Cross-Principled Leadership



By J.T. Pugh


Leadership is the ability of a person to influence others to take action. There is, of course, spiritual leadership and natural leadership. In natural leadership, the personality of the leader is a prime factor. If such a leader s highly successful, with him there is an incandescence, a certain magnetism, I drive, a flame that burns. If such a person commits himself to true spiritual leadership, to this natural ability is added the personality of the Holy Ghost, which gives the leader a keen sensitivity and also works upon the hearts of those he seeks to lead. The church, both locally and corporately, has been blessed most when it has been led by strong, capable spiritual leaders.


The ready service of spiritual leadership is not present in the church by accident. Such leadership must be developed by preceding leaders who deeply care for the continuing welfare of the church. This responsible pattern of self-Less provision of leadership for the future was established early in the history of God’s work. The eighteenth chapter of Exodus describes the four measured levels of responsibility that Moses created in Israel so that the needs of the people could be taken care of.

In the years of Jesus’ earthly ministry, the masses of people influenced by Him could be defined in three concentric circles. The less personally impacted were the multitudes’ Then there were thousands who were called “disciples,” and were baptized (compare Matthew 3:5-6 and John 4:1-2). Then there was the closer circle of His apostles. “And he . . . called unto him whom he would: and they came unto him. And he ordained twelve, that they should be with him, and that he might send them forth to preach.”

Even in this apostolic circle there was yet another proximity. Peter, James, and John were more intimately near to Jesus than anyone else. This intimacy is seen at the resurrection of the ruler’s daughter,’ Jesus’ prayer in Gethsemane,’ and His transfiguration.

Though the immediate leadership of the New Testament Church was at first altogether in the hands of the apostles, we find that as the church grew, additional leaders were added.’ These leaders, we know, were instructed and prepared to discharge their Christian responsibility. Such instruction is seen in Paul’s solemn charge to the Ephesian elders’ and to Timothy.’

Leaders in the early church evidently felt that it was their duty to cultivate men with spiritual leadership abilities to succeed them. Surely the Holy Ghost must have urged this upon them, for we know that the success or failure of any group, be they religious or secular, is determined by the quality of leadership they have.

What the Holy Ghost has led me to emphasize in this chapter is the importance of cross-principled leadership that serves people and redeems areas of God’s kingdom that may have been ravished by selfishness and the love of carnal power. This objective can best be served by observing the words and actions of Jesus as He sought to teach to the twelve leaders He had chosen the principles of cross-centered leadership. During the last year before his crucifixion, Jesus made an intense effort to show His disciples the proper concepts of Christian leadership. It seems the need for this began to be evident at the feeding of the five thousand. It became more evident the last four or five weeks before Jesus’ death.


When Jesus fed five thousand people with five loaves and two fishes,’ His ministry was at the apex of its popularity. This occurred during the last part of the second year, or the first part of the third year.

The miracles of Jesus had increased His fame month by month. Jesus had performed miracles because He cared for people and was moved by compassion. Jesus, however, did not wish popularity to destroy the timing of I I is ministry and the purpose of His coming. This was the reason for His asking, those benefited by His miracles at times not to tell anyone. At the same time, Jesus was not opposed to the crowd-gathering effect His miracles genera led He wished and needed to speak His message to the multitudes. So it was necessary for Jesus to keep the entire process in designed pace and balance. Just as He needed acceptance during the first two years of His ministry, His des tined death demanded a buildup of hostility and rejection during the last year He lived. Thus our Lord was always conscious of the right mood swing coin ing at the right time, although He was totally without politics.

Here at the peak of His popularity, we see Jesus having to work with these realities. For instance, in describing the events immediately following the feeding of the five thousand, both Matthew and Mark use the word “con strained” for a good reason’ The indication is that He used haste and prey sure to get the twelve apostles into a boat and to send them to the other side of the lake. “And straightway Jesus constrained his disciples to get into a ship, and go before him to the other side, while he sent the multitudes away.’

