How Did Jesus Choose and Develop Followers?
“One day as Jesus was walking along the shores of the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother, Andrew, fishing with a net, for they were commercial fishermen. Jesus called out to them, “Come, be my disciples, and I will show you how to fish for people!” And they left their nets at once and went with him. A little farther up the shore Jesus saw Zebedee’s sons, James and John, in a boat mending their nets. He called them, too, and immediately they left their father, Zebedee, in the boat with the hired men and went with him.”
“As Jesus was going down the road, he saw Matthew sitting at his tax-collection booth. “Come, be my disciple,” Jesus said to him. So Matthew got up and followed him.”
In his day, Jesus wasn’t the only Jewish teacher in the land. There were many other rabbis with disciples. There are, however, some notable differences in the way that Jesus both chose and developed his followers. As leaders, what can we learn from Jesus’ relationship with his disciples?
1. Traditionally, the student picked his rabbi. The student would shop around until he found a teacher that he felt comfortable with. Jesus, however, went out and handpicked His followers. The disciples did not pick Jesus. He picked them. Isn’t it interesting the kind of people he chose as his followers? He could have picked some bright young religious students but instead, he chose people out of different segments of society: fishermen, a tax collector, a revolutionary, probably some farmers, etc. Jesus did not pick the superstars; instead he selected people that he saw potential in and developed them.
LEADERSHIP PRINCIPLE: We are always on the lookout for people that have leadership potential. This will often mean giving untried people a chance and giving responsibility to people to see how they handle it.
2. Traditionally, the Torah or Law was what stood at the center of the relationship between the rabbi and his disciples. Jesus made it clear to his disciples, though, that he was at the center of their relationship. Instead of teaching them the Law, Jesus taught them about the Kingdom of God. He even reduced the Law down to its most basic components: Love God with all your heart and love your neighbor as you love yourself. In Mark, Jesus’ teaching to his disciples was also focused on preparing them for His death. 9:30-32 “The shadow of the cross falls ever more darkly” as the gospel continues. Much of Jesus’ ministry was to equip his followers so that they could keep going when he was gone.
LEADERSHIP PRINCIPLE: We bring the Kingdom of God into every situation of our lives. We bring the Kingdom to the people that we pastor in church, at our jobs, and in our neighborhoods. God’s will is that His Kingdom be established on earth as it is in heaven. That only happens as the people of God establish the Kingdom of God in their spheres of influence.
3. Traditionally, the relationship between the rabbi and his followers was that of a master/student type. There was a clear delineation of power. The relationship that Jesus had with His disciples was much deeper. He called them “friends.” This unique relationship affected how Jesus’ disciples learned. Traditional rabbis taught their followers in a traditional way- lecture, memorization, study, recitation, etc. Jesus’ followers learned by watching Him. They watched Jesus in everyday contact with real people in real situations. A great example of this was when Jesus raised Jairus’ daughter from the dead. In Acts, Peter raised Dorcas from the dead in a very similar way to what he had seen Jesus do.
LEADERSHIP PRINCIPLE: People learn how to live and to be successful by watching us. In the arena of service in the church, people learn more by watching than they do by us telling them.
4. The rabbinical schools eventually evolved into exclusive groups of disciples. The Pharisees, the Sadducees and their disciples loved to flaunt their knowledge and used their positions to gain prestige and power over others. Jesus, however, called His followers to be servants, to endure persecution, and to be the salt and light of the world. Learning how to serve is a prerequisite for true Kingdom leadership and for true success in life. It is unlikely that any other rabbi would have ever considered washing his student’s feet. Jesus turned social norms upside down by kneeling on the floor and washing the feet of his followers.
LEADERSHIP PRINCIPLE: The higher up the leadership ladder we go only increases the depth of our service. Do you want to be a leader? Develop a servant’s heart. Leadership flows out of service.
5. The call of Jesus to His disciples went far beyond what the other rabbis expected of their disciples. In Mark 8:34-38 Jesus said things that no other rabbi would say. “If any one would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me…” The implication was strong that at some point, the disciples could expect to lose their lives in the service of Jesus. No other rabbi would ever teach this way. The cost of following Jesus was great, but the reward was even greater.
LEADERSHIP PRINCIPLE: Let’s not be afraid to challenge people. It’s easy as leaders to fall into the trap of catering to peoples’ comfort zones. Be sensitive to the Holy Spirit and to people’s needs but don’t hesitate to call them “higher up and further in” as C. S. Lewis would say!
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