WHAT IS A CHRISTIAN LEADER?

I recently chanced upon a cartoon showing a man being interviewed for a job, and he was being asked whether he has any leadership experience. The man replied, “Leadership experience? Well, I have 13 followers on Twitter”! That is not what we mean when we think of a leader.

 

In general, we all have an idea of what a leader is. Perhaps the first thing that comes to mind is that a leader is someone who is being followed by other people, as the man in the cartoon above implies. In one sense, most people are functioning as leaders, for example, of their families or their small circle of friends. Yet as we look around us, countless are compelled to follow a leader who is ill-equipped to lead. We can see this in children who are forced to obey their parents’ selfish demands, or in an office worker who must submit to a whimsical supervisor.

 

The sad reality is that a tiny fraction of people can be considered to be excellent leaders. Exceptional leaders encourage and inspire us. They make us better persons as we interact with them regularly. In contrast, weak leaders constrain our growth and restrict our vision.  

 

Over the years, management gurus have defined leaders and leadership in more than a hundred different ways. Here are some definitions, according to Inc.com[1]:

  • "Leadership: The capacity and will to rally people to a common purpose together with the character that inspires confidence and trust." --Bernard Montgomery

  • "Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality." --Warren Bennis  

  • "Leadership defines what the future should look like, aligns people with that vision, and inspires them to make it happen, despite the obstacles." --John Kotter

  • "Leadership is the capacity to influence others through inspiration motivated by passion, generated by vision, produced by a conviction, ignited by a purpose." --Myles Munroe

  • "A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way."  --John Maxwell

  • "My definition of a leader... is a man who can persuade people to do what they don't want to do, or do what they're too lazy to do, and like it." --Harry S. Truman

  • "Leadership is a process whereby an individual influences a group of individuals to achieve a common goal." --P.G. Northouse

 

A Christian First, Before A Leader

 

What then, is a Christian leader? A fundamental pre-requisite is that such a person must be a Christian. Aubrey Malphurs writes this in his book Being Leaders, “At the very core of the Christian leader’s life is his or her personal conversion. To be a Christian leader, one must first be a Christian. This is the starting place for all Christian leaders and leadership.” [2]

 

A true Christian leader has seen himself as a sinner, totally unable to save himself, and is thus destined to suffer God’s wrath in hell if nothing changes (Romans 3:23; 6:23). Blessedly, he has learned of God’s provision for a lost sinner like him. God, out of His sovereign grace, sent His only Son to be the substitute of His beloved people (John 3:16; Matthew 1:21). Jesus, the second person of the Trinity, became a human person, lived a perfect life, and died on the cross to satisfy the justice and righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21; Galatians 3:13). Now, God is calling everyone to repent of their sins (Luke 13:3) and put their trust in Jesus as their Lord and Savior (Acts 16:31; Ephesians 2:8-9). Based on Jesus’ finished work, those who come in repentance and faith are declared righteous in God’s eyes (Galatians 2:16; Romans 5:1). The Holy Spirit dwells in them as they seek to grow in Christ-likeness and manifest His fruit in their daily lives (Ephesians 1:13-14; Galatians 5:22-23). When they die, they can look forward to being free from all sin and to dwelling with the Triune God forever (Philippians 1:21; Revelation 22:3).

 

In short, a Christian leader is, first of all, a Christian before he is a leader. Those who reverse this order find out to their eternal regret that they should have put first things first.

 

A Christian leader can be viewed in several ways. He/she could be a Christian who occupies a position of leadership either in the church context or the secular world, or in both worlds. More narrowly, a Christian leader is one who serves in the church or ministry context in either full time or part-time capacity. The principles elaborated in this book will generally apply to all kinds of situations where a Christian has an opportunity to lead.

 

Basic Qualifications

 

The essential qualifications of a Christian leader are similar to a leader in general. However, the Scripture laid out specific requirements for a Christian leader, which are found in 1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9; and 1 Peter 5:1-4.  The apostles Paul and Peter wrote these passages to guide in the selection of pastors and deacons in the newly established churches of the first century. The same attributes they identified generally apply to Christians in leadership positions today, whether in the ministry or the secular world.

 

These qualifications can be grouped into personal, family, relational, and talent qualifications. Among the personal attributes of a godly leader are spiritual maturity, humility, soberness, financial integrity, self-control, and holy living. Moreover, he/she must have a good relationship with his/her spouse and children. In relating to others, a Christian leader must be gentle, peace-loving, hospitable, respectable, and a good example. For pastors, the one talent qualification is the ability to teach. Even for non-pastors, teaching ability is a desirable qualification for a Christian leader. I will have more to say about these qualifications in Part III of this book.

 

These characteristics are to be desired by all Christians. Thus, they are foundational to any aspiring Christian leader. There are many books and commentaries in the market that explain the above passages, and so I will not elaborate them here. The reader will find that these characteristics are scattered all over this book under the relevant chapters.   

 

When I was young, the apparel maker Levi’s had this advertising pitch: “quality never goes out of style”. The same can be said of good leaders—they never go out of style. God created humans as social beings, and in the context of a community, leaders have always played a pivotal role. People always look up to someone to take up the leadership mantle. A society without a good leader inevitably descends into chaos.

