This is the second article in a series on Christian leadership directed towards pastors. This article discusses sources for learning how to be a Christian leader, the secret behind being a Christian leader, and the rewards of Christian leadership.

2011. 6 pages. Transcribed by Ineke van der Linden.

Christian Leadership Part 2: Introduction to Leadership

Sources for Learning about Christian Leadership🔗

Here’s a question: can pastors and other church leaders learn anything about leadership from President Obama? from President George Bush? from Bill Gates? from General Petraeus? from baseball or basketball coaches? Can pastors and other church leaders learn anything about leadership from purely secular leaders? That is one of the question I would like to answer as we look at the three main resources God has given us to teach us about Christian leadership. The three sources are: His precepts, His patterns and His providence.

God’s Precepts🔗

First of all, God’s precepts. God’s word is obviously the first source of teaching in Christian leadership. The Bible tells us that there are two fundamentals for a Christian leader—his spiritual life and his moral life—and they are not separable really. Before anyone can become a Christian leader, they must have spiritual life. He must become a Christian; he must be born again. There can be no spiritual leadership without spiritual life. But spiritual life is not enough; there must also be a moral life. Christian leaders are leaders who have led first and foremost by moral example. And so God’s moral law, the Ten Commandments, much shape their moral character. Moreover, a Christian leader has to go beyond having a spiritual life and a holy life. These are the basics of every Christian’s life, aren’t they? Every Christian is to have a spiritual and a moral life. So we find in the Bible there are leader-specific precepts and commands in both the Old Testament (as we read in Joshua 1) and in the New (1 Timothy 3:2; 2 Timothy 2:24). So that’s where we begin—spiritual life, moral life, and a leader-specific ethic as outlined in the Bible.

God’s Patterns🔗

Secondly, we have God’s patterns. In addition to God’s commands and instructions, He provides us with models, with metaphors of leadership. We have mentioned some of them—the servant, the shepherd, the captain, the father, and so on. But God doesn’t just give us a description of these leadership models; He makes them come alive in the lives of biblical characters. They are frequently set forth as exemplary leaders with unique leadership qualities. When you think of Joseph, what do you think of? You think of long-range planning. Moses: you think of meekness. Jethro: delegation. David: teambuilding. Daniel: courage. The apostles: pioneering spirit. And so on. All these biblical leaders have unique characteristics that are brought alive in their lives as we find them in the Bible. And of course, we have the ultimate model, Jesus Christ, who combines every leadership quality in perfect proportion and balance. Models are also found in the pages of church history. We can look at the life of Spurgeon, Lloyd Jones, Hodge, William Wilberforce –there are many Christian leaders in our own day that the Lord has raised up whose faith we are to follow (Hebrews 13:7). Some of them may be internationally known; some of them may be just our own local pastors—the men, the elders, the ministers that God has brought into our lives that nobody will ever hear of, but who are wonderful models of leadership that God has brought into our lives.

God’s Providence🔗

The third source is God’s providence. In God’s gracious providence, he has given leadership gifts to many outside the church. They may be Christians in non-Christian areas of vocation or non-Christians. They are found in various fields—political, military, sports, business. May we learn anything from such leaders? In some of these fields or all of these fields? Or not at all? If so, what safeguards do we need to put in place so that we do not contaminate the Church with unbiblical practices? Well of course, there are some Christians who will say, “No, we can’t learn anything about leadership from outside the Bible.” And I think we can all understand that instinct. We have seen too much, haven’t we, of the world’s practices and principles corrupting the Church. Maybe you have seen that the Church is becoming too much like corporations, pastors becoming too much like CEOs, worship becoming too much like a concert, preaching becoming too much like a standup comedy, evangelism becoming too much like a marketing campaign. Yes, many abuses, many perversions. But despite these perversions and abuses, we shouldn’t be stopped from learning from unbelievers in certain areas and with certain safeguards in place. And I want to defend that idea a little bit. What I’m saying is I want to defend the idea of learning from non-biblical (I didn’t say unbiblical; there’s a difference) sources, and then look at a couple of safeguards.

The defense for learning from non-biblical sources. So by way of defense: in addition to God’s saving grace, the reformed churches usually acknowledge God’s common grace, whereby He distributes gifts and abilities to non-Christians for the benefit of His church and people. That’s my understanding of common grace. John Calvin uses the illustration of spectacles to explain this. He says the Bible is not only what we read, but what we read with. We use its pages as spectacles to view and read the world and the knowledge, the “light of nature,” God has distributed throughout it. (The Institutes 1.6.1) In the Institutes 2.2.15 he says, “The human mind, however much fallen and perverted from its original integrity, is still adorned and invested with admirable gifts from its Creator…. We will be careful…not to reject or condemn truth wherever it appears.” He goes on in 2.2.15-16:

If we regard the Spirit of God as the sole foundation of truth, we shall neither reject the truth itself, nor despise it wherever it shall appear, unless we wish to dishonor the Spirit of God. Shall we say that the philosophers were blind in their fine observation and artful description of nature?... No, we cannot read the writings of the ancients on these subjects without great admiration…But if the Lord has willed that we be helped in physics, dialectics, mathematics, and other like disciplines by the work and ministry of the ungodly, let us use this assistance. But if we neglect God’s gift freely offered in these arts, we ought to suffer just punishment for our sloths.

So, we begin with the doctrine of common grace.

Secondly, there are over twenty models of leadership in the Bible, and they’ve all been brought in or borrowed from the world. The servant, the shepherd, the captain, the father, the steward—the model was first in the world (by God’s providence, of course), and then used by God to teach His Church. God did not define servant and shepherd in the Bible initially. The definition, the description, the idea of it was already existing, and He took it in. He of course refined it and redirected it, but it was borrowed nonetheless.

Thirdly, some of the words used for Christian leaders in the Bible are taken from non-Christian activities. “Oikonomia” is a noun meaning “administration of a household or an office.” The management of a state or of a house. And that’s the word given to Christian leaders in Luke 16:1-17, 1 Corinthians 4:2, Titus 1:7, and 1 Peter 4:10. “Kubernésis” is borrowed from sailing and refers to the helmsman or pilot that guides the vessel to its destination. It is used in Acts 27:11, 1 Corinthians 12:28, and Revelation 18:17. Even the word “episkopos” (usually translated “overseer,” or “bishop” in the old translations) originally described a man with the responsibility of seeing that things done by others were done right (Titus 1:7). “Proistemi” in classical Greek referred to leadership in an army in a state or in a party. There are a range of meanings like “guard,” “be the head of,” “in charge of,” “preside over.” We have that in Romans 12:8, 1 Thessalonians 5:12, and other places.

So I am defending this idea of us being able to learn from non-biblical sources (not unbiblical sources) because of the knowledge of common grace, because the models God uses in the Bible have already been brought in from outside, and some of the words used for Christian leaders have their definitions from non-Christian activities.

The safeguards for learning from non-biblical sources. But we need safeguards, don’t we? If we’re going to do this in any way to any degree, then we’re going to put safeguards in place so that we can learn from God’s gracious distribution of truth and gifts outside the Church without bringing the world into the Church.

The first safeguard is this: biblical precepts and patterns are non-negotiable. If any leadership practice or principle out there is found to be contrary to the Bible, it is rejected. That’s just a no-brainer. The authority of Scripture stands above everything.

Secondly, biblical precepts and patterns must be studied most. Sometimes when we find out, “Oh man, there’s some good stuff over here and some good stuff there.” The novelty of it can be very attractive. We can get immersed in it, and eventually it becomes the dominant influence in our life. So while we may learn from non-biblical sources, if we’re reading, for example, The Harvard Business Review and business bestsellers more than the Bible, we are in grave danger of drifting from biblical moorings.

