Campus wide, Office of the President

Lead like Jesus

By President Dondi Costin | December 10, 2020
Vickey and Dondi Costin welcome the Class of 2024 on Move-In Day at Charleston Southern
Vickey and Dondi Costin welcome the Class of 2024 on Move-In Day. Photo by Richard Esposito

When it comes to leadership, nothing speaks louder or longer than results. Sure, effective leadership presupposes solid character, sound relationship skills, straightforward communication, and strategic vision, but even the godliest of captains is ultimately ineffective if she produces more excuses than results. In God’s economy, results may not be the only thing, but they sure are something. 

On that premise alone, Jesus Christ was the greatest leader in history. His record is unbeaten; the organization He founded, the Church, has achieved results far beyond what anyone imagined at its grand opening. Despite a founder’s stint that lasted just three years almost two thousand years ago, the Church is still blowing and going like nobody’s business. With branches in every nation, a current membership numbering over two billion, and millions more signing up every year, the Church’s lasting legacy makes Jesus the undisputed leadership champion of the world.  

Without question, anyone bent on winning at what matters most should lead like the Lord. 

Simply put, effective leadership is inspiring a team to accomplish its mission for the good of others and the glory of God. Since nobody has ever run that gauntlet better than Jesus, you don’t have to be a Mensa member to realize that there is no match for the Master’s method. 

For starters, Jesus was a servant leader Who embodied this classic principle: If you take care of the people, the people will take care of the mission. What’s more, Jesus expected The Twelve in His own leadership academy to lead like that too.  

If the Gospel writers had been among The Twitterati, these lines from Jesus’ lips would have rocked the retweets back in the day: “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be servant of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:42-45).  

Four powerful words: Not so with you. So much for keeping up with the Joneses. If you want to lead well, better to keep up with Jesus instead. If barking orders doesn’t work, try washing feet (John 13:14-17). Then be grateful that Jesus already took care of dying on the Cross.  

The best leaders rally support for a cause their teammates would never have pursued so passionately without those leaders’ influence and example. They avoid overreliance on the power of their position. They seldom lean on their title as a crutch. Rather, they lead with a towel and point to the Cross.  

No one in history carried a more impressive duty title than Jesus, the Messiah. As titles go, Christ is infinitely more intimidating than Caesar. Yet His title was so misunderstood and misconstrued that it provided little practical power to crack the hard heads and soften the harder hearts of even His closest followers.  

Just as it seems the apostle Peter has a breakthrough with his well-timed “You are the Christ” revelation (Matthew 16:16), he blows it so badly that Jesus throws down a “Get thee behind me, Satan” to put Peter in his place (Matthew 16:23). From top of the heap to bottom of the barrel in seven short verses. Remedial training, here we come.  

No sweat for the Savior. Like any good leader, Jesus trafficked in influence and inspiration as the impetus for impact. He demonstrated routinely that the only way to achieve lasting results is by training your teammates to succeed in the work so they can eventually succeed at the work. He developed His team by developing His teammates and equipping them to do the same. Good leaders always leave the place better than they found it. 

Repeatable processes yield predictable results. “He appointed twelve—designating them apostles—that they might be with Him and that He might send them out to preach” (Mark 3:14). There it is in living color: If you take care of the people, they’ll take care of the mission. In other words, right relationships lead to real results.  

Despite betting the farm on the ragtag battalion who hung in there only as long as it was safe for them to do so, Jesus rallied His bedraggled troops with a parting shot (Matthew 28:18-20) so mind-blowing that we still call it the Great Commission two millennia later.  

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me.” (You go, Jesus!)  

“Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations…teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” (Wait. What?)  

“And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Sounds promising, but I’m still stuck on that whole I’m-supposed-to-go-and-do part.) I did not see this coming. 

Too bad, because people are His mission, and our Redeemer is all about results. So much so that He had the audacity to make the you-gotta-be-kidding-me claim that His teammates—the whole lot of us—would do more than He did. “I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in Me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in My name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father” (John 14:12-13).  

No wonder that leadership definition a few paragraphs ago sounded so good: Effective leaders inspire their teams to accomplish their mission for the good of others and the glory of God.  

“Come, follow Me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you fishers of men” (Matthew 4:19). Or, its leadership corollary, if you prefer: “Come follow Me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you leaders of men.”  

Lead like Jesus sounds like this in Charleston Southernese: Preparing servant leaders to pursue significant lives. Go and do likewise.  

Originally published in CSU Magazine, Fall 2020.

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