Here’s a mysterious law of leadership that I’ve valued in my journey: a leader’s authority is not compromised when he submits to the leadership of another.

I pastor a church, operate a media company, and lead Plumbline. Even though I am a leader, I’ve realized that it’s important for me to honour the authorities in my life.


Rescued from ditches

I realized how thankful I was for authority in my younger years while driving (or attempting to drive!) my beat-up Nissan. That car was in such rough shape that I would often lose control and end up in a ditch. Numerous times I was “rescued” by police officers. They would get me help and ensure my safety.

Submitting to the leadership of a just and helpful police officer is one thing but you might be thinking, “Ya, but what about bad leaders?” Our natural instinct is to rebel against those who mistreat us.

In some cases, there’s a separation from bad leadership that can be healthy, but in this article I want to focus on a concept that Jesus demonstrated numerous times in his life regarding whether or not to submit to the leadership of another.

Now keep in mind that Christians believe Jesus was perfect. That means every leader that Jesus came across was more messed up than he was. What an opportunity for judgement and rebellion, right? Let’s see what happens in two scenes, one at the start of Jesus’ ministry and one at the end.


Submitting to John the Baptist (Matthew 3:13-15)

At the start of Jesus’ world-changing ministry he had an encounter with a prophet named John the Baptist. Jesus went to John to be baptized (dunked under water in a symbolic act of relationship with God) and John protested.

John said that he was not worthy to baptize Jesus. And he was right.

But Jesus persisted and recognized John’s authority, even though John was imperfect and less powerful than Jesus.

Why would Jesus submit to the leadership of John the Baptist?


Submitting to Pilate (Matthew 27:11-14)

Near the end of Jesus’ life he had another encounter. This time he was before the ruler Pilate, facing charges that would lead to his death. Jesus could have risen up over Pilate, vigorously defended himself, and made a case for his own righteousness. 

But Jesus submitted to the will of Pilate and tasted death as a result. 

Couldn’t Jesus have found another way? Why did he submit to an imperfect ruler?


The authority test

Life offers us many shortcuts, supposedly free from suffering. You and I are susceptible to being bought or owned, our authority compromised. But when we study the life of Jesus, we find that he chose to fulfill his assignment by submitting to the authority of others.

People will try to buy you off but there is no shortcut to your destiny. Jesus passed the ultimate authority test when he humbled himself and became obedient to death on a cross (Philippians 2:8).

What sort of hard road is ahead of you? Whose authority do you struggle to come under?


A remarkable truth

Authority is an avenue for blessing. 

We’ve all been hurt by leaders: emotionally, physically, or mentally. But the remarkable truth is that submitting to authority is good for us.

Peter 2:20 says it is commendable to suffer for doing good. My encouragement to you is to endure patiently, even under “bad” leadership, and follow the example of Jesus who recognized Pilate’s authority and submitted to it, even unto death.

The paradox “following helps you lead” is not only true, it’s also essential to fulfilling your destiny.