I must admit that I’m afraid of the ocean. But for the disciples, professional fishermen that they were, large bodies of water were an everyday environment. The weather was perfect when they set sail that evening: still waters, soft breezes, gentle swells. There was nothing to indicate that the trip would be anything but tranquil.
The Sea of Galilee was ringed by hills and mountains, edged by the occasional fishing village, and filled with fresh, clean water supplied by rivers, rains, and runoff. At the north end of the lake sat the town of Capernaum, with its picturesque synagogue and cobbled streets. At the south end, the River Jordan continued its winding journey to the Dead Sea, 60 or so miles away.
Within the Sea’s depths were found ample resources to keep skilled fishermen busy while they wished for better days, free from the Roman occupation that gripped their country. They plied their trade surrounded by nature’s beauty, yet their hearts were filled with the dark ugliness of anger and hatred toward their oppressors.
That’s why, when a certain rabbi drifted into their lives, they were responsive to His message of love and freedom—something they didn’t often hear from their spiritual leaders. He promised a brighter future and a more tranquil life. He promised them a change for the better!
They’d just spent the day listening to this rabbi draw analogies about planting seeds, lighting lamps, growing grains, and how faith—like a mustard tree—can spring from the tiniest source. He spoke words of encouragement. He made them feel good about themselves. He loved them.
Now, the rabbi’s disciples were responding to His request to be taken across the broad waters to another village waiting in the gathering shadows. Many boats joined the flotilla and, together, they sailed confidently into the darkness.
Then it happened. Seasoned fishermen knew that Galilee storms could be sudden, severe, or scary. This one was all three. “A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped (Mark 4:37, NIV).
If there was ever a time for effective leadership, this was it. The boats in the little armada were being scattered and tossed about like corks. The cries of desperate men were swallowed whole by the shrill winds and roaring waves. The situation seemed hopeless.
So, where was this rabbi, this teacher, this parable teller who filled peoples’ hearts with hope? After all, the journey they were on was His idea! Surely He had a plan, an avenue of escape, a way out of this frightening situation. “Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, ‘Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?’” (verse 38).
Notice that Jesus, the leader, wasn’t steering the boat. He wasn’t navigating the course. He wasn’t barking orders at those who set the sails. He’d chosen the destination and then left everything else up to His experienced crew—those who actually knew how to steer, navigate, and set sails. Then He went to sleep on a cushion. No micromanagement here! He had confidence in His team. He’d placed His life in their hands.
He awoke to a scene of utter terror. So, did He grab the wheel, change course, and reset the sails to accommodate the screaming winds? No. He behaved like a leader. “He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, ‘Quiet! Be still!’ Then the wind died down and it was completely calm” (verse 39). I can only imagine the faces of His disciples as the wind and the waves obeyed Him! How I wish I had been there!
Jesus did what He was uniquely qualified to do—what no one else in the entire armada could have done. He calmed the storm. Then He turned to His disciples—to the helmsman, the navigator, and the rigging experts—and said simply, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” (verse 40).
True leaders don’t do the work of others. They allow the men and women in their organization free reign to accomplish the goals set before them. In other words, they support and encourage. They don’t overshadow others’ abilities with their own.
Leaders also have a unique attribute. Through trial and error—through the events that marked their path to the role they’ve assumed—they have learned how to calm storms.
Those storms may be financial, organizational, and even spiritual. Whichever, there they are, standing behind their team—individuals who may be tossed by the uncertainty and violence of reality—rebuking winds, calming seas, and calling for renewed faith in the team’s abilities.
The little armada following Jesus across the Sea of Galilee that stormy night reached their destination—not because He took the helm, refigured the course, or reset the sails. They arrived safely because He did what all good leaders do. He allowed those with the necessary skills to take them there. He simply made it possible for them to do their work and reach their goal.
That’s true leadership. That’s leadership built upon love and freedom.
Alberto Valenzuela is the associate director for communication and community engagement at the Pacific Union Conference.