Society & Politics

Leadership Lessons from the Public Life of Jesus - Lesson 7

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Preston Manning, Senior Fellow

This article is the final in a series by Preston Manning on leadership lessons from the public life of Jesus. A member of the Canadian House of Commons from 1993 to 2001, founder of two new political parties—the Reform Party of Canada and the Canadian Reform Conservative Allianceand the Leader of the Official Opposition from 1997 to 2000, Preston works with the MI on the development and communication of faith-informed approaches to political leadership and public policy.


Follow Me!

One of the simplest and earliest instructions that Jesus gave to his earliest disciples was “Follow me”.[1]

So what does this mean with respect to following him in his role and conduct as a public figure, especially for those believers whose public lives are lived out at the interface of faith and politics?

It means that we should seek to become receiver oriented, incarnational communicators who literally embody and personify the truths we desire to communicate; who immerse ourselves in the lives and communities of those we seek to influence and serve; and who frame our communications, to the maximum extent possible, within the conceptual frameworks and vocabularies of those we address.

It means rejecting the temptation to win the support and allegiance of others solely by promising to meet their most obvious and immediate needs; rejecting the temptation to assure them that there is no human need which cannot be met by the market or the state; and rejecting the temptation to rely on the spectacular, the marvelous, the mysterious, and all the magic of image marketing and image politics to win them over.

In particular, following Jesus in the political arena means resisting the temptation to accept political power and influence whenever it is offered, no matter by whom, no matter on what terms. This does not mean that Christians should refrain from seeking political office or from vigorously endeavoring to bring their values and influence to bear on public policy and lawmaking; the central thesis of all these articles on navigating the faith political interface is to better prepare believers to do precisely that. But what following Jesus in the political arena does mean is resisting the temptation to gain political influence on the devil’s terms. It especially means resisting the temptation to try to bring about the kingdom of heaven on earth by seizing the authority and powers of the state and using them to compel obedience to the Christian agenda, rather than by inviting men and women to freely choose to follow and serve Christ.

Following Jesus in preparing ourselves for public service should include adherence to his ethical standard—making self-sacrificial love the supreme ethic to be pursued and practised; encouraging and rewarding those who put the interests of others ahead of their own while constraining those who consistently put their own self-interest ahead of everything else; and forming or joining a moral community or fellowship—preferably a small and intimate one—where that highest of ethical standards will be practised and where we will be supported and held accountable by others for doing so.

Following Jesus at the interface of faith and politics also means being willing to unlearn as well as learn; being aware of “the dark side of the moon” and avoiding the religious and political extremes that may lurk in the shadows of our theologies and ideologies; and understanding the complementary relationship between conservation and change, recognizing that change is often necessary to conserve the original purpose of an institution or practice.

Following Jesus in public life means redirecting our personal ambitions from the service of ourselves to the self sacrificial service of others and taking to heart his declaration that “he who would be chief among you, let him be the servant of all”.[2]

Following Jesus in the public arena especially means learning to follow the great guideline he gave to his earliest followers to be “wise as serpents and gracious as doves”. Above all, it means bringing to the strife-ridden arena of contemporary politics “the ministry of reconciliation”—the unique, otherworldly, non-coercive, self-sacrificial approach to the reconciliation of conflicting interests that Jesus so consistently taught and so dramatically demonstrated.

An Invitation to the Secular Reader

I have primarily directed this summary of leadership lessons from the public life of Jesus to those who have a Christian commitment. But I would still like to challenge my secular political friends—who do not share my faith and probably think I am misguided in trying to apply it as I have, however imperfectly, to the practice of contemporary politics—to directly examine for yourselves what Jesus has to say and teach

By urging you to “directly examine” his life and teachings, my plea is for you to “go to source”, the best source documents we have on his life and teachings being the gospels. I suggest that such direct examination is preferable to basing your opinions about what genuine Christianity is about on your reading of secondary sources or your personal experiences of Christian derivatives and institutions far removed in time and space from his person, life, and words.

In your mind’s eye, place yourself in a village in 1st century Palestine. Jesus has come to spend a few days there and you have the chance to meet and listen to him personally. Suppose he says and does even a tenth of the things he has reported to have said and done by the gospel writers. Then, looking you straight in the eye, he gently says, “Follow me”. What would you do? In my case, hard as it is for those of us with political ambitions to follow anyone, I think I can safely say that I would have followed. But, now, what about you?

The Honourable Member from Galilee

Jesus was not a member of any governing council but he came to represent deliverance from evil, restoration of fellowship with God, food for the hungry, healing for the sick, help for the poor, comfort for the lonely, freedom for the oppressed, and the triumph of life over death.

He taught all who would listen—unlearned and learned alike. He spoke of evil as a reality from which people needed deliverance. And he told of a kingdom where the ruler was not a tyrant but a loving Father and where citizenship was based, not on race or wealth, but on faith and love.

The common people heard him gladly, and some actually wanted him to become the honourable member from Galilee. But he said his constituency was not of this world. And when some of his more zealous supporters came by force to make him a candidate, he hid himself from them.[3] 

He told his followers that they were to be his representatives—salt and light—wherever God had placed them.

So perhaps, if you are a Christian believer operating at the interface of faith and politics, perhaps you could be the honourable member from Galilee, representing not just your constituents and party but also him: on your student or municipal council, in a provincial or state legislature, or in a national parliament or congress.

Remember what he represented: food for the hungry, healing for the sick, help for the poor, comfort for the lonely, freedom for the oppressed, life over death, faith in a loving Father, deliverance from evil, and a kingdom distinguished by love.

Remember also that he especially charged his followers to be wise as serpents (not foolish) and gracious as doves (not threatening) in all their public work and representations of him.

So who will be the honourable member from Galilee in your democratic assembly? Could it be you? Will it be you?

And if so, will your representation of him be conducted with the wisdom of the serpent and the graciousness of the dove—the only kind of representation he authorizes and honours?



[1] Matthew 4:19. “Follow me” was also the last recorded command Jesus gave to the disciple Peter, John 21:19, 22.

[2] Matt 20:27; Luke 22:26

[3] John 6: 14-15

Source: Marketplace Institute



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