Jesus made one decision that seems like a major leadership mistake; he chose Judas as one of the key leaders in his organization. While Judas eventually plays a major role in Jesus’ redemptive story, why make him a leader? Surely anyone in the outer circle of followers could play the role of traitor, why waste one of the most coveted seats in human history on a loser like Judas? Not only does Jesus appoint Judas to a leadership role, he makes him the treasurer. Jesus certainly has better candidates; Matthew is an accountant, Peter is a small business owner, Nathaniel is a man “of complete integrity” (John 1:45 NLT). Why did Jesus, knowing Judas’ struggles with greed and honesty, give him oversight of the ministry’s finances?
No competent leader with the inside knowledge Jesus had would do what Jesus did. We know that an inner circle must be loyal to the leader, and anyone who handles finances must have impeccable character. To purposely choose someone for the leadership team who is greedy, selfish and disloyal is both career and organizational suicide. In fact, we use Judas as an example of what to avoid when choosing leaders. A prominent pastor teaches that there is a Judas at every table and it is the role of the leader to weed him or her out. The unintentional message is, “Only a fool would lead like Jesus.”
Obviously Jesus didn’t make a mistake choosing Judas, so what can we learn from his example. I don’t think the lesson is to make sure at least one member of your leadership team lacks integrity:
“I realize you have tons of experience and an impeccable track record, but what we’re really looking for is an embezzling traitor.”
The Apostle Paul is very clear about the ethical standard for leadership in the church.
So an elder must be a man whose life is above reproach. (1 Timothy 3:2 NIV)
Paul would have smacked Timothy upside the head if he appointed someone like Judas as an overseer in Ephesus, so why does Jesus choose Judas as a leader?
The Gospel writers are silent on Jesus’ motivation, so we can only speculate on his reasoning. I wonder if, in spite of Judas’ character, Jesus sees potential in him. We know how the story ends, but maybe at the beginning Jesus loves Judas so much he gives him every opportunity to reach the potential God placed in him. Maybe Jesus knows that the best opportunity for Judas to overcome his character flaws is in a place of responsibility and trust. It seems that Jesus is willing, for a time, to subjugate the primacy of the mission to the development of the individual. In the end Jesus’ mission is accomplished, but not before he gives Judas every chance to change.
Rather than a cautionary tale on how not to lead, as we have inadvertently taken it, Jesus’ selection and treatment of Judas give us a model for dealing with people who don’t conform to the template of a successful leader. I see several implications in how we lead 2000 years after Judas:
We are in the people business, not the mission business
Over the past couple of decades we have become enamored with vision, values and mission. The first thing every church planter does, after picking a cool church name, is write out their vision, core values and mission statement. They recruit leaders who will follow their vision, adhere to their values and accomplish their mission. While there are positive aspects to this approach, it can miss the main point of ministry; we are not called to accomplish a mission, we are called to feed sheep. Jesus drove this home to Peter the last time they were together:
A third time he asked him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter was hurt that Jesus asked the question a third time. He said, “Lord, you know everything. You know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Then feed my sheep.” (John 21:17 NLT)
In Jesus’ economy people don’t accomplish just the mission, people are the mission.
We develop more than recruit
Another interesting trend in the modern American church is the reliance on outside talent. We don’t have the time or resources to develop local leaders, we have to find someone with experience who is ready to produce immediately. The mission is too important to wait for local people to grow into the job.
I wonder if Jesus would have used a search firm to find disciples? If he had I wonder if he would have gotten his money back on Judas? Jesus managed to accomplish what he came to earth to do with mostly untrained, inexperienced men. He was even willing to pour time and effort into a deadened project like Judas. Although his progress was slow the eventual results were incredible.
While occasionally it is helpful to bring someone in with a fresh perspective, it seems like the biblical pattern is to develop local leaders rather than recruit outside talent.
We choose people no one else would choose
If a leader is only as good as the people around him then Jesus is in trouble; Judas is just the most glaring example of incompetence in the people surrounding Jesus. King David is another leader who led through some pretty miserable characters:
So David left Gath and escaped to the cave of Adullam. Soon his brothers and all his other relatives joined him there. Then others began coming—men who were in trouble or in debt or who were just discontented—until David was the captain of about 400 men. (1 Samuel 22:1-2 NLT)
If people are the mission then we can take risks when we choose leaders. Some of our leaders should be too young or too old for the role they are in. Some leaders should not have enough education, not enough experience or not enough talent to lead their area. The goal isn’t to assemble a circle of incompetence, but if we’re not taking risks on people we’re not leading like Jesus.
Some of our “projects” will end badly
Jesus invested three years into Judas. He modeled a godly lifestyle, he taught Kingdom principles and he mentored Judas every day. In the end, however, Judas chose to go his own way. Although Jesus’ knew it was coming Judas kiss in the Garden had to be one of the most painful parts of his life on earth. He gave Judas every opportunity to become a reflection of God, but Judas failed.
If we take risks on people some of them will fail. They will steal, they will lie, they will betray us. No matter how committed and talented we are as leaders we will occasionally encounter a Judas, and when we do it will be painful both individually and to the organization. How do we respond? Do we commit to weeding out every potential Judas, or do we continue to focus on helping people become who God created them to be?
Our job is to participate in God’s people development process
Developing people isn’t about always overlooking character flaws and forgiving mistakes; most of Moses training as a leader came during his 40 years in the desert after he blew his opportunity in Pharaoh’s house. There are times, such as in the case of Judas, when leaders self-destruct. There are other times when leaders have to be disciplined, demoted or fired. The key is our focus; are we more concerned about our mission or our people? I love how Paul prays for his friends in Thessalonica:
So we keep on praying for you, asking our God to enable you to live a life worthy of his call. May he give you the power to accomplish all the good things your faith prompts you to do. (2 Thessalonians 1: 11 NLT)
When we discipline or fire a leader how can we help them become more like the person God created them to be? How can we keep the mission from running over the people?
Jesus is the greatest leader the world has ever known. In three years he established an organization that continue to touch every corner of the globe 2000 years later. If we want to learn to lead like Jesus we can’t ignore any facet of his leadership, including wrestling with the question of Judas and its implications on how we lead today. How will you deal with your Judas?