5 Displays of Graceless Leadership: A Look at the Older Brother

I don’t know about you, but the parable of the prodigal son is one of my favorites in scripture. Such striking contrasts in both decisions made and responses given. But in today’s post, I want to focus on one of the characters who plays a smaller role yet offers us some insightful lessons when it comes to modeling grace in our leadership: the older brother.

Photo courtesy of Ted Sakshaug IMG_4503 | Flickr.com
Photo courtesy of Ted Sakshaug IMG_4503 | Flickr.com

As I view leaders around me, few things turn me off more in leadership style than one who has a bestowed power yet exhibits no grace in that power. There is an undercurrent of  harshness and attitude that keeps that individual from ever having positive influence that changes and shapes a heart and mind. And by showing grace, I mean a showing of favor or goodwill, especially when undeserved.

If you have never read this most alluring parable, you can find it in Luke 15:11-32.

Truth be told, though I would like to see myself as the grace-filled and forgiving father or the penitent and humble younger son, I too many times find myself acting and responding like the older brother, who, in the story, displays a graceless life in his scene. The younger brother did despise his position and his family for a while, but “when he came to himself,” he repented in humility and this amazing father forgave his son and celebrated his return.

The party was on. “For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.”

Such beautiful imagery.

There is a lot to notice, though, about this older brother in his leadership of graceless living. And I emphasize the word leadership because this older brother was the firstborn, and with being firstborn came great authority and responsibility. He would be next in line when the father passed away.

And so the story gets very dramatic when the older brother hears music and dancing and asks what is going on.

“Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.”

Now this is where I am especially drawn in as a reader. Here we have a penitent son and a father who receives the son back as what was lost is now found. Repentance and grace in the same story. These were uncommon elements in an uncommon storyline.

So here we find the older brother in his big moment in the one scene in which he plays a major role. And his actions and responses are memorable, only they are to be remembered for his graceless leadership rather than joy that a family member has been restored.

5 responses of the older brother

Here are five takeaways of leadership from this story that are helpful to place as a grid upon the leadership in our own lives.

  1. The older brother would never be able to lead his brother until he quit bringing up his brother’s past.

    Graceful leadership is stifled when I will not allow others to move forward in their leadership because I will not release them from a mistake or a bad decision. Grace allows others to move on.

  2. The older brother was so focused on his performance and what he did to maintain his sonship that it created an attitude of entitlement.

    The brother’s response to his father: “Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends.”

    Once the desires, dreams, and wishes I have for those I lead turn into expectations, I have crossed a dangerous line. My ability to mentor and disciple gets marginalized and the focus becomes “Look what I have done for you. Can’t you even…?”

  3. The older brother, in his graceless leadership, was not about to budge until his needs were met. 

    Graceful leadership is about restoration and right relationships. All he could see was the hole his brother had been in.

    Am I looking to fill the “holes” in other people’s lives and help them move forward?

    Grace says, “I’ll help you fill that ‘hole.'” Graceless leadership says, “Do not talk to me until you have filled up your own ‘hole.’ And no, you cannot borrow my shovel.”

  4. The older brother was irritated that his father showed grace.

    But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!”

    Graceless leadership get annoyed with those who do show grace as it seems like a show of weakness. The elder brother was after restitution, not restoration.

  5. The older brother was all about restitution and missed the priority of people and restored and healthy relationships.

    Listen to the father: “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.”

    The older brother overlooked the blessing of daily grace of being with the father. It had become common. All the brother could see was the offense. Repentance from his younger brother and restoration into the family meant nothing.

I have to admit that I have never looked at this parable from this aspect of leadership before but it is powerful, isn’t it? Leadership is more than just “getting things done.” Leadership bathed in grace is first about getting down into the pit with people and helping bring them along.

And that is what I believe is the essence of gospel-centered leadership.

Do that, and your results will come.



4 thoughts on “5 Displays of Graceless Leadership: A Look at the Older Brother

  1. Great article! I work as a teacher in a school filled with grace, especially as shown from the leadership. There are those who look for justice or more consequences, but the administration sees beyond the “justice” and offers much grace. Great article to re-affirm the strong Christian environment in which I work. There really is forgiveness with no strings attached, and grace offered to the students, parents, and faculty.

    If you are ever in Hagerstown MD area, about 1 1/2 hrs from DC, do come visit a fantastic spot in God’s kingdom work.

  2. Thanks so much for your comments on this post, Vicki. I appreciate it. That is great to hear about the type of environment that you have at your school. It sounds like it is your culture and I am sure you are grateful for it. Our kids getting a dose of grace modeled by those who are teaching them can spur amazing transformation.

    And yes, would love to visit your “fantastic spot in God’s kingdom work.” 🙂 If I am out that way I will look you up! What is the name of your school?

    • I teach at Broadfording Christian Academy in Hagerstown MD, 21740. It goes from 3yr old to 12th grade. It is also an international school, with students from Korea, Japan, China, Taiwan, Germany, Cameroon, Iceland as well as America! God has brought the foreign mission field to our own school and we have had opportunity to see students come to know the Lord and then take the gospel back to families and friends in lands where the Gospel is not usually known. You would love visiting, I’m sure! It’s a great place!

  3. Sounds like an exciting ministry, Vicki. And to be able to have an international emphasis is great for your American kids.

    I looked up your website and really like what I see, especially in reading your mission statement and core values.

    Keep up the good work! Teaching is an awesome adventure.

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