Effective Christian Leadership
Introduction: ‘We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.’ (Ephesians 2: 10)
God can use people with or without the natural ability and proper background. God can, and often chooses to, work with raw material. God prepares and empowers those He chooses to do His work so He does not need to call people into leadership who have the natural drive, training, or good models of leadership in their background. He does not need to use people who took the part or who are already popular. "Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong." (1 Corinthians 1: 26 - 27) The disciples, who went on to be founding leaders of the church, were fishermen and tax-collectors by trade. They were not highly educated or from influential families. Some had strong, driven personalities but others did not.
- Be careful not to limit God. Take Him at His word when He says, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness" (2 Corinthians 12: 9).
God prepares those He calls. The disciples spent three years with Jesus to prepare them to be the early leaders of the church but even still, before they were to go out on their own, they had to wait for the Holy Spirit to come upon them in power. God uses life experiences to mold and shape leaders. God uses life experiences to develop perspectives and passions essential to the capacity of leadership to which He calls.
- Be careful not to short-circuit this preparation time due to impatience. God’s ways and timing are best.
God equips those He calls. God will use the way He designed people and their spiritual gifting to steer them into what type of leader they should be.
What is leadership?
Leadership is exercising true authority (in Christ)
• Expertise, facility, capacity – insight in to the things of God
• A consequence of obedience and integrity
• Used to build people up, to mend them, to serve them
• Evidenced by the conditions of the disciples
What are the characteristics of Christian leadership?
1. Intimacy with Christ
The first and most important thing Christian leaders need to do is develop a strong and intimate relationship with God. In an article by Gordon MacDonald he says, “the forming of the soul that it might be a dwelling place for God is the primary work of the Christian leader”. Developing this intimate relationship with God through daily prayer and reflective Bible study is vital if Christian leaders are going to be all they can be in God.
We see that Jesus modeled this drawing away to a solitary place to connect with His heavenly Father in prayer. In Mark 1:35 we see that He did this alone and in Mark 6:35 he called the disciples to draw away from the pressing crowds. As Christian leaders we need to follow Jesus example to make sure we come aside from the business of life and ministry to make our connection with the Father. As we do, we find that our relationship with God grows and we allow Him to speak to us. We can also learn from Scripture and receive guidance on how He wants us to lead the people we are overseeing. I believe this time alone with God is vital for our growth, seeking direction and for our long term survival of the pressures of ministry brings.
2. Spirit-Driven and Passionate
Jesus lived his life and did everything he did with a clear sense of purpose and thus was Spirit-driven (Mark 1: 35-39; Luke 4: 43; 5: 32). He was preoccupied with the purpose with which his Father had sent him into the world – that was his passion or top priority (John 4: 31-34). His vision was sharp (not blurred), goal was clear and he never allowed anything to distract him from the goal (Luke 12: 13-14; 13: 31-32). He was very clear in communicating the purpose with which he chose his disciples (Matt. 4: 18-19; Mark 1: 16-17; 3: 13-14). He reiterated his purpose even before he ascended into heaven after his resurrection (Matt. 28: 16-20; Acts 1: 7-8). When they received the Holy Spirit and began their ministry, we notice that they followed the example of their master and lived a focused and Spirit-driven life. They did not allow anything, including the good things in the ministry to distract them from the main thing, which was their top priority (see Acts 2: 32-41, 47b; 3: 11-16 and 19-20; 4: 1-12; 5: 41-6: 7). The apostles did not deviate from their priorities – they learnt from their master the principle of keeping the main thing(s), the main thing(s). Paul also demonstrates for us that this is a key ingredient in successful Christian leadership. He was very sharply focused, was driven by a clear sense of purpose, both in life and ministry, pursued his goal with perseverance, and finished his race (see 1 Cor. 9: 15-27; Gal. 2: 1-10; Phil. 3: 7-14; 2 Tim. 3: 10-11; 4: 1-8). This is the pattern we should follow and inspire others to emulate us.
To learn of what truly is servant leadership, it is important that we follow Christ’s command and example. In Matthew 20 and 23, Christ tells us that we need, first of all, to lead in an attitude of servant hood.
