Leadership Lessons from a Centurion


Tucked within the Scriptures are amazing leadership snapshots, and one worthy of notice is the moment shared between Jesus and the Roman Centurion who has charge over the vicinity of Capernaum on the northern rim of the Sea of Galilee. Luke 7:1-10 ably portrays the story, and within the text much can be learned from the soldier.

To begin with it is noteworthy just how selfless the centurion was. Remember, the Roman soldiers were despised by the Jewish population, and yet in this passage we find the townsfolk commending this centurion as one who “loves our nation . . . who built us our synagogue” (Luke 7:5). For the centurion to move past the culture barriers and offer such benevolence is indicative of a selfless spirit, one that captures the affection of the people, and no doubt helps the centurion witness fear turn into respect. Wise leaders—whether in the marketplace, the public square, or the church—know that life isn’t about them. They have a selfless quality about them that is captivating.

Besides being selfless, however, the centurion of Luke 7 was also servant-hearted. This takes selflessness to the tangible stage. The selflessness displayed in Luke 7:5 gives way to what would undoubtedly be a servant’s spirit among the people. The construction of the synagogue would be one indication that the centurion’s heart was to uplift the people, to honor them, to meet them where they are. Servant-leaders think in this way. So do wise and mature leaders.

These traits are shaped by what I refer to as the centurion’s sensitivity.  Pay attention to the words in Luke 7:6. Here you have the centurion worried for one of his servant’s health. He perceives that Jesus could heal the servant, and so he sends people to influence Jesus to meet that urgent need. And yet the centurion recognizes that Jesus, being a Jewish rabbi, could not possibly enter the confines of the centurion’s home, for the centurion, being Roman, is a Gentile. Thus, he sends still other friends to inform Jesus not to “trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof” (Luke 7:6). This is a man who has exegeted his culture; one who understands the unique nuances that make up the society. He is sensitive to the heart and soul of Judaism, and the manner in which it may be honored. Wise leaders get to know those they lead. It may take time, it may be difficult, but it is necessary. And worthwhile.

One last thing to mention for now is the centurion’s self-awareness. Consider the words in Luke 7:8. He says, “I too am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me: and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this,” and he does it.” Clearly, the centurion understands his position, knows well the impact of his own power and influence, and recognizes his own limitations. Do you, dear reader, know these things? Wise leaders are very in-tune with such.

Reread the passage but imagine the townsfolk as your employees, or your clients, or your customers, or your board members, et cetera. Could they declare unequivocally that you love them and invest in them? That you care? That you know them? And imagine for a moment you are the centurion. Are you clued into the real scope of your position, power and influence?

Wise leaders drill into these things and own them. Will you?