All three of the Gospel writers give the account of this occasion. John tells why Jesus was hurrying to get twelve apostles out of an environment and consensus that was rapidly crystallizing. “Then those men, when they had seen the miracle that Jesus did, said, This is of a truth that prophet that should come into the world . . . Jesus therefore perceived that they would come and take him by force, to make him a king.”‘

Jesus not only had to deal with the mood energy of the masses but also with the power greed it bred in His own chosen twelve. The masses of people who thronged Jesus with great acclaim constituted a great human force such as self-oriented, power-conscious people who desired to manipulate and control. The human spirit can sense fleshly power. The first time I walked the corridors of our nation’s capitol, I sensed the vast accumulations of human power vested there. I once heard a veterinarian tell how his dog, though more than a mile from a large auditorium, was affected by the crowd energy when the place would be filled with people. The dog would become excited and bark continuously until the departing crowd restored the normal energy level.

Thus we can see why Jesus “constrained” his disciples to get out of a human environment that was generating a fleshly power surge. He literally rushed them away from the crowd and into the ship.

Jesus, who was very sensitive to the moods and varied spirit shifts of people, seemed alarmed at the powerful, worldly lure of power that was in direct contrast to the Christian concept. This greatly intoxicating enticement was about to divide His group and turn its thoughts totally away from the true ethics of Christianity. From this point to the night of Gethsemane, Jesus taught lesson after lesson about cross-principled leadership.

Lesson One

In the same chapter relating the occasion just mentioned, Jesus “began to teach them, that the son of man must suffer many things and be rejected of the elders, and of the chief priests, and scribes and be killed.”

Jesus let them know that this cross principle, which was so contradictory to what they had just sensed in the thousands who thronged Jesus, was not only to be the reference of Jesus’ life but theirs also. “Whosoever will come after me let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whosoever will save his life will lose it: but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the Gospel’s the same shall save it.”‘ These were meant to be further corrective words, spoken on this same occasion.

Lesson Two

Six days after He spoke of the cross principle so plainly to them, He took Peter, James, and John into the experience of the “transfiguration.”‘ In contrast to the humanistic power surge these men felt in Chapter 8, they here experienced the divine power and glory of God like few people in the world have ever been exposed to. But what was at the heart of this overwhelming display? “And behold, there talked with him two men, which were Moses and Elias: who appeared in glory, and spoke of his decease which he should accomplish at Jerusalem.” I wonder if Peter, James, and John remembered these same words being spoken to them six days prior by Jesus? 1 wonder if they were puzzled that the cross principle should that day emerge out of eternity, shrouded in glory; death in the midst of eternal life! God seemed to be going to great lengths to stress the importance of the principle of the cross.

Lesson Three

A statement written in this same chapter reveals how reluctant the human mind is to accept and understand this divine principle. “He taught his disciples, and said unto them, the son of man is delivered into the hands of men, and they shall kill him; and after he is killed, he shall rise again the third day.

This statement seems very clear, doesn’t it? Remember that this is the third time this principle had been presented to them in the past few days. Mark informs us as to their understanding of the principle at that point. “But they understood not that saying, and were afraid to ask him.”‘ They did not understand it and were afraid to understand it. They did not understand it and in their human spirit did not want to understand it.

All that we have been considering here took place at the beginning of Jesus’ last journey to Jerusalem.

Lesson Four

We find in Mark 9:33-35 that Jesus, on His way to Jerusalem and to death, has arrived in Capernaum. “And he came to Capernaum: And being in the house he asked them, What was it you disputed among yourselves by the way?” They had been scattered out along the hot sunlit road as they traveled, but Jesus knew all that was going on. He knew how strongly the power appeals of the flesh were influencing them. He was struggling against this divisive spirit. In spite of all He had said to them during the past few days about the principle of the cross, they were still seeking to order their lives by the flesh-exalting wisdom of the world.

