“Jesus CEO”

My little sister Mary Elizabeth received the MBA degree, got married, and had three children. Her children are typical American kids, and as a stay at home mother, she needs every bit of that MBA to manage them. She acknowledges that by signing her emails, “Mary Elizabeth Crawford, CEO, Crawford and Company.” I hope all mothers and fathers realize that they are CEOs of the family. We have quite a few CEOs here. Whether your business is managing your home, industry, or self, this sermon is for you.

There must be an attention to the objectives, goals, and mission of every organization from the top down. Any leader must attend to where the organization is going and how it is getting there. But too much emphasis on that part can lead to neglecting the people part, the employees and how they fit in, how they are being treated, how they can grow. On the other hand, being too attentive to the feelings of people can lead to neglecting the goals and objectives of the organization, and that can lead to an unsatisfied donor base, upset investors, or unhappy members that may feel the organization drifting in a tide of people-pleasing behavior. There must be a balance between the mechanics and the people since both are vital to make things happen. Whether it is a family or a huge global corporation, imbalances can wreak havoc.

There are many ways to address the challenge of finding that balance. Personal and professional development is something everyone pursues. You can attend a leadership workshop, read a book, spend a weekend at a conference, or talk to your colleagues about how they do it. Each person learns in different ways. Yet all of those external ways will help only so much. In order for real balance to occur in life, there must be an internal change. Your path to balance begins with the kind of radical internal change that Jesus calls everyone to consider. But Jesus, CEO? Is there really a crossover between the business of our lives that Jesus addresses with such power, and the business of our business? If so, is Jesus the right bridge? If you had to choose someone to guide you, let’s say that you won a special life coaching session from any CEO in the past or present. Who would you choose? Would it be Martha Stewart? Bill Gates? Steve Jobs? Of course the real question is, would it be Jesus?

Peter, one of the disciples, may have been the first to question this CEO approach to Jesus. Jesus had just finished preaching from a boat–preaching from a boat in Lake Galilee to the people on the shore must have been a good way to address them. When Jesus finished, he brought the boat in and told Peter to take the boat out fishing. Peter said that he had tried recently but the fish weren’t biting, but he took the boat out anyway to fish. It could have been that Peter was thinking, “Jesus, you just did a great job speaking to all of these people about God and eternal things. You know a lot about eternal things. But you don’t know fishing!” Nevertheless, soon the nets were full of fish. Peter learned that Jesus knows fishing. He knows your job, too. He can provide that internal change necessary to finally find the right balance. Knowing that your spirituality is not compartmentalized from your job is a first step in bringing life into balance.

Jesus began with the disciples by giving them a vision. It was a vision of the kingdom of God. It takes time, reflection, and contemplation to bring a vision out of the fog of wishful thinking into the clarity of life. The disciples realized how different life would be if they embraced the vision. They were so convinced that the church, the organization of which Jesus is still the CEO, exploded into being. It all started with a vision.

My next door neighbor, Mike McGill, recently climbed Mount Kilimanjaro. Before he set out on the climb, he had many months of training and conditioning. Before all of that physical exercise, though, came the vision that drove him to take on such a goal. He envisioned standing atop that peak with a clear view of the world, breathing in a feeling of accomplishment. That vision drove him and motivated him. I know that you have a vision of what your company or family is going to be like one day. You may have a family event in mind, like a wedding, and what it is going to be like. Or you may have a vision of your retirement or a trip you may take. You may think about your company reaching a milestone. You may have a solid vision already in place, but does it include a vision of the kingdom of God that Jesus taught the disciples? Envision how your life would be different if God’s love was the main factor in your home and business life. How would it be different?

One change is clear- we would be more compassionate, because compassion is huge in the vision of Jesus. Jesus showed that compassion brings balance. In the book, Jesus CEO: Using Ancient Wisdom for Visionary Leadership, author Laurie Beth Jones wrote: “When everything else is said and done, only love will last. Love is the infrastructure of everything and anything worthwhile…. Jesus…summarized His teaching in one sentence: Love God with all your heart, and mind, and soul, and strength, and your neighbor as yourself. Jesus could lead people because, quite simply, he loved them.” Elaborating on compassion as a leadership quality, Mike Murdock, author of The Leadership Secrets of Jesus, wrote, “You will begin to succeed with your life when the hurt and problems of others begin to matter to you.” Compassion is a must especially when difficult decisions need to be made. Charles Manz, author of The Leadership Wisdom of Jesus, wrote, “Jesus did indeed advocate the Golden Rule, but He went even further. He suggested that we should treat people well, as we would like to be treated, even when they don’t deserve it.”

Jesus was willing to share his authority. He worked with the disciples and trained them so that they could help him with his mission. Beausay, author of the book, The Leadership Genius of Jesus, explained how Jesus developed His power in His disciples: “He faced many difficult training challenges. He taught them all on the job with no manuals, no official work hours, and no tight supervision….But, Jesus succeeded in building the group into leaders….Jesus trusted…and encouraged them constantly…. He specifically empowered them to cast out demons, heal the sick, and preach. Were they qualified, certified, and capable of handling those rather powerful things? Not at first. But knowing that mistakes would be common, Jesus patiently guided them. He corrected their thinking when they needed it and let them feel the power He put at their disposal.” Jesus used authority to empower the disciples. He taught them the power of prayer.

