What would you do? Find the Foundation for Leadership in the Parable of the Prodigal Son

You know the question, “What would you do if you knew you wouldn’t fail?” Or, “What would you do if money were no problem?” The purpose is to open you up to the possibilities. Think outside the box. Get ready to take a risk.

What does this have to do with the Parable of the Prodigal Son? The reading through the Bible in a year plan I am following features both Old Testament and New Testament each day led me to the Parable of the Prodigal Son, and this time through the story I wondered how does this story speak to my leadership?

Some might say for leaders this is a great lesson in communication skills. Jesus is a master story teller and this one as well as the Parable of the Good Samaritan is one of his best. Jesus in the Parable of the Prodigal Son lays out a case for why he reaches out for all people. The religious leaders complain about the people Jesus eats with. Jesus responds with a story that asks why aren’t you eating with us? Why aren’t you part of the celebration? The way He leaves the story hanging, seeking a response from his hearers of how the story ultimately ends in their life is powerful communication.

For myself this time around the leadership lesson is realizing the foundation of leadership that Jesus builds. I learned this last year in working through this parable with 3 resources: Tim Keller’s, The Prodigal God”, Henri Nouwen’s, “The Return of the Prodigal Son” and just about everything I could find by Kenneth E. Bailey who mines this parable from numerous angles and books.

Rembrandts Return of the Prodigal Son as featured on Nouwens book

Here’s the lesson and why it ties into the “what would you do” questions: God loves us. Whether we are more like the younger son or the older son, His love is there to count on, there to build on. That love is the foundation for leadership. That love took His Son to the cross. That love invites us to risk it all for Him.

Your not love by your performance, but by His gift. He doesn’t love you by your leadership position, the influence you have gained or the difference you have made, you are completely and totally loved by Him.

Rembrandt’s painting that Nouwen reflects on taught me this in 2 ways:

1. Look closely at the father’s hands. The father’s left hand is that of a man, his right hand is that of a woman. The father in the parable doesn’t care about his image, he cares about his sons. If he needs to risk his manliness by acting like a mom to his sons, he will. If he needs to man up, he will do that as well. That’s not a sexist observation, just a comment on the culture of the day and the lesson Jesus bring out when you dig into this great story.

2. All 3 characters are evident in my life. We perhaps can see this in the 2 sons. In our hearts there is a part that wanders from God, and a part that judges others while seeking to justify my own actions. But Nouwen adds those glorious moments when we live like the Father. We who have been touched by His love, love others.

The foundation for leadership is this love for God. In those rare and great leadership moments in learning to lead from that love, with that love and sharing that love with others. Whether I fail or not, I will still be loved by God. Whether I have all the money I need or not, I will still be loved by God. It’s why Jesus came. It’s why he tells the story, this incredible story.

That love is my foundation for leadership. It’s what I build my life on daily. How about you? What is your leadership foundation? How is it holding up?



Filed under Leadership in the Bible

5 responses to “What would you do? Find the Foundation for Leadership in the Parable of the Prodigal Son

  1. Lisa Mowry

    Great post! I love thinking about the parable of the Prodigal Son from all the different perspectives. Great blog!!

  2. Serve the Lord. Serve others. Those two sentences speak volumes and are foundational in living life and leading others. I hadn’t thought much about the foundation until your post and your questions.

    The pause to reflect helps sharpen my focus and remember why I do what I do. Thanks, Richard, for the prompting. Also thanks for re-introducing to Nouwen’s book. I’ve yet to read it but I’ve read many others quote him from this book.

    • Nouwen was a humble servant. His transparency in his walk with God shared a path for us all to follow. The way he interacts with Rembrandt’s painting brought both the painting and the parable to life.

  3. Dean Burkey

    Thank you for sharing your blog. My favorite retelling of the Parable of the Prodigal Son is in the movie “Jesus of Nazareth” where Matthew represents the Prodigal Son and Peter represents his older brother. Grasping the meaning of the parable, Peter weeps in repentance before Jesus. I also enjoy Benny Hester’s song “When God Ran”.

  4. From a leadership perspective if I have 100 employees and 99 perform well, do I not owe the 1 more attention to help them realize their potential. Or do I cast them out as undeserving. There are many theorist in leadership and practitioners that believe you waste your time. Christ did not think so, why should we.

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