“They held their peace: for by the way they had disputed among themselves, who should be the greatest. And he sat down, and called the twelve, and saith unto them, if any man desire to be first, the same shall be last of all.

We see here an unhurried, deliberate attempt on the part of Jesus for the fourth time in this particular sequence, to try to make clear to His disciples the extreme importance of the cross principle. First, He assumed the posture of a qualified teacher; “he sat down.” This was the position of a person of authority who would speak slowly and directly to both the hearts and minds of His listeners. Next, before He began, “He called the twelve.” Most houses of that day were very small, so the twelve apostles could be expected to disperse themselves somewhat for comfort’s sake. Jesus sent word out that He wished to speak to them all. He waited for them to gather and find a place about the small room where they could be reasonably comfortable.

Finally, there was silence and all faces were turned toward the Master. Without preliminaries, He abruptly addressed what they were arguing about as they walked the road, for He knew their every word. “If any man desire to be first, the same shall be last of all, and servant of all.”‘ Jesus exampled this principle. “Though he was rich, he became poor.”‘ “He took on him the form of a servant.”‘ “The Son of man came not to be ministered to, but to minister.”

With these slow, quiet, intense words, Jesus was trying to show that true greatness is renouncing greatness itself. He wished them to see that one becomes a slave to it when he desires it; he is above it when he only uses it to get God’s work done. Jesus wanted them to see that in His kingdom of the Spirit, to sink is the way to rise, and to serve is the way to rule.

Lesson Five

In time, leaving the house in Capernaum, Jesus resumed His fatal journey toward Jerusalem. He chose to move south down the east side of Jordan and cross into Judea south of Samaria. Soon after making this crossing into Judea, Jesus was met by a young, rich ruler, inquiring what he should do to “inherit eternal life.” Jesus’ final words were, “Sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor . . . take up thy cross, and follow me.”‘ This ruler thought of the numerous people he had seen slowly staggering to some spot of execution, each bearing on his back a cross that would soon take his life. The symbolism was clear. He could no longer live and rule by the self-exalting concepts he had so enjoyed heretofore. He was among the many who would find it difficult to be below others or to tolerate an honest equality. No doubt Jesus wished this encounter to be an object lesson to His disciples. Jesus used the same words He had spoken in the house in Capernaum a few days prior; the “first shall be last and the last shall be first.”‘


From where Jesus led His disciples across the Jordan River to Jerusalem was a steep thirty-mile climb. Even for people conditioned to continuous walking, this was a slow, hard journey, taking time and necessitating rest stops.

“And they were in the way going up to Jerusalem; and Jesus went before them: And they were amazed: and as they followed they were afraid.’

The happening along the road that day, and the attitudes of the attitudes present, aptly reveals the position of a redemptive leader. Jesus went before His followers, eagerly leading the way. Everyone knew that in Jerusalem, at this Passover, something very decisive would take place. For some time, it was evident that a sinister buildup of a massive power encounter was in the making.

Jesus Christ, the leader, with an awful majesty on His countenance, and eager resolution in His actions, is pressing forward to His cross. He seems to have put a little distance between Himself and the rest. This symbolizes the loneliness that the cross-principled leader often feels. In perceptivity and spiritual awareness, such a leader envisions things that others do not see. Thus there exists always between the redemptive leader and his followers the lonely zone of creative stress. I saw this so clearly one night as I talked long and earnestly with a great man of God, who in his weariness, opened his heart to me. He spoke of his vision, of the deep inner drive that left him no rest, of not being sure that many understood him. Finally, out of the tangle of it all, a question fell from his lips, “When will I be happy?” The years that have passed since then have convinced me that my answer to him was a word from God. I heard myself reply, “You will never be happy. At best all that you will know is a pleasant agony.”

