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Supreme leadership, The Leadership of Jesus and its Legacy Today

Apr 30, 2009, 5:17 AM | Article By: John Adair

THE PUBLISHERS of this book say little about its author, but the Internet reveals that John Adair has researched, written and taught a great deal about leadership. So his ideas on Jesus as a leader are bound to be interesting.

Adair focuses on Jesus' life and legacy - Jesus the man rather than Jesus in Christian doctrine. He asserts that we need to understand Jesus in the context of his place and time, and asks three questions: What was known about leadership before Jesus was born? What leaders before Jesus may have served as models for him? What kind of leaders did he see in the society of his own time and place?

Adair says that a leader is literally one who makes a journey with followers or companions. From the Gospels we know the outcome of Jesus' journey; we have the benefit of hindsight. But his disciples did not know what was going to happen to Jesus or to themselves. Adair says that Jesus and his companions went forward together because they shared his vision - the 'kingdom of God'.

Adair writes; 'My deepest desire has been to step back... and let you come close to this extraordinary person. I imagine you sitting with Jesus, as if by the well of Jacob. where that Samaritan woman came across him and found herself engaged in a conversation which took her on a journey. You may offer him a drink from the well of your own hopes and intentions; what you may receive in return is living water that well refresh and inspire your spirit long after you have closed this book.'

Socrates and the Greeks

Adair begins with Greek conceptions of leadership. To Socrates - known as The Thinker' - the key to authority was knowledge: the leader knows more than his followers, and they value his skill and experience.

Socrates had neither money nor rank, but he has many followers down to this day. A less successful Greek leader was the general Proxenus, who liked to be liked by his men. Adair comments, 'Popularity as an end in itself is not what a true leader seeks.'

In contrast, another Greek general. Clearchus, seemed to have all the military virtues:

he knew his job, he was courageous, he was a stern disciplinarian. But he lacked the key quality than any excellent leader needs: the ability to inspire willing and enthusiastic obedience...'

The best-remembered of the great military Greeks was of course Alexander the Great, who forged a mighty empire. He is said to have shared fully in the dangers, hardships and toils of his men -as if he was one of them. not over them.

Abraham, Moses, David

Adair now turns to great leaders of the Bible. The founding father was Abraham. Abraham's sense of a personal relation with the Most High God, as of one talking face to face with a friend, had the effect of producing something unique in a leader:

Humility. 'Behold, I have taken it upon myself to speak to the Lord. I who am but dust and ashes.' (Genesis 18: 27).

Moses was the nation's great deliverer and law-giver. For the Jews of Jesus' day Moses, like Abraham, was not a figure of the past. But a living, if invisible, leader in the present - someone who shapes the course of daily life. The Pharisees, for example, called themselves 'Moses' disciples'.

For the Jews, the prophet Moses could have no equal. Yet Moses could not speak well. Perhaps one should acknowledge that if God calls, someone to a particular service he makes it possible for that person to fulfill his vocation. The Old Testament makes it appear that it is God who is leading Israel, with Moses as his very human and fallible instrument. Moses was 'very meek, more than all men who were on the face of the earth' (Numbers 12: 3).

Moses chose judges and administrators to help him, and appointed a very different sort of man - Joshua, son of Nun - to succeed him. (The Greek form of Joshua', which roughly meant in Hebrew, 'God helps', is the name 'Jesus'.)

The great shepherd-king of the Israelites was David, who led his people 'with a skilful hand'. David created unity (another great asset in a leader). and created Jerusalem as a centre and symbol of unity.

Caiaphas, Pilate and the three Herods

Before coming to Jesus himself, Adair turns to the chief rulers in Jesus' day, people most of us don't know much about: the Chief Priest, Caiaphas; the Roman Prefect. Pontius Pilate; and the Tetrarch of Galilee, Herod Antipas.

