are. Take a point away if you think people who do this are annoying. I can see Christ on the cross thinking, "This will look great on my resume."

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John T. Long

May 27, 2008  3:16pm

I think that a fundamental distinction needs to be made between the "leadership of the church" and the "leadership in the church." Leadership "of" is theological. Power and authority and responsibility that crosses time and denomination is uniquely and divinely given to the Church (big "C"). Jesus declared it and, therefore, nothing can change it. However, this is not the same as the leadership "in" the church, which is based on such factors as: learning, experience and calling, to name a few. Leadership "in" is about who occupies positions of leadership and how they exercise and live out their leadership. Of course, this leadership must be done following sound biblical principles and in response to the leading of the Holy Spirit as He directs what leadrship must do on a given setting and situation. Leadership "of" the church is eternal. Leadership "in" the church is situational. What do you think? I am in the process of writing a masters thesis in which I am examining Jesus as a Transformative Leader; seking to discover any principles that can be codified so as to be able to be applied today. Would you be willing to provide feedback?(It won't be finished until sometime this fall.) I need to also let you know that I am writing very specifically and intentionally for an African-American context.

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Richard Cary

May 27, 2008  1:10pm

Regarding "domesticating Jesus," I am reminded that Aslan was not a "tame" lion. If our Lord is sovereign, then we should study to discover how HE wants us to "do church," which is pretty thoroughly explained in the Bible.

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