Matt 20:26-28 Yet it shall be not so among you but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desire t be first among you, let him be your servant, just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.
Matt 23:11 But he who is greatest among you shall be your servant.
In the gospels, we notice that Jesus’ disciples were involved in dispute over who would be the greatest among them (Luke 9: 46-50; 22: 24-30; Mark 9: 33-37; 10: 35-45; Matt. 20: 20-28). They were preoccupied with themselves and their positions of power and authority. They were measuring greatness in positional terms and that led to a sort of ‘power struggle’. However, Jesus teaches them that they should not be like the leaders of the Gentiles who lord it over them, but be like Himself and learn to lead by serving (1 Peter 5: 1-4). This is what is called ‘servant leadership’. Jesus offers Himself as a paradigm or model for them to follow. It is in this context that we should consider the example of Jesus washing His disciples’ feet (John 13: 1-17). In a Jewish household, this was the job of the lowest servant and so none of Jesus’ disciples wanted to do that. Thus, they came in with dusty and dirty feet. It was then that Jesus, who knew who he was under God, got up and began to wash their feet, giving them a practical demonstration of ‘servant leadership’. It has, of late, become fashionable to talk or teach about this. However, what we need now is not just more teaching, but more leaders that practice this style of leadership.
True servant leaders know their strengths and weaknesses and surround themselves with those who have complementary abilities and can offset their weaknesses. Servant leaders invest themselves in enabling others to do their best, allowing teamwork to move their ministry. A true servant leader allows those alongside to grow into a great servant leader as well. True servant leaders invest in their team, empowering them to serve others in the same humility they display to others. They are committed to serving with humility and concern, having a forgiving and giving heart. They are willing to sacrifice personally for the well being of others. They are willing to do humble tasks, but as their leader, they always have in mind a larger vision.
A serving attitude does not imply willingness to be abused by others or the toleration of exploitation. Servant leaders are not enablers to those who should be helping themselves. A true servant leader is disciplined in all areas of life, knowing their first responsibility is to serve God and then to others. Servant leaders must first of all please God; they are not moved solely by the need to please others.
4. Character and Integrity
One of the keys to successful long Christian leadership is the desire to live with character and integrity. In 1 Timothy 3:8-12 and Titus 1:5-9 it lists 24 characteristics that should be seen in Christian leadership. Some of these include being of good behavior, not greedy for money, not given to excessive drinking, not quick tempered, but being self controlled, a responsible steward, one that holds fast to the Word of God and has a good reputation outside the church. It tells us that these qualities should be evident in the lives of those who are called to Christian leadership. In saying this though, it does not say that one has to be perfect to be in Christian leadership. That is not possible as we are all human and fall short at times. However, it is saying that these things must be evident most of the time.
Integrity is “the quality or state of being of sound moral principle, uprightness, honesty, and sincerity.” In the world today, ‘integrity’ is not valued as the most important thing in life and business. Paul says that saying, “Yes, yes” and “No, no” in the same breath is the world’s way (2 Cor. 1: 17). In saying this, Paul is following the teaching of Jesus Himself, who says, “Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one” (Matt. 5: 37). We have to be like this, because our God is like this. We all know this theoretically. However, in practice it appears that Christians and Christian leaders are no different from others. It is very painfully true of many top leaders even in the Church and Para-Church organizations today. We cannot be sure if what a Christian leader is saying is true or not and so we cannot trust them. They are not proving to be people of their word who can be taken at their word. What they say and what they have inside and what they say and what they do, do not match often. This lack of integrity in a leader breeds mistrust, pretence or even hypocrisy among the people and such a leader does not enjoy respect and ceases to lead in a Christian manner. Jesus spoke very harshly against ‘the Pharisaical piety,’ which lacked integrity and warned his disciples to be on guard against the yeast of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy (see Luke 11: 37-43; 12: 1-3). Jesus highlighted the lack of integrity between their teaching or preaching and practice, when he said, “So you must obey them and do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach” (Matt. 23: 1-3). Even Paul exhorts Titus, a young leader saying, “In your teaching show integrity . . .” (Titus 2: 6-8). When a leader’s character is marked by integrity, then respect and cooperation follow and he or she has a positive godly influence on others and this is real leadership.
