Leadership has been in the news of late with the exit of Donald Trump from the White House and the election of Joe Biden as the 46th President. Trump has been one of the most controversial leaders in modern US history, but not least of which has been his association with Christianity and the Evangelical church.
As CSA’s 2021 theme is leadership, it is timely to reflect a little on what is Christian leadership and the elements that define it from a biblical perspective. Below I provide 5 thoughts for reflection. I hope that these thoughts encourage your own reflections on what defines Christian leadership.
1. Leadership is a calling for which we take on a “mantle”.
God often calls the most unlikely into His service. In the story of Samuel, we see a small boy dedicated to the church who comes under the teaching of Eli. In 1 Samuel 3, Samuel hears the voice of God and is instructed by his teacher Eli to say, “Speak Lord for your servant is listening” (v9.). Samuel from his early training was not only open to hearing from God…but following His commands. To this end, God increased Samuel’s standing and leadership, to the point that he succeeded Eli in his ministry rather than his sons. His sons forfeited their birth-right by their unrestrained, contemptible behaviour (v.13).
When we accept the call of God and we act within God’s will and by the leading of His Holy Spirit, He blesses our leadership and equips and empowers us for the work God has for us. Romans 8:28 states, “and we know that in all things God work for the good of those who love him, who have been called to his purpose”. Furthermore, in Isaiah 41:10 God himself tell us “to not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen and help you. I will uphold you with my righteous hand”.
Leadership should not be entered into lightly rather prayerfully and soberly. The mantle can often be heavy upon a leader’s shoulders. But for those God has called, He will also equip for the task He has set for them to do.
2. Competency cannot take you where character can’t keep you.
Donald Trump caused much controversy through his association with dictators, womanizing, questionable financial dealings and support of fringe groups. Many, within the US church, sought to overlook his failings in pursuit of a right-wing political agenda. But the Bible makes it very clear that our behaviour and character must mimic that of Christ and that we are not to tarnish the gospel though our actions.
1 Timothy 3:2 sets the standard that all leaders should follow, “be above reproach, faithful to their spouse, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent, but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money…”. Philippians 2:3 goes further stating, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather in humility value others above yourself”.
We may have all the skill that we need to perform our role, however our ministry and leadership may be forfeited by behaviours which are not compatible with the calling that we have accepted. There are a number of recent leadership scandals that have destroyed global ministries, not through an inability by the leader to perform high level tasks, but rather through a personal failure to ensure their own character was in check.
To this end we must ensure we have good people who can speak into our lives. We must ensure we have structures and policies in place to protect us from ourselves. We must constantly be checking our hearts to discern whether we are building our own empire or His kingdom. Proverbs 4:23 reminds us to, “Above all else guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.”
Trials, temptations and difficulties come to all leaders, but James 1:12 reminds us that “Blessed is the one who preserves under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him”.
3. You are leading a community not an institution.
Leading a Christian school or ministry is not about leading an institution, but rather it is about leading a community. Communities at their core are relational hubs. The Bible uses the analogy of a shepherd with his flock to describe the nature of biblical leadership of a ‘flock’. In John 10: 4, for a Christian leader, like a shepherd, “The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice”. The leader as shepherd protects, directs, feeds and cares for those placed under his or her care. The voice of the shepherd is trusted and thus followed by the community.
Leadership of a community is also about doing life together. We are not designed to live in isolation but rather thrive together (Genesis 2:8). Health and wellbeing come from being part of a functional community. The Bible uses a helpful analogy of a human body to describe how healthy communities interact. The ideal community is one where we recognise, respect and utilize the skills abilities and gifting each member of our community brings. 1 Corinthians 12:12 states, “that there is one body, but it has many parts, but all these parts make up in body. It is the same in Christ”. And later in verses 25 and 26, “In that way, the parts of the body will not take sides. All of them take care of one another. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it. If one part is honoured, every part share in its joy”.
Through strong, healthy relationships a leader can take a community on a journey to see the things of Christ fulfilled in the follower’s life, the broader community and the ministry as a whole.
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4. Servant leadership is counter cultural.
In contemporary society, leadership is often seen in terms of how many followers one has on Twitter, the number of clicks your comments are able to attract, and the amount of airtime given to you by the media. It is about being upfront, in the centre, and bring seen by the most people possible.
Even amongst the society of Jesus’ day, leaders sought to be set apart. They did not do menial tasks, or hurry. They took the best seats, wore the finest garments, and regarded their social status with the utmost importance. Jesus on the other hand was not visually anything special, being ordinary in appearance (Isaiah 53:2). He associated with prostitutes, tax collectors, fishermen (Matthew 9:10) and brought the lowly into his inner circle. Jesus affirms this when he tells his disciples in Matthew 20:26 … “whoever wants to become great amongst you must become a servant”.
Christian leadership is not about our own betterment, but rather the betterment of others. It is about leading others in a way where they see the Father’s heart in action (Luke 15:11-32) and get a glimpse of the Kingdom of God (Luke 4:43, Mark 1:15, Luke 8:1).
1 Peter 4:10-11 states, “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ…”.
Swimming against the social media tide of self-aggrandizement is a constant struggle. The constant promotion of the leader as the hero, the one having it all, stands in stark contrast to the biblical ideal. However, we are given an excellent model in Christ who challenges us to focus on others and to raise them up, especially the marginalized, broken and downtrodden.
5. Loving people is about boundaries and saying no!
Having said that, we may get the illusion that Christian leadership is about heading up one big happy, issue-free family. But looking at the life and acts of Paul we see a story of an apostle who did a lot of correcting, teaching and sometimes even confronting.
Paul speaking to his protégé Timothy states, “For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline 2 Timothy 1:7”. When I read Paul’s letters, I imagine an incredibly strong man who did not suffer fools gladly, as we see with John Mark being removed from his ministry trip (Acts 15:38). We see the same strength of resolve when Paul confronts Peter in Antioch about circumcising new Christians (Acts 15).
Christian leadership is heavily rooted in love, kindness, compassion, gentleness and meekness, but it is also balanced with characteristics of self-discipline, correction, respect and truth. Ephesians 4:15 proclaims: Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every aspect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. Balance brings about a maturity and a fullness in who Christ has called us to be individually and as a community. When we lead, we need to provide the boundaries and structures within which people can thrive.
God calls some of us into leadership and when He calls God will equips us for the work ahead (Phil 1:6, Romans 8:30, Exodus 4:10-11, 2 Cor 9:8).
God is more interested in who we are than what we do. Our character should be modelled on Christ’s. Our ministry is easily damaged by selfish ambition or inappropriate behaviour so we need to have the right people and structures in our lives (1 Sam 16:7, Proverbs 16:2, 1 Chron 28:9).
We have the privilege sometimes of leading an entire community and this community is held together by healthy relationships which build and encourage its members for the work ahead (Ephesians 4:2, 1 Perter 4:8 Hebrews 10:25).
Boundaries set by the leader and our faith protect our community and allow all within it to grow and flourish – to be all God intended them to be (2 Timothy 3:16, Hebrews 12:6, Proverbs 3:2).