 

The kingdom of the Lord is no exception. The Bible is full of excellent leaders, but also miserable ones. The life of David is a continuing source of inspiration to leaders today. Who can forget the way he delivered the Israelites against the Philistines? One of my all-time favorite stories about King David was when he expressed his desire to drink water from the well in Bethlehem, which happened to be under the control of their fierce enemies, the Philistines (2 Samuel 23:14-17). When his mighty commanders heard his wish, they galloped their way through enemy territory to get the water David was longing for. But when they gave the cup of water to David, what did he do? He poured it into the ground, saying, “Be it far from me, O LORD, that I should do this: is not this the blood of the men that went in jeopardy of their lives?” (verse 17). Who will not follow such a leader to the ends of the earth!

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It is noteworthy that great Christian leaders of the Bible (and others since then) succeeded not through their efforts but the grace of God. They were sinners like us (Romans 3:23) and were saved by looking unto Jesus alone. All their accomplishments were likewise attained as a result of their union with Christ and the power that comes from the Holy Spirit. This truth is crucial to a right understanding of effective leadership. One of its critical differences with earthly leadership is that Christian leadership is anchored on grace. That is, none of us are deserving of God’s blessings and help because we are, by nature, rebels against Him. The Bible calls this rebellion sin, and we are called sinners.

 

Moreover, realize that God is sovereign in His bestowal of gifts and talents. This principle is taught in the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30). In this parable, the master before going on a long journey entrusted to his servants varying amount of talents: “unto one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one; to every man according to his several ability” (verse 15). The action of the earthly master reflects (albeit dimly) the sovereignty of the Maker and Owner of the universe. God gives varying leadership abilities to whomever He desires to give. Thus, the success of a leader, or lack thereof, is ultimately in the hands of God.

 

Practical Implications

 

There are important implications of the above. First, no matter how faithful you are in adhering to leadership principles, you will not be an effective leader unless God blesses your work. You may succeed in the estimation of others but still fail as a leader in the eyes of God. This should bring a leader to his knees in prayer. By being constant in prayer, a leader acknowledges that God is the ultimate disposer of things. He expresses his total dependence on his Heavenly Father for the results of his work. He pleads the blood of the Lamb and His righteousness thoroughly convinced that he does not deserve any favor from God. In contrast, a leader who does not pray will not thrive. He may succeed for a while, but his real character is bound to be exposed sooner or later.

 

Second, genuine conversion is a pre-requisite for successful leadership in any ministry. It may sound surprising, but a false convert may successfully lead a ministry. But his true nature will eventually be exposed, and his success deemed as shallow. In the Old Testament, King Saul initially appeared to be a mighty leader of God. But his true color was revealed later on. In our day, we have witnessed the fall of not a few megachurch (and ordinary church) pastors, some of whom may not be genuinely converted in the first place.

 

At the outset, let me clarify my definition of success. By success, I am not referring primarily to worldly metrics like office promotion, honor, size of ministry, or wealth. I define success as the degree of your conformity to God’s will in your life. It involves doing your best in what God called you to do, in the time available to do it (Colossians 3:23; Ephesians 5:16). Thus, the more you obey God, the more successful you are.

 

As we travel together into this exploration of leadership, we will encounter several outstanding leaders. But note that there is only one Perfect Leader who ever lived and continues to live. We usually think of Jesus as Savior, even Lord, but not as a leader. It may, therefore, come as a surprise that in the Bible, Jesus is also called a leader. In front of the Jewish supreme court, Peter said this about Jesus, “God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins” (Acts 5:31). The word leader here refers to one who has a preeminent position like ruler or leader[3]. The word has been translated Prince (KJV, NIV) and Leader (ESV), pointing to Jesus’ shared authority with God.

Jesus is our Leader! What a great blessing to be led by Him who loved us and gave Himself for us. Here we see a paradox. As our Savior, Jesus came to serve us. But as our Leader and Prince, we are the ones who serve Him. He is the paragon Servant-Leader, the One we must emulate if we are to be effective leaders of His vineyard.

 

If you are reading this book, you must be an aspiring or practicing leader. It has been my joy and privilege to have led a local church for more than 35 years and counting. I can testify that despite all the challenges it brings, leading the people of God is one of my greatest blessings. My aim at the end of my life is to be able to say with Paul, “I have fought the good fight. I have finished the race. I have kept the faith.” (2 Timothy 4:17). Join me in a journey of discovery as we meditate on the three essentials of Christian leadership: logos, pathos, and ethos.

 

Discussion Guide

1. What is your concept of a leader?

2. How committed are you to be a godly leader?

3. Reflect on the sovereignty of God and your success as a leader

 

Notes:

[1] https://www.inc.com/lolly-daskal/100-answers-to-the-question-what-is-leadership.html  Accessed 3/12/19

 

[2] Aubrey Malphurs, Being Leaders: The Nature of Authentic Christian Leadership,2003, Baker Books, Grand Rapids, p14.

 

[3] Bock, Darrell, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, Baker Academic, (October 1, 2007), p432.

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