I firmly believe that as Christian leaders we need to have this same commitment to living with character and integrity the Bible talks about. We need to have a good testimony both in and outside the church and before God and man. Billy Graham put it perfectly when he said “If I were ever to do anything dishonoring to Christ, I would rather He take me home to heaven before I did it”.
The concept of risk is a challenging one for many Christian leaders. On the one hand, many churches and Christian organizations are conservative in their target setting. Leaders may feel that if their church or organization doesn’t hit the targets of vision that it has set itself, then the church has not only failed, but that God is not blessing them. This is a dangerous paradigm to take.
On the other hand, God is a God who understands and uses weakness to achieve His purpose. Achieving the salvation of the world through the crucifixion of Jesus Christ was the ultimate in using weakness. It was also risky. The very heart of the sacrifice of the cross was that Jesus chose to go through with it. In the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prayed "Yet not what I will, but what you will." (Mark 14:36). It had to be a real choice, with the inherent risk that Jesus could not go through with it. If there was no choice, there was no sacrifice. The Father chose to make Christ fully human, with the risk that he could be fall to the temptation of Satan, that he could succumb to the corrupting influence of power, or that he could sidestep the ultimate sacrifice. The fact that Jesus resisted all temptation, maintained his integrity with the spiritual power with which he was entrusted, and surrendered himself to the cross does not take away any of that risk.
In the selection of His twelve disciples, Jesus also took significant risk. Those who have hired people to fulfill roles where the job will expand significantly know the difficulty of selecting people who will make the transition successfully. Jesus took the risk of calling a group that would probably not make the short list of most current-day executive search teams!
Setting too simple a goal can severely limit the organization’s ability to achieve great things for the Kingdom of God. Michelangelo said "The greatest danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that it is too low and we reach it." If we set small-step, incremental goals, there is a tendency that we do what we used to, only better. If we challenge ourselves with large goals, then we need to take risks in redefining our strategy.
Jesus could have for sure done a lot more and better, if he had not had his disciples with him. However, he chose to work together with them and to build the team of his disciples, the first leaders of the Church. He taught them, gave them OJT (On the Job Training), heard their reports, prayed with them, corrected them, gave them opportunities to see him in action, and ended up investing most of his time and effort on them. This is what we find in the Gospels and Acts 1: 1-8). From Jesus’ teaching and model, we learn that there is no place for ‘lone rangers’ in the Kingdom of God. Therefore, I believe, all Christian leaders would be team players, team builders that are committed to the discipline of working with and for a team and make themselves accountable to others in the team. Without neglecting their personal tasks and goals, they give adequate attention and priority to the collective tasks and goals and invest in empowering others. Otherwise, Christian leaders become carnal, worldly, and selfish and cease to be Christian leaders.
7. Committed to Making Disciples
The last words of Christ before returning to heaven are recorded in Matthew chapter 28:19-20. It says, “Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you”. This verse is a clear command to reach people with the love and saving message of Jesus and to teach them how to follow Jesus and His teachings.
As Christian leaders I believe the core of what we do is to love God, love people and to make disciples. We need to focus our energies on loving and bringing people into the Kingdom and teaching them how to continue to grow in their faith and service of God. The early church understood this and as a result many thousands of people came to faith in a short time. In Acts chapter 2:42 we see that, “All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer”. In committing themselves to these things, the early church members were able to grow to maturity and be sent out in their community to reach others for Christ.
Conclusion: Christian leadership begins with God’s calling, and that call comes in two parts. First, he gives you a desire to serve him, and second, the church recognizes in you those elements of character and those gifts which qualify you to serve in leadership. In those qualifications, character is much more prominent than gifts. The first qualification for Christian leadership is Christ-like character. If we are to lead Christ’s people in Christ’s way, we must ourselves be men who have walked with Christ—on the Calvary road. May God help us to be such men as we lead his church. Amen!