When Jesus told His followers they were to make disciples—that is, followers—of all nations, He was not speaking to a select group of special Christians; He was speaking to all of them.
This leadership calling is not confined to certain positions, careers or days of the week; it is something we walk out in our everyday lives. While 100 percent of believers are called to lead, 97 percent will not do that standing behind a pulpit or ministering within the walls of a church.
The vast majority of the body of Christ will be learning to lead in the marketplace, workplace, home and community. And this is good news. We need Christians who are leaning into God’s purposes for a lost and broken culture, wherever they may find them. Every Christian has an opportunity to make an impact on the world around them. So what do we make of that?
Be Salt in Soil
In Matthew 5, Jesus tells us that we are the salt of the earth. That word “earth” does not mean nations, but soil—the environment in which things can grow and be cultivated. In agriculture, salt in soil acts both as a fertilizer and as a weed-killer. Soil with a high salt content kills certain plants, while allowing other plants to flourish.
Soil is a metaphor for people’s lives (we were made of the “dust of the earth”) and for the culture people create in their respective environments, which in turn shapes them and the world. If we are truly as “salty” as Jesus commands us to be, then our lives will influence what grows, and what is kept from growing, in the people and culture around us. In fact, Jesus’ statement that we are the salt of the earth means we are responsible for people and culture. When we see things growing in people and culture that shouldn’t be there, or see a lack of things that should be growing, we should think, “This soil needs more salt. That’s our job.”
Follow the Leader
Jesus soberly adds that if salt loses its saltiness, it is good for nothing. We have to be the real deal. Our lives actually have to be permeated with the distinctive flavor of Christ and His kingdom if we are going to fulfill our mandate to lead and benefit others through our influence.
Paul gave us the key to being the real deal when he said, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.” (1 Corinthians 11:1)
Jesus was the most profound leader ever to walk the earth. His example is the one we must follow and seek to show to those around us. Jesus was both effective and impactful—two important measurements of successful leadership. He was effective in the sense that He didn’t merely gain an audience or preach a message; He made true disciples and imparted His Spirit, values, character and behavior in them. He was impactful because in reproducing Himself in His disciples, they were so transformed that they in turn began to influence others in the same way He had influenced them.
Jesus told His disciples, “Freely you have received, freely give” (Matthew 10:8). To be effective and have impact as leaders in the world, we must enter fully into this rhythm of receiving our saltiness from Jesus and then giving it to others. In particular, we must learn from and imitate Jesus’ example in the following three areas:
Jesus didn’t just tell us He loved us; He demonstrated that love to us in a way that forever defined what true love is. The greatest love in the universe is the passionate, sacrificial love of the Father for His sons and daughters. Jesus showed us the Father’s heart to restore His lost and broken family, and this is the heart we must receive and share with the world.
1 John 4:18 says that perfect love casts out fear. The most obvious sign that we are demonstrating the love of the Father effectively is that we are helping to lower people’s fear and anxiety.
We don’t have to be geniuses to figure out how to do this; we just have to be courageous and consistent in doing the things that make people feel safe and cared for. For example, people are scared when they feel manipulated or controlled, when they feel uncertain or when they feel unheard and unknown. In contrast, people feel safe, cared for, valued and invited to show up when we offer them freedom, communicate clearly and honestly, and take the time to listen and get to know them. When people tangibly experience care and safety through us, we show them the Father.
Serving is the No. 1 expression of love—and of leadership. Jesus continually taught His disciples that serving defined greatness in the Kingdom, and His final lesson on leadership was a demonstration of serving, when He put a towel around His waist and washed His disciples’ feet.
Serving is choosing to prefer others over ourselves by using the resources of our lives for their benefit. This is exactly what Jesus modeled—He “did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant.” (Philippians 2:6-7)
There’s really nothing that will make us taste more “salty” to the world than taking the things we could use to our advantage and using them to serve others. In a culture that worships the self and self-serving, it is truly counter-culture to “value others above ourselves” (Philippians 2:3) and come alongside them to champion their dreams, offer encouragement and sacrificially meet their needs.
Do Everything With Excellence
One of the best descriptions of excellence in the Bible is Paul’s: “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.” (1 Corinthians 9:24) Jesus modeled a lifestyle pointed at the prize: glorifying His Father by rescuing and restoring us to Him. This was what drove Him to pay the unimaginable price required to defeat sin, death and hell. The excellence of His character—the greatest example of courage and heroism in history—was displayed because Jesus aligned every detail of His life with this prize.
Every one of us is surrounded by people who are starving for purpose and meaning in life. They long to believe that they could be in a story where they matter and where a good future might be attainable for them. They long to be transformed into the best version of themselves. Yet every prize the world offers leaves them hungrier and more hopeless.
It is up to us—those who have discovered that we are heaven’s prize and have made God our prize in return—to show the world that what they long for is possible. When we refuse to give God anything less than our best—especially in the moments that seem meaningless or difficult—we become beacons of hope for people.