Thirdly, biblical precepts and patterns should control the big picture. We want to keep the Bible’s principles and practices as our overarching control. As our umbrella. We fill in the details, perhaps at times, with some of the details from non-biblical sources. Here are some examples of what I mean by this. The Bible gives us the general principle of time management—Ephesians 5:16: “Redeeming the time, because the days are evil.” That’s a general principle—but it doesn’t give us any detail about how to do this. So how do we fill out the details? Well, we can try and figure it out ourselves, or we can look at methods that non-Christians use to manage their time effectively and use time efficiently. We fill in the details of the general biblical principle. The Bible tells us to be careful listeners: “Be swift to hear.” Again, it doesn’t give us really too many details of how to get that skill, how to build it, how to grow it, how to strengthen it. We learn the “how to” from those who have studied how to be a skillful and wise listener. The Bible tells us we are to be shepherds, and it does give us some details, but not all the details. We fill out the detail (as almost every commentary and sermon on shepherding does) by studying shepherding in the world. The Bible tells us we have to teach God’s word, but it doesn’t really tells us how we are to do homiletics, does it? Where do you get in the Bible that three points in a sermon is good way to teach? You don’t find that, do you? Intro, outro, vary your voice, vary your pace—you don’t get that, do you? But that’s been found in human experience to be the best ways of communicating. So we have the big picture from the Bible; the details we fill in from outside, at times. So with these safeguards in place, I think we can prayerfully plunder the Egyptians for the good of Israel!

The Secret of Christian Leadership🔗

Well, the Christian leader is going to juggle innumerable balls while innumerable forces try to pull us in innumerable directions. The Bible itself presents twenty models of leadership. Twenty! You mean I have to be twenty things at one time? Well, no, not exactly. Sometimes the situation will call for a single model of leadership. Or commonly, depending on the situation, the Christian leader has to combine two, or three, or four, or ten models in one given situation. And the great secret of Christian leadership is learning to know which models for which situations in which proportions—and that’s where we so often go wrong! We tend to become imbalanced. When somebody should be a patient shepherd, he’s the courageous captain. When somebody should be the firm father, he’s the gentle mother. They are biblical models, but they’re not the biblical model for that situation. What imbalances us? Well, three things:


First of all, temperament imbalances us. We all have temperaments. We all have different characters. And they’re not sinful per se. Just because somebody is more active, energetic, aggressive, more forceful in their leadership does not make him more sinful than the more patient, gentle, meek, quiet, listening type. God has given different leaders, different characters for different times and different places and different purposes. But our temperaments, our personalities, do tend to imbalance us. So if there are people here who are confident, forceful, they are going to love the authoritative captain model. Men with gentler and more compassionate natures are going to default to the caring, nursing mother. Many enjoy debates—they’re going to be the reformer model. Men who hate controversy will be much more the peacemaker. Men who have speaking skills are going to be great speakers. Men with listening skills can be great counselors, listening. So we all have that tendency to default, to bias, to our own temperament. We need to get to know who we are, what we are, where we’re likely to bias to, default to, and try to take corrective measures. We have to work on our weaknesses, in other words, as well as beware of our strengths, because they can so often become our weaknesses. So temperament imbalances us.


Secondly, sin imbalances us. Sin has weakened every part of us, all our faculties. It has affected every one of our gifts and abilities. Just think of our thinking abilities. Every aspect of leadership involves our brain. Every thought that we have passes through our brain. Everything you are perceiving just now is passing through your brain. Every word you are hearing, every movement I make here, every cough—it’s all passing through your brain. Every thought we have, every perception, everything we see, hear, smell, taste, touch, passes through our brain with this phenomenally complex system of switches and chemicals. Well, that most complex of organs is fallen. It’s cursed, just like our fingers are, just like our eyes are, just like our ears are. We’ve been weakened in that most central of our faculties, that most critical and crucial of members. I read recently about this brain surgeon Ludvic Zrinzo who said, “The brain is the final frontier.” (It used to be the ocean and space, but now they talk about the inside being the final frontier.) “If you look at the number of neurons, synapses, and connections, these vastly outnumber the stars in our galaxy.” That’s one brain! One brain outnumbers the stars in our galaxy in terms of the number of neurons, synapses, connections. “And we won’t understand all the complexities for many generations to come.” Stanford recently issued research that showed, “A single human brain has more switches than all the computers and routers and Internet connections on earth.” And that’s me!

Unfortunately, it’s fallen, like the rest of our bodies. They’re faulty. Our minds are faulty! And that means that even if we lived in a perfect world, if everything out there was perfect, our