Book Review: Jesus on Leadership by C. Gene Wilkes

Review of Wilkes, C. G. (2011). Jesus on leadership. Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.

Introduction

Throughout the discipleship process where the Christian is actively transformed into the image of Jesus Christ, we interact with sacred scriptures, church tradition, and wise mentors. These interactions all point us to the person of Jesus Christ. Scripture teaches us to set our eyes on Christ as we run, with endurance, the race of this life (Hebrews 12:1-2). In corporate worship we exalt the name of Christ, and Paul, a model Christian mentor, urged those who followed his lead to “imitate me as I imitate Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1). Observations on how Jesus demonstrated leadership is unavoidable when taking such a comprehensive focus on the person of Jesus. World changers are leaders and after this man called out two simple words, “follow me,” the entire world was changed, one life at a time. In his book, Jesus on Leadership, author and pastor C. Gene Wilkes takes up the nature of Jesus’s leadership approach, the qualities and techniques used by the master teacher during his earthly ministry as recorded in the four canonical gospel accounts. This book is a must read for the modern pastor and church leader. Within it’s pages, Pastor Wilkes unpacks a systematic approach to leading God’s people in the very pattern demonstrated by the Good Shepherd and Head of the Church to whose leadership every pastor is submitted.

Summary of Contents

The book opens with a forward from Dr. Calvin Miller, founding pastor of Westside Baptist Church in Ft. Worth Texas. Miller notes the strengths of the author as a pastor and scholar, namely Wilkes love for Jesus Christ and his fluency with scholarly literature on leadership and Jesus’ leadership in particular. Peter Northouse notes that “there are almost as many different definition of leadership as there are people who have tried to define it” (Northouse, 2007, p. 2). Wilkes endeavors to make his contribution at the very opening of the book where he definitively identifies Jesus’ leadership model as one of servant leadership. A defining characteristic in what motivate Jesus was the motivation not to accomplish his own will, but the will of his Father. Wilkes proclaims Jesus’ mission was to be the Messiah, and Jesus explained that as the messiah he did not come to be served, but to be a servant of all.

The book is organized with eight divisions beginning with an introductory section entitled Down From the Head Table, where Wilkes appeals for a resurgence of servant leaders to follow in Christ’s example. Wilkes introduces a systematic approach to Jesus’ servant leadership through seven leadership principles. Each principle comprises the subsequent divisions of the book and through these principles Wilkes asserts that pastors and church leaders can effectively lead through serving.

The first principle is to humble your heart. Wilkes takes this principle from Jesus’ story about the banqueting table and choosing places of honor at a banquet. “Servant leaders humble themselves to the mission entrusted to them. They also wait expectantly for God to exalt them – in God’s timing” (Wilkes, 2011, p. 25). The second principle is to first be a follower. Based on Mark 10:32-40, Wilkes suggests that servant leaders follow Jesus rather than seeking position. Jesus taught that suffering for him precedes reigning with him.

The third principle is to find greatness in service. As James and John grew bold with Jesus, asserting their greatness in association with him over the other disciples, Jesus redefined greatness. “Servant leaders give up personal rights to find greatness in service to others” (Ibid.) Greatness, according to Wilkes, begins with those who become servants to the mission of the group and those teamed with them to carry out that mission.

Fourth, Wilkes says the servant leader takes risks. This principle is built around the servant leader’s ability to trust in the lordship and sovereignty of God, buoyed by the hope in the destiny of every Believer. Wilkes unpacks how to trust so completely by identifying at least five “raw materials” God is working with to form each Believer into a unique servant leader, and believing God is at work in them. The five raw materials are the Believer’s experiences, relational style, spiritual gifts, vocational skills, and enthusiasm. Through these dimensions, Wilkes develops what he calls the Believer’s S.E.R.V.E. profile.

The fifth principle is to take up the towel, that is to say Jesus’ power was through service. This principle is self-evident in the extraordinary affect Jesus’ act of humility and servant leadership in washing his disciples feet had on the twelve gathered in the upper room. The disciples grasped the gravity of what it meant to be washed by the Christ, to be forgiven of sins and justified before God. That same power emanates and affects others when Believers embody servant leadership, forgiveness, and humility.

The sixth principle is to share responsibility and authority with others. This is how Jesus equipped his followers for service and leadership. It is also how the mission can actually change the world. It is as strategic a principle as it is tactical. By empowering others with responsibility and authority, servant leaders are multiplied and able to reach widely into the world with the mission of the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus chose to use His church to accomplish this mission and no one pastor or church can do it alone. It is through sharing the power, responsibility, and authority that the Kingdom grows exponentially.

The seventh and final principle is to build a team. “Servant leaders encourage others to serve, qualify others for service, understand the needs of those they equip, instruct others in their specific tasks, and pray for those to they invite into ministry” (Ibid., p. 26). Moreover, the Kingdom is a community and servant leaders create a community of servant leaders around them.

Critique

There are three great strengths in Wilkes review of Jesus’ leadership approach. First, it is systematic. Wilkes identifies seven core principles, unpacks them, helps the reader understand them and incorporate them into their specific leadership context. Much of the discussion and literature on leadership models remain highly theoretical. Not so with Wilkes’ contribution to servant leadership. Secondly, Wilkes is making a contribution to literature. He is clearly fluent with what is has already been discussed and proffered through scholarship, most notably through the work of Robert Greenleaf on servant leadership. In this book, Wilkes carefully examines what principles can be extrapolated and applied to the extant knowledge of servant leadership through the model of the person of Jesus, as recounted by the canonical gospels. Finally, Wilkes is thoroughly and faithfully pointing the reader to the person of Jesus Christ. It is a true mark of a pastor and master disciple maker. This pastor is thankful to his faithfulness and demonstration of skillful disciple making through the medium of scholarship and book authorship.

Application to Ministry

The applications to ministry are self-evident. Principles of building a team, finding greatness and power in service, taking risks, and sharing responsibility and authority are inseparable from effective shepherding of the people of God. It is also strategic and tactical in pushing forward in advancing the mission of the Kingdom of Heaven. This text is a must read for every pastor.

Resources

Greenleaf, R. K. (1977). Servant leadership. American University.

Northouse, P. G. (2007). Leadership: Theory and practice. Sage.

Wilkes, C. G. (2011). Jesus on leadership. Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.