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  Leveraging Rebuke in Succession Management
  Dr. Joel Hoomans

Development is essential to any succession planning equation. However, development efforts vary significantly, as do the timeframes necessary to attain the desired outcomes. The results are just as varied as the methods and the scope. They range from the deteriorating types of performance that lead to failure and organizational collapse, to the enhanced performance that fulfills potential, extends organizational success, and perpetuates the life-cycle. Some of the tactics used are more effective than others in helping to separate the future leaders and learners from the rest of the populace.

This essay examines the efforts of an historic leader whose succession planning efforts resulted in a 92% success rate, despite the rudimentary beginnings of his pool of followers. Jesus of Nazareth is more than a historical figure or religious icon – he was a master mentor and developer of others. This is revealed through a closer exploration of the ideological texture of the scripture in the gospel of John (selective passages from chapters 12-21). Specifically, this essay explores Jesus’ use of rebuke in the development of two of his potential successors – Judas and Peter.

Ideological analysis of the scripture involves looking at people and their interpretations of one another – their biases, opinions, preferences, etc. (Robbins, 95). The gospel of John is a significant text because it was written by a peer and eyewitness to the two successors scrutinized for the purposes of this work. As John writes this text, he narrates from the position of having intimately known each of the characters (Jesus of Nazareth, Judas, and Peter). This essay concerns itself with the interactions between Jesus and two of his disciples (Judas and Peter), specific to how they interacted in situations involving the use of rebuke. According to the American Heritage Dictionary, rebuke refers to criticizing, reproving sharply, or being reprimanded (1231). While rebuke is normally associated with negative implications, Jesus skillfully utilized the skills of confrontation and rebuke to develop those around him in a manner that may challenge this paradigm.

Let us begin by looking closely at a situation involving Judas. In John 12:3-7 we find Judas raising a concern with what he considers to be the waste of expensive perfume used by Mary Magdalene to anoint Jesus’ feet. We are told that Judas preferred that this perfume be sold so that the money could be given to the poor (John 12:5). However, the apostle John also reveals Judas’ real motive for the reader.  As both an eyewitness and a peer, John relays that Judas raises this issue “because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it” (John 12:6 NIV). In response to all of this Jesus rebukes Judas stating; “Leave her alone…It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. You will always have the poor among you, but you will not have me” (John 12:7-8). It is worthy to note that Jesus does not specifically address Judas’ real motive, but rather only the surface expression (or behavior). We can assume this rebuke likely came in a public setting that included Lazarus, Martha, Mary, the other disciples, and perhaps others present at a gathering in Bethany. Among those present was certainly John (author of the book by his own name and narrator of this story). In all likelihood, this must have been embarrassing for Judas, who had feigned a pious attitude in response to Mary’s actions before being reproved. We are told not long after this that Satan prompted Judas to betray Jesus (John 13:2) and it is quite plausible to consider that his reaction to this rebuke may have played a role in this prompting. Interestingly, scripture does not reveal any further details of this event or of other conversation between Jesus and Judas until the night of Jesus’ betrayal. We can only assume that this confrontational interaction had a potentially profound impact on Judas, who ultimately betrayed Jesus soon after for monetary gain. The book of Matthew tells us that Judas later regretted this action – attempting to return the money (Matthew 27:3-5). However, there is no record of recompense before Christ on the part of Judas. Rather, his life ends tragically in despair as he hangs himself.

In contrast, let’s now examine a second instance of rebuke with yet another of Jesus' disciples – the Apostle Peter. We are told by John that the night before his betrayal, in the company of His disciples (minus Judas), Jesus informs them collectively of his pending departure and death (John 13:31-36). Peter’s response to this news is to boldly and arrogantly state that he will follow Jesus to the point of death (John 13:37). This time, Jesus publicly rebukes Peter stating; “Will you really lay down your life for me? I tell you the truth, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times!” (John 13:38). We do not hear from Peter again in the gospel of John, until the time of Jesus’ arrest when he brandishes a sword to defend Christ. Once again, Christ rebukes him with a command – “Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?" (John 18:11). In both of these situations Jesus strongly rebukes the behavior of Peter (as demonstrated by the use of an exclamation mark in both cases). In the shadow of these confrontations we are told that Peter follows Christ and His captors at a distance. We are then told that when Peter is associated with Christ by those present, he denies him three times in succession (John 18:17-27), fulfilling Christ’s earlier prophetic utterance. In the wake of this realization, Matthew 26:75 tells us of Peter’s remorse – stating he “wept bitterly” (NIV). Despite the fact that Peter is rebuked by Jesus as much as any other disciple in scripture, he continually returns to Jesus in his remorse. This is unlike the response of Judas. In fact, one of the last things that John mentions in his gospel is Christ’s reinstatement of Peter. However, in doing so Christ does not directly address Peter’s behavior. Instead Christ addresses the heart of the issue (knowing “perfect love drives out fear” 1 John 4:18) by asking Peter three times (one for each denial) if he loves him more than any other (John 21:15-17). The learning and the restoration are seemingly realized at the same time as Christ forces Peter to reflect on the core attitude driving his errant behavior.

In our contemporary context Chris Argyris refers to these methods utilized by Christ’s as “double-loop learning” (99). The first time around the loop confronts behavior, while the second time confronts the attitudes and values that drive the behavior. According to Argyris, developing future leaders requires going beyond developing ‘right’ behavior.

“Solving problems is important. But if learning is to persist, managers and employees must also look inward. They need to reflect critically on their own behavior, identify ways they often inadvertently contribute to the organization’s problems, and then change how they act. In particular they must learn how the very way they go about defining and solving problems can be a source of problems in its own right” (Argyris, 99-100).

What made the difference in the succession plans of Judas and Peter was the number of loops. Judas never got past his behavior or returned to deal with the heart of the issue or the single incarnate God-man who could help resolve it. However, Peter was committed to learning, and review of these texts in the book of John reveals Christ’s ability to deal with the second loop issues. The attitude of those being rebuked largely determines the capacity for learning and succession.

Despite the significant rebuke that Peter receives, Christ’s succession plan ends up relying heavily on Peter – as revealed by his leadership success in the book of Acts. In fact, Peter embodies the ‘wise man’ described in Proverbs 9:8-10 which states:

“Do not rebuke a mocker or he will hate you; rebuke a wise man and he will love you. Instruct a wise man and he will be wiser still; teach a righteous man and he will add to his learning. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.”

Ultimately, Peter ends up giving his life for his mission (Foxe, 13). Clearly, Christ’s rebuke played a significant role in his development. The rebuke of Judas also ended up playing a significant role in history. Despite his failure to learn and his now legendary treachery, the Lord still accomplished his plan by using Judas’ actions to fulfill his mission of salvation. However, as C. S. Lewis relates, while everyone will certainly carry out God’s purpose and succession plan in some capacity, it makes a great deal of difference whether you serve like Judas or John [or in this case, Peter] (90). The value of rebuke is in what we do with it. As God’s high potential leaders will we react in anger and look for opportunities to get retribution? Will we modify behavior to the extent we need to get by and avoid further rebuke? Or will we pursue the second loop learning by reflecting on the values and attitudes that it was meant to penetrate and transform? For those of us who intend to follow Christ, completion of the second loop is an essential and beneficial process that potentially makes all the difference.



Joel Hoomans is Assistant Professor of Management and Leadership Studies at Roberts Wesleyan College as well as Director of Graduate Studies in the Division of Business.  He recently attained a Doctorate in Strategic Leadership from Regent University. Prior to his involvement at Roberts Wesleyan College, Joel worked for Wegmans—the premier grocery retailer in the United States—as a human resources professional, eventually becoming their first Manager of Leadership Development.  Joel may be contacted at