Leadership

Preaching and Worship Resources about Leadership

Leadership is a key biblical concept that reveals how God calls, ordains, empowers, and judges those who guide and support his people. By closely studying various leaders in the Bible, both those judged as failed and those who were successful, we learn about the kind of leadership God favors. All human leadership is flawed to some extent, but the one true and complete human, Jesus Christ, displays the essence of godly leadership.

In Scripture

Good and Bad Leadership While there are countless examples of leadership both good and bad, the Old Testament is anchored by two prominent and exemplary leaders. In the New Testament, Jesus Christ provides the ultimate example of godly leadership.

Moses, the baby saved from death by an Egyptian princess, goes on to become a fugitive wanted for murder. But God calls him in his wilderness exile to lead a group of ragtag slaves out from under Pharaoh's tyranny. Typical of biblical leaders, Moses resists God's call but ultimately relents under enormous pressure from God. In the seemingly impossible task of leading these slaves across the wilderness to Canaan, Moses displays several important qualities of godly leadership.

Moses' Humility: On several occasions Moses defers to God's ultimate leadership and authority, depending on God's support alone in the midst of rebellion. Moses also humbly defers to his father-in-law Jethro's recommendation to appoint others to share the load of leadership. He's "very humble, more so than anyone else on the face of the earth" (Num. 12:3).

Moses' Selflessness: On two occasions when the people rebel against God, Moses stands in the breach when God threatens to wipe them out. He is willing to be destroyed with them rather than allow God to start over with just him.

Moses' Trust: After his doubtful response to God's initial call, Moses never wavers in his trust in God's commands, whether in raising his rod over the Red Sea or managing his rebellious followers.

David is the other exemplar of leadership in the Old Testament. David, selected by Samuel from among his older brothers after the failed leadership of Saul, is said to be a "man after [God's] own heart" (1 Sam. 13:14). He is also just the kind of courageous, resourceful, and charismatic person that people will gladly follow.

David's Courage: David stands up to the giant Goliath with nothing more than a slingshot, but armed even more fully with faith in God.

David's Loyalty to others and the bond of his word made him a trustworthy leader, whether it was to his bosom friend Jonathan, his band of followers in exile, or even his tormentor Saul.

David's Charisma: David had that indefinable quality of sheer human vitality that attracted men and women to follow him.

David Was Flawed Like all human leaders, David was also deeply flawed. His failures eventually cast a shadow over his reign as he tries to cover up his adulterous and abusive relationship with Bathsheba and badly mismanages his own family. Still, of all the Old Testament leaders, David is most closely tied to Christ, who is called the "son of David." We might say that in David we see the best we can do as flawed and sinful human beings, but God promises that in David's "son" the world will have its true leader and king.

Jesus Christ is the true leader and good shepherd of God's people. He is the new Moses who will lead his people out of slavery to sin and death into the kingdom of God. Jesus exhibited all the solid leadership traits we have seen: courage and charisma, faith and loyalty, humility and obedience, but with something more.

Jesus, the Servant-King: Jesus turns the human concept of leadership upside down. He is the servant-king, the shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep. He is the king on a cross. In the climactic vision of John in Revelation, when all heaven awaits the David-like "lion of the tribe of Judah," there appears the "Lamb that was slaughtered," and all the saints and angels break out in cheers for their leader. It is this servant leadership that becomes the defining mark of all godly leadership.

Jesus Calls Disciples: Jesus also appoints leaders, his disciples or apostles, to lead his church after he is ascended. In the gospels, Jesus calls his disciples to be "fishers of people." Frederick Dale Brunner says that this call connects with the inner desire many natural leaders have to influence or lead others. Jesus captures this desire for kingdom leadership.

Leadership in God's Kingdom: Jesus contrasts the leadership of the "Gentiles" with leadership in God's kingdom. "Whoever wishes to be first among you must be your servant . . . just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve" (Matt. 20:24-28). This theme is taken up in the early church as the apostles describe the characteristics of leaders in the church: humble, selfless, loving, faithful, and obedient. They are "under-shepherds" of the one Good Shepherd, following his example (1 Peter 5:1-5).

Points to Ponder

Emulating Leadership Christians sometimes seek to emulate the characteristics of leadership from the corporate or political world. Such leaders are sometimes worthy of imitation, but the key criterion of their leadership is often success. Biblical leadership is not identified by success but by faithfulness and servanthood.

John Maxwell "Leadership is not about titles, positions or flowcharts. It is about one life influencing another."

Max De Pree "The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say thank you. In between the two, the leader must become a servant and a debtor. That sums up the progress of an artful leader."

Wesley Granberg-Michaelson "My goal is not to be a `well-rounded' leader, but rather to focus on the unique gifts that I can bring, and then make certain that the strengths of others bring all that is necessary — including the things that I lack — to our work."


Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.