The disciples watched Jesus model a life of prayer which was vital to his leadership vision. In their book, More Leadership Lessons of Jesus, Briner and Pritchard wrote: “To consider the leadership lessons of Jesus and not to include the importance of prayer would be unthinkable” because “…prayer is where the battles of life are won and lost.” Prayer was the one unique element of Jesus’ leadership; it was the distinctive ingredient of his leadership and the source of his power and strength. Have you ever stopped and really thought about the amount of time that Christ spent alone in prayer with God and the significance of that? What a powerful message he taught–prayer rejuvenates and makes a connection to God. The Leadership Secrets of Jesus states that Jesus offers the workaholic a way to find rest: “Jesus was an action man, a people person. He produced. He healed. He preached and taught. He walked among the people. But He also knew the necessity of rest and relaxation.” It described a typical day in the life of Jesus: “Every day Jesus faced hundreds of the sick and afflicted who screamed for His attention…Mothers reached for Him. Fathers asked Him to pray for their children. Children did not want to leave His presence. But Jesus separated Himself to receive. He knew He could only give away that which He possessed. Work time is giving. Rest time is receiving. You must have both….Jesus understood the balance of rest and work, which is probably why He was able to accomplish so much in three and one-half years.”

The disciples learned that humility was a part of the vision of Jesus. Jesus said, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and lowly in heart, and you will find rest in your souls” (Matt. 11:29). The Leadership Lessons of Jesus described how Jesus taught that this humility leads to greatness: “Jesus sends a clear message that we should not exaggerate our sense of superiority, that we should not become too caught up in our own importance.…Be humble and don’t be a conceited self-advocate; be a servant and strive to put others first—this is the path to greatness…The philosophy He advocated—humility, service, forgiveness—can lead to the kinds of respect and love from others that many view as the real signs of ‘greatness.’”

The book Focus by Al Riese describes the inclination toward complexity that exists within every organization. Jesus was known for his strength in telling people what they need to focus upon, but he also described another necessity for the leader in John 15, the need to prune that which needs to be let go: “My Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit.” We can all relate to the need to prune something in our lives that needs to go in order for fruit to grow. Leaders in any organization have a model from Jesus that sometimes pruning is necessary. Jesus had strength to make difficult decisions, a strength that came from deep interior faith. Pruning means making a change.

From the point Jesus called the disciples, he began teaching them about change. The Spirit-Led Leader states that sometimes fear paralyzes us – fear of the unknown, fear of losing the gains we have made, fear of failure, and fear of other perceived losses or negative consequences that might result from stepping out to make a change. Sometimes we resist change because of personal weakness, such as laziness, addictions, lack of vision, shortsightedness, or stubbornness. At other times, we may simply feel weary or alone. Often, perhaps, we may know that something is wrong, but simply can’t see what ought to be changed and need a truth teller with a fresh perspective to help us see the way forward. Misguided self-interest may also cause us to resist making the changes needed to pursue the vision God has given us for our lives and leadership. Have you ever shifted your goals and priorities to minimize your struggle or pain at the expense of providing the leadership needed to pursue the vision God has given you? Have you ever let your focus slide from serving the greater mission of the family or organization to what you can get out of your employment or position? Jesus taught the disciples to correct problems and live a process of ongoing change. In life and leadership, ongoing change is part of what it means to be alive and to keep moving on our spiritual journey. Jesus showed the disciples that in order to get from point A to point B, from where they were to where they needed to be, they had to change.

In the book Deep Change: Discovering the Leader Within, Robert Quinn stresses the importance of heeding the call to change, despite our tendency to resist it, both for our own sake and that of the organization we serve. We may be able to justify keeping things the way they are for the rest of our lives or tenure at our positions, but failing to address real needs for change leads to distress, stagnation, or deterioration both within ourselves and in our organizations. The more our inner world is out of alignment with our outer world – that is, the greater the discrepancy between what needs to happen and what is actually happening – the more negative will be the effect on our frame of mind. Quinn describes the phenomenon that occurs when we don’t make the needed changes: “As time passes, something inside us starts to wither. We are forced to live at the cognitive level, the rational, goal seeking level. We lose our vitality and begin to work from sheer discipline. Our energy is not naturally replenished, and we experience no joy in what we do… we are experiencing slow death.” It is not hard to imagine how failing to make needed changes will hurt us, not only psychologically and emotionally but spiritually as well.

The reason why there are so many books about Jesus as a leadership role model is because his interior strength worked. He connected to God and that brought balance in his life. We can find that same balance. The disciples did. They learned that following the vision of Jesus meant bringing real change in life, bringing something totally new into being. Having a vision is the beginning, but just having a vision was not enough, just as it cannot be enough for the mother, father, worker, leader, or CEO, simply to demand results. An effort must be made to bring something new into life- to bring God’s love into the world. Through courage, compassion, and prayer, we can strive to follow the leadership of Jesus and make all the necessary changes, beginning with ourselves, and then within our family or organization.

Amen.