Mark states that the disciples “were amazed: and as they followed they were afraid.” They were bewildered to see their master hurrying with such purpose toward a dangerous, unknown encounter a few miles and a few days ahead. They were largely silent with dread and awe, partly afraid even of Jesus. He seemed to be moving On level high above then that not even attempt to reach. In silence, they only followed in a convoy of fear.

The redemptive leader identifies himself with people, and with a cause, in order to redeem it. But the cross-principled leader also has isolation from those he leads. By the very nature of his work, he will find himself in times of loneliness and isolation.

Jesus often separated Himself from people. He went into “a desert place apart.” He went “into a mountain apart.” Jesus knew He could mil redemptive without “treading the wine press alone.”‘ He foresaw this redemptive loneliness. “Behold the hour cometh, yea, is now come, that ye shall be scattered, every man to his own, and shall leave me alone.”

The application of the cross principle cuts out of the leader’s life the sensual insulation of the flesh so that he is more perceptive of the future and more intuitive as to the execution of the same. One such man of the eighteenth century stated his position well: “I forge on the smithy of my soul the unborn consciousness of my people.” He anticipated the future and the response of the people to it. Thus he was ahead of them. He was also alone.

Some people cannot function without a crowd. These can never lip redemptive. They are not coaches sitting alone in a vacant arena. They are noisy cheerleaders who only for the moment.

Jesus did not depend on the deceptive presence of the throng. He lived and moved always in the realm of settled principle and reality. “Many believed in his name, when they saw the miracles which he did. But Jesus did not commit himself to them, because he knew all men, for he knew what was man.” Jesus could walk away from the loud acclaim. The clamor of the ands was not the point. His goal was redemption. He came to field a winning team. He came to capture a world victory. He was willing to die to do He was not a noisemaker, not a cheerleader; He was a man builder. As such, He stood taller than the men He worked with. He was not swallowed up by human camaraderie. He stood outside of local influence He knew and the objective. He stood alone.

Jesus’ loneliness is demonstrated by the fact that He companioned all His life with people who never completely understood Him, nor the great cause He represented.

This is usually the experience of redemptive leaders. They envision things that the people they are attempting to lead and change never see until after the leader is dead.

Lesson Six

Jesus was well aware of the conceptual prison that held His disciples. He no doubt viewed with dismay the thick shrouds of selfish ambition that blinded them. So Mark records that Jesus expressly taught His disciples ill if approaching close of His ministry and life. “And he took again the and began to tell them what things should happen to him, saying, behold, we go up to Jerusalem; and the Son of man shall be delivered unto the priests, and unto the scribes; and they shall condemn him to death, and deliver him to the Gentiles: and they shall mock him and shall scourge him, and shall spit upon him, and shall kill him.”‘

These statements are so clear and so detailed, yet “they understood none of these things: and this saying was hid from them, neither knew they the things which were spoken.”‘ The nation of a temporal kingdom was so firmly fixed in their minds and intertwined with all their earthly hopes that it was next to impossible to eradicate it. The thing that made giving up the concept of a natural kingdom so difficult for them was deep-dyed self-interest on their part. It was clear to them that Jesus had chosen them to be leaders in this coming kingdom. This they were eagerly willing to do. They saw themselves I tiling from a position of power rather than leading from the vulnerable position of self-abdicating love. Self-love and self-interest blinded their eyes to I In beauty and vastness of God’s final purpose. So, unfortunately, it is today with some who lead in religious work.

Lesson Seven

No sooner had Jesus spoken about His death at Jerusalem than James and John presented a request to Jesus that was directly opposite in content and spirit to what He had attempted to teach over and over. “Master, we would that thou shouldest do for us whatsoever we shall desire,” and He said unto them, “What would ye that I should do for you?” They said unto Him, “Grant unto us that we may sit, one on thy right hand, and the other on thy left hand in thy glory.”

Jesus let them know that the “glory” of which they spoke rose out of service. Though Jesus was God in flesh, the principle He was accost, required a cross before the “glory.” For them, first a “cup” and “baptism.” Once again, for the seventh time, Jesus sought to plant in these men concept of redemptive leadership.