Caiaphas held office from AD 18 to 37. As chief priest, he was the judge in Israel. He and the other elders constituted the 70-member Sanhedrin, or council. The Romans allowed the Jews full autonomy when it came to their own laws and customs, though they reserved certain crimes for their own jurisdiction - notably, sedition or rebellion. It was important for the Jewish leaders to remain on good terms with the Roman authorities (Jews were exempted from military service). The fact that Caiaphas remained in office for so long (19 years) suggests that he was adept at dealing with the Romans.

Pilate's difficult assignment

The territory of Pontius Pilate was Judea and Samaria, which formed part of the Roman province of Syria. Pilate, as prefect, reported to the Roman legate, who had his HQ in Damascus.

Pilate was in charge of about 4,000 soldiers. He ruled for 10 years over a difficult domain. Adair says that Pilate is remembered only because of his part in the trial and execution of Jesus of Galilee. Could he have recalled even the face of Jesus, afterwards? Says Adair: 'I believe he did. The quality that Romans admired above all others was courage in the face of certain death... Could Pilate have forgotten the man who stood before him so calmly when his silence - as Pilate had told him - would lead to certain death?'

There were three Herods around the time of Jesus. The first is known as Herod the Great: an energetic and capable ruler who persuaded the Romans to appoint him king of Judae. It was this Herod who killed the Holy Innocents; and it was he who set in train the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem.

As a reward for his loyalty, the Roman Emperor Augustus gave Herod the right to choose his successor. When he died in AD 4, Herod willed that his kingdom be divided. One of his younger sons, aged only 17, was named tetrarch of Galilee ('tetrarch' means ruler of a quarter of the kingdom).

This second Herod is known as Herod Antipas, and he ruled for 43 years. It was he to whom Pilate sent Jesus (see Luke 23: 6-12).

Herod Antipas married a strong-willed wife, Herodias, who stirred up trouble not only for John the Baptist, but with her brother, Agrippa. This led to Antipas' banishment, and his replacement by Agrippa, who was to imprison Peter and behead his brother James.

The 'new Elijah'

Before coming to Jesus himself, Adair considers 'the new Elijah' - John the Baptiser. It was widely believed that the prophet Elijah would reappear to herald 'the day of the Lord'. Adair says it's as though John appears on the stage in order to introduce the principal actor - Jesus. John shows humility before Jesus, accepting that he will be eclipsed by this 'sun of righteousness'.

Apart from proclaiming the imminence of the kingdom and urging repentance, John worked miracles and gathered disciples to whom he delegated some of his work. He taught that repentance is like a tree known by its fruit the penitent, forgiven by God. should be generous ('he who has two coats, let him share with him who has none... Luke 3:11). Not everyone flocked to John. The Pharisees were among those who denounced him, as they were to denounce Jesus. John's radical message was that the only way to enter the kingdom is the universal way of goodness. Nothing else counts

- not even direct descent from Abraham, which the Pharisees made so much of.

Jesus evidently had much respect and admiration for John (Luke 7: 24-6). John was a sacrificial leader, who died for his beliefs.

Like Moses. John was not destined to see 'the kingdom of God'. Like Moses,' says Adair, 'he would die without entering this promised land that he had been called to proclaim. Yet another Joshua - Jesus - was at hand to lead this new people on the next stage of this journey.'

We haven't reached halfway in Adair's book. His insights into the qualities of leaders

- Greek and Jewish - who preceded Jesus point us towards those very qualities in Jesus himself: qualities demonstrated in ways that have gripped the imagination of countless Christians and others for over two thousand years. You'll have to read Adair's book to see how he identifies vision, knowledge. compassion. humility, the ability to unite and inspire, and the willingness to sacrifice himself for his followers - all this and much more - in Jesus.

Jesus led by serving: 'I am among you as one who serves.' (Luke 22: 25-7). He shared hardship and danger: many a night Jesus must have slept among his followers under the stars, 'perhaps like the patriarch Jacob using a rock for a pillow'.

Above all, the test of leadership is the willingness for self-sacrifice. Jesus taught that leadership is a form of love.

The Leadership of Jesus and its legacy today. By John Adair. Paperback. 194 pages, including notes. Published by the Canterbury Press, Norwich, England. Price at Timbooktoo, Fajara: