The “In, Out and Up” Leadership of Jesus

By Kevin Dougherty –

In a recent message at the First Baptist Church in Charleston, South Carolina, Pastor Marshall Blalock described for us his vision of a church whose members were engaged in ministries that were directed “in, out, and up.” Looking in, he challenged us to be daily reading the Bible and praying. Looking out, he challenged us to share the Gospel with those around us. Looking up, he challenged us to stretch ourselves and grow in our walk with Christ.

As I pondered Pastor Blalock’s vision for our church, I was struck by the many intersections it had with the leader development work we do with cadets at The Citadel. I increasingly became convinced that the “In, Out, and Up” paradigm also had application for individual leaders. Bob Briner and Ray Pritchard call Jesus Christ “the greatest leader of all time,”[1] and his example certainly reflects the “In, Out, and Up” model.

When leaders look inward they build self-awareness and develop an array of leadership styles, tools, and techniques. It is hard to imagine Jesus having to prepare to be a leader, but the Bible tells us that that is indeed what happened. As he prepared to enter his public ministry, Jesus “grew in wisdom and stature.”[2] He spent time in the temple courts, “sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.”[3] It was not until Jesus was about thirty years old that he began his public ministry after being baptized by John the Baptist.[4] Briner and Pritchard note that these thirty years were a period of preparation for Jesus as a leader.[5]

After being baptized, Jesus went in to the wilderness where he fasted for forty days and nights.[6] This was a time for Jesus to prepare for his ministry. He was tested by the devil and in each case responded with words from Scripture, reaffirming what Jesus valued and the frame of reference he would use moving forward. After this period of inward reflection and preparation, Jesus was ready to begin his ministry.

When leaders look outward, they develop relationships with those above them, lateral to them, and below them. After his time in the wilderness, Jesus began gathering the Twelve Apostles who would help him with his ministry.[7] Briner and Pritchard note that Jesus did not just passively receive his Apostles. He called them, and he did so with the leader’s maxim to “follow me.”[8] He taught these twelve and his other followers in a variety of ways. Sometimes he taught with sermons such as the Sermon of the Mount.[9] He taught often using parables, such as the Parable of the Sower.[10] Most powerfully, perhaps, he taught be example such as when he washed the disciples feet.[11] Regardless of the form of delivery, Briner and Pritchard attribute Jesus’s success as a leader who teaches as being that he taught with authority.[12] He gave them clear expectations and instructions when he sent out the Apostles.[13] He taught them skills, such as how to pray.[14] He organized them effectively and gave them authority to do certain things.[15] He cared for them, ensuring they had food and rest.[16] Briner and Pritchard note that Jesus modelled the recognition that “those you are leading can only be effective when their needs and the needs of their families are met.”[17] Jesus looked outward and, in the Apostles, recruited and trained a team of loyal followers and fledgling leaders.

When leaders look upward, they create growth in both themselves and others. Jesus was particularly careful to prepare his Apostles to continue the ministry without him. He warned them of possible deceptions and the hardships that lay ahead of them.[18] He explained that after he was gone, the Holy Spirit would come as “another advocate to help you and be with you forever.”[19] He prayed for their protection.[20] He specifically identified Peter as the rock on which he would build his church.[21] “Almost from the moment he called them,” Briner and Pritchard note, Jesus began preparing his disciples that “he would not always be with them. He wisely began to focus quite narrowly on those few who would be most capable of leadership when he was no longer there.”[22] Looking upward, Jesus ensured his followers were equipped to continue without him.

Today, Christianity is the world’s biggest religion, with over two billion followers. This is the result of the leadership of Jesus, both in his earthly and enduring ministries. Looking inward, outward, and upward, Jesus, is the best practical example of leadership in action.

[1] Among the many others who share this opinion are Bob Briner and Ray Pritchard, Leadership Lessons of Jesus, (NY: Gramercy Books, 1998), 1.

[2] Luke 2: 52.

[3] Luke 2: 46.

[4] Luke 3: 23.

[5] Briner and Pritchard, 25. See Matthew 4:18-22.

[6] Matthew 4: 2.

[7] Mark 3:13-19.

[8] Briner and Pritchard, 19.

[9] Matthew 5: 1-12.

[10] Matthew 13:1-9.

[11] John 13: 1-17.

[12] Briner and Pritchard, 25.

[13] Matthew 10-1-15.

[14] Matthew 6: 5-15.

[15] Mark 6:7 and Matthew 10:1-4.

[16] Mark 6:30-33.

[17] Briner and Pritchard, 27.

[18] Matthew 24: 4-35.

[19] John 14:16.

[20] John 17:16-19.

[21] Matthew 16:18.

[22] Briner and Pritchard, 127.

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