Biblical Leadership Principles of Jesus

Rev. Daniel D. Kim

Following Jesus? leadership principle and imitating Jesus? leadership life is the supreme calling of all Christian leaders. Experts on Christian leadership have expressed different opinions on “What is the principle of Jesus? leadership?” Regardless of their differences, the most common denominating concern of Christian leaders is “how to live and lead like Jesus.?

When Jesus personally incarnated in this world, what kind of leadership principle did He live by? Unlike most people, Jesus apparently lived a short life, only thirty-three years. But His short life left behind the magnificent and eternal principle of leadership which Christian leaders need to absolutely follow. If Jesus was a typical Korean Christian leader, we cannot detach from a strange feeling that He probably hurried to enter the public ministry at the age of fifteen and His impatient hurriedness probably led Him to the cross at the age of eighteen. Most likely different from modern Christian leaders, Jesus never hurried and accelerated the speed of His life. Hurriedness is a direct path to poor quality of leadership, while unhurried and excellent preparation is an efficacious road to superb quality of leadership.

Let?s take a moment to reflect on the life of Jesus. Which was more difficult for Jesus, His three years? public life or thirty years? private life? For examples of His public life, due to extreme exhaustion from hefty ministry schedule, Jesus couldn?t stop falling into a sleep on a small boat, which was about to sink by a strong storm in the lake. He was probably snoring in a deep sleep. The most difficult moment must have been the historical event of being crucified on the cross, excruciating pain of skin ruptured, crying out “Eloi, eloi lama sbachthani?” (Matt. 27:46).

What about His private life? One can intuitively apprehend that His thirty years? private life was not an easy period in comparison to His three years? public life. For thirty years, Jesus who was God had to dwell (tent) among sinners as a human being and this incarnation was the most incredible humiliation to His divinity. Crucifixion on the cross after three years? public ministry was a great suffering, but the suffering of living as an ordinary human for thirty years was probably as painful. How did Jesus cope with this thirty years? He responded with resilience of silent endurance, not passively, but actively. He actively and quietly prepared His life and waited for Father?s perfect time. He was perfectly faithful at where He was and on what He supposed to do. Jesus knew what kind of mission He should accomplish and He knew well how He should accomplish His mission, discerning the right process and perfect timing. He presented Himself as the best model of leadership discernment.

Jesus spent thirty years in preparing His own life, while three years in preparing other?s life, especially His disciples. Thirty years is equivalent to 91% of Jesus? life, while three years of His public ministry represent His 9%. Jesus prepared thirty years with exceptional brilliance for His three years? public ministry. We, modern Christian leaders, tend to hurry in three years? preparation and immaturely to jump into the ministry arena trying to serve thirty years. The result is usually unacceptable. If Jesus was a typical American Christian leader, he probably swims through the flood of all kinds of seminars and searches market-driven programs/projects all over the country.

What did Jesus prepare 91% of His life for? What did Jesus invest 9% of His life at? We perspicaciously survey that Jesus allocated 91% of His life on Character Building, while focusing 9% of His life on Kingdom Building. How well Christian leaders prepare for their character determines effectiveness of their ministry. Jesus prepared exceptionally well each day for thirty years for His future three year ministry. One can intellectually calculate that Jesus invested ten times more of His times and energy on character building than on Kingdom building. What motivated Him to do that? Suitable character for Kingdom building is ten times more

crucial than Kingdom building itself. Kingdom building ought to flow out of character building. The general misunderstanding is prevalent in the church that the ultimate duty of Christian leaders is to build God?s Kingdom to the end of the earth. In fact, the ultimate duty of Christian leaders is to become a person of character, suitable for building God?s Kingdom. Christian leaders have a divine mandate to build God?s Kingdom within themselves first. The greatest benefit that Christian leaders can offer to their churches and organizations is their well-being, to become physically, emotionally and spiritually healthy leaders. Christian leaders should never trap into a delusion of pursuing statistic and numerical success in their ministry, while their inner life is deficient of mature character. Although one?s ministry might grow fast within a short period of time, the excellent quality of one?s character building requires a long term. Therefore, 91/9 Leadership Principle ought to be at the heart of every Christian leader.

Character Building of Jesus

What kind of character did Jesus build within His life? What kind of life-styles did Jesus? character exhibit? Fours Gospels manifest the kinds of life-styles Jesus must have been developing for 30 years. When Christian leaders desire to imitate Jesus, they certainly encounter six distinctive life-styles of Jesus. Jesus developed these six life-styles through a long season of endurance, uncmpromising discipline and personal commitment. His life-style radiated like a spotless diamond.

1. Simple Life-Style

Through a genealogy of an ordinary Jew, Jesus was born in a simple family. No five star hotel or luxurious hospital was available for Him to be born, but only a simple manger was His birth place. He couldn?t have a permanent comfortable residence. He was forced to move from His birth place to different locations, crossing into a foreign country (Egypt) and an unfamiliar city (Nazareth). He was simply known as a son of a local carpenter. He was fairly content to work at the carpenter shop, cutting woods and making useful furniture. He gleefully denied a luxurious royal life and gladly embraced a simple life-style of an ordinary Jew. Jesus never let material lewdness control Him and in fact, He adamantly rejected a materialistic life-style. Jesus taught His disciples, future church leaders, to live a life of simplicity, “Don?t load yourselves up with equipment. Keep it simple” (Luke 9:3 – Message).

2. Serving Life-Style

For 30 years, Jesus gladly took a general responsibility to serve His physical family as the oldest child. When Jesus was holding a plane in His hand to smooth woods, He never once complained like this, “Did I come to do this from the heaven?” As a carpenter, Jesus provided the best service to every customer. His great joy was to make His customers satisfy with His service. One can never find “mediocre service” in the dictionary of Jesus. Jesus did not come to be served, but to serve others. For this particular mission, Jesus thoroughly prepared His life for thirty years.

During next three years public life, Jesus gave His life as the ransom for many who were in captivity of darkness. He rejected three gigantic temptations of Christian leaders: salary, security and status. Finally, He demonstrated the perfect model of servant leadership by humbly kneeling down to wash the dirty feet of His disciples (John 13).

3. Saturation Life-Style – Incarnation

God decided to tent ?skhnoVw) among His people as Jesus (John 1:14). In His incarnation, Jesus exegeted the father to us. He was thoroughly immersed in his Jewish culture; he participated in its celebrations and traditions; he spoke Aramaic with a Galilean accent; he had distinctive physical features and personality traits (Flemming 2005, p. 20). Incarnational leadership of Jesus is the best model of Christian leadership. Jesus penetrated into the heart of Jewish people and saturated with their culture, such as laughing together, crying together, eating with them, attending to wedding ceremony and funeral ceremony. Jesus shared the high and low moments of life, overflowing joy and painful suffering with them. Jesus never practiced an impersonal and long distant relationship with His followers. His leadership intimately saturated into the life of His followers. Can you imagine of Jesus visiting a few times a year from far distance to build up His disciples? Absolutely not. He walked with them. Jesus was never interested in distant learning programs and curriculums for equipping church leaders. As the mission of God was achieved by the incarnation of Jesus, Jesus in turn said to his disciples and to us, “As the Father has sent me into the world so send I you into the world” (John 20:21). Jesus expects every Christian leader to follow His incarnational leadership model.

4. Submission Life-Style

Although Jesus was God, He learned to obey (Heb. 5:8). Submission was His life-style in home (Luke 2:50) and in community. Above all, Jesus completely submitted Himself to Heavenly Father. Even before His birth, Heavenly Father predestined how Jesus should live His life and what should be His life mission (Matt. 1:21). Jesus never once rejected or rebelled against Father?s plan. He always felt that accomplishing Father?s purpose in His life is the highest honor. By His submission, Jesus always put Father?s agenda over His own personal agenda. Father?s agenda was the highest priority of His life. He always asked Himself a question, “what needs to be done?” rather than “What do I want to do?” He is the ultimate example of how Christian leaders should submit to God?s agenda. Christian leadership is all about submitting to God, not about leading according to their personal agenda.

5. Scripture centered Life-Style

As Jesus was growing up as a cultural and religious Jew, He ate, memorized and meditated the living words of God. On Sabbath, He worshipped at local synagogues, learning Torah and memorizing Shama (??? ?? ??? ?? ??? ??? ) twice a day, and above all, putting God?s words into personal practices. How was Jesus able to overcome all kinds of temptations and never sin? His life was completely centered on Scripture (Matt. 4). When Jesus was ready to inaugurate His public ministry, He announced His mission statement and vision statement from precious Scripture verses (Luke 4). He lived His daily life by Scriptural principles. Scripture was the anchor of His life. He was with the Word and the Word was with Him. Living word of God flowed out of His mouth and life.

6. Spirit-Filled Life-Style

The conception of Jesus was the work of the Holy Spirit. While being in the stomach of Mary, Mary being filled by the Spirit had a special impact on Jesus. Jesus grew up with the power of prayer by His earthly mother. Right before beginning His public ministry, Jesus was publically baptized and was filled with the Holy Spirit. Before, during and after 40 days fasting, Jesus was filled with the Holy Spirit. Jesus began His public ministry with the power of the Holy Spirit (Luke 4:14). He ministered people with the fullness of the Spirit (Luke 10:21). Jesus personally knew who the Holy Spirit was (Luke 12:12; John 14:26). Jesus told His disciples a story of the importance of asking, seeking and knocking to receive the Holy Spirit (Luke 11). Jesus told His disciples who will become the future church leader to receive the Holy Spirit (John 20:22). Jesus knew that without the filling of the Spirit, His disciples will be powerless witnesses. So He commanded them to wait for the coming of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1).

Kingdom Building of Jesus

How did Jesus build God?s Kingdom? What principles did He implement on building God?s Kingdom? We can summarize that Jesus put His entire life on making disciples of small group. Jesus focused on three essential principles on His ministry.

1. Focus on Small Group over Crowd.

It is not inaccurate to state that Jesus invested 91% of His ministry on a small group, while spending 9% with the crowd. In order to win the multitudes, He focused on the small group. He did not fall into a big temptation of number game and popularity contest. Instead, He committed Himself to build each person up to become a mature leader.

He dared to be different from His contemporary leaders. For the great mission of building God?s Kingdom all over the world, Jesus simply walked through the region of Galilee to select a few people. Although Jesus was a spiritual revolutionary to build God?s Kingdom in the world, He refused the scheme of a typical revolutionary, chasing after multitudes. He always looked for few dedicated followers. His ministry was centered on a small group of dedicated disciples who totally put their life on Jesus. Although Jesus always had a great compassion for the lost crowd, He was never impressed by a large number of people. His salvation history was the greatest event in the human history. For this salvation history, unlike worldly leaders, He rejected a social status, a religious position and meaningless fame from multitudes. His eyes always focused on small group. Jesus always searched for a small group of followers who think like Jesus, love like Jesus, see like Jesus, teach like Jesus, and serve like Jesus. What Jesus really needed were a few people whose life was revolutionized by Jesus so that they can revolutionize the whole world with the Gospel of Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit.

2. Focus on People over Program/Project.

Jesus offered His life for people. Jesus personally met the socially marginalized, divinely touched the sick, warmly embraced the lonely, revived the dead and built ordinary fishermen to become fishers of men, disciples of Jesus. Jesus? personal schedule was full of meetings with people in person and group. Jesus was always available to be interrupted by people of all kinds of needs. People were the top priority of Jesus. Jesus? Kingdom building was all about people.

In Jerusalem, the church was birthed as a living community of active disciples. In Rome, the church became a religious institution of passive attendants. In Northern America, the church was transformed into a market driven enterprise of self-centered consumers. Unfortunately, this kind of church model has been exported to all over the world.

If we (Americans) were left to ourselves with the task of taking the gospel to the world, we would immediate begin planning innovative strategies and plotting elaborate schemes. We would organize conventions, develop programs and create foundations. We would get the biggest names to draw the biggest crowds to the biggest events. We would start mega-churches and host mega-conferences. We would do…. Well, we would do what we are doing today (David Platt, p. 87-88). On the contrary to modern Christian leaders, Jesus? model of leadership wins people, touches people, builds people and commissions people to win other people. Jesus can never be imprisoned in an office by programs and projects of impersonal relationship.

3. Focus on Making Disciples over Making Converts.

Jesus never commanded His church to go and make converts of all nations, but Jesus gave the divine authority and the power of the Holy Spirit to the church to make disciples who totally follow and commit their life to Jesus. Jesus reminded His disciples that making disciples is not like a mass-production from a factory. Dedicated disciples of Jesus cannot be made through an evening prayer meeting, a revival meeting, or an evangelistic crusade. Making disciples is a long process of exciting spiritual journey.

Ask Jesus to come into your heart if you want to invite Jesus to come into your life. Pray a prayer of receiving Jesus, and sign this card, walk down this aisle and accept Jesus as your personal Savior. Our attempt to reduce this gospel to a shrink-wrapped presentation that persuades someone to say or pray the right things back to us no longer seems appropriate. You will not find a verse in Scripture where people are told to bow your heads, close your eyes, and repeat after me (David Platt, p. 36-37). This form of Gospel has been wrapped in the Western culture in the last century and was born as Conversionistic Gospel.

Jesus was totally committed His life for making disciples. He wholeheartedly poured out His all energy, every drop of sweat and every hour on disciplemaking. Jesus dreamed glocal disciplemaking through making disciples of a small group. His feet never entered outside of a tidy Palestine land and He was faithfully living in the local area where He was discipling His followers for global disciplemaking. Jesus always presented Disciplistic Gospel.


In the third Millennium, the Church of Jesus is still looking Christian leaders of 91/9 principle and Jesus is desperately searching for them as well. Following Jesus? footstep is the way to become a leader like Jesus. Don?t you think 21st century Christian leaders should beat their body (1 Cor. 9:27) to live like Jesus and labor with all their energy (Col. 1:29) to lead like Him?


Flemming, Dean
Contextualization in the New Testament: Patterns for Theology and Mission, Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2005

Platt, David
Radical: Taking back your faith from American Dream, Multnomah Books: Colorado Springs, 2010

Author is a OMF Bible Teacher