“Jesus called them to him, and said unto them, ye know that they who are accounted to rule over the Gentiles exercise lordship over them: A nil I great ones exercise authority upon them. But so shall it not be among But whosoever will be great among you will be your minister: And whosoever of you will be chiefest, shall be servant of all. For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a hints or many.”‘

I have seen, on several occasions, a redemptive leader, following in Jesus’ steps, give his life to “ransom” back a portion of God’s work that had been figuratively sold out by greed or the love of power. Only the cross principle lived out by a redemptive leader can bring back to life sections of God’s work poisoned by carnality and selfish ambition. True spiritual life, either for an individual or for a section of God’s work, can only rise out of fleshly death. The “grain of wheat (must) fall to the ground and die.”

This was the type of leadership Jesus exampled and the kind He laugh is apostles, and the only kind that will truly lead His church in the way our Lord would have it to go. When self-centered leadership is executed instead it particular area so served turns into a function, a crowd, bereft Christian graces and flowing spiritual life. Since no unit of people gathering can escape or rise above the influence of its leadership, I am compelled to say that the greatest detriment to the work of God that can be named is self-centered leadership.

Lesson Eight

We find this tenacious power greed still present with the apostolic group w hours before Jesus’ cross was set in the ground. “And when the hour come, he sat down, and the twelve apostles with him. And he said unto them, With desire I have desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer: And there was also strife among them, which of them should be accounted the greatest. ”

I am sure that years later the apostles looked back on this memorable evening with pain and shame. Jesus had planned the evening well. These men had chosen, He deeply loved. They had sacrificed to follow Him. It was not often that they enjoyed a good meal in a leisurely way together. So He performed a miracle to secure a secluded meeting room adequately furnished. It was above the noise and intrusions of the street level. Everything needed to provide a fine dinner setting Jesus provided, except one thing, and that was the customary servant. This omission was deliberate. He chose to be the servant.

All these tender, intimate gestures of love were rudely overlooked by the apostles. Often in my day, I have seen the thirst for power cause God’s people to be cruel and uncaring. Here, in the very hour when very important things were prevailing, when great lessons could be learned, these men whom Jesus was reaching out to were in a dispute about their own importance.

Though the church has thousands of examples to instruct us, it seems that 1he heady desire for power will not allow us to learn that official dignity, without self-abnegation, is a miserable, hollow thing. Servile flattery used for selfish gain is also a false thing. It degrades the people who pay it and is wally ruinous to those who accept it. In weary patience, our great, redemptive Leader turned to the destined leaders of His church and taught them His eigth and last verbal lesson on cross-principled leadership.

“And he said unto them, the kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over hem: And they that exercise authority upon them are called benefactors. But ye shall not be so: But he that is greatest among you, let him be as the younger; and he that is chief, as he that doth serve. For whether is greater, he hat sitteth at meat, or he that serveth? Is not he that sitteth at meat? But I am .1 mong you as he that serveth.”‘

Need I say more?

The cross is the place of total self-depletion. Here the “Lord of Glory”‘ “emptied Himself.”‘

Here at the cross, glory dies and we are driven to acknowledge our abysmal human weakness.

We are not able to even understand God’s love which He demonstrated by the cross. It is foreign to the way we operate. If we love at all, it is for a reason. Perhaps this is absolutely the very best we can do. It could be that

God knows our carnal limitations and accepts our faulty best. At any rate, the scripture acknowledges the fact, “We love him because he first loved us.” However, at Calvary, God did not love us “because,” He simply loved us.

The above article, “Cross-Principled Leadership” is written by J.T. Pugh. The article was excerpted from the ninth chapter of Pugh’s book The Wisdom and Power of the Cross.

The material is most likely copyrighted and should not be reprinted under any other name or author. However, this material may be freely used for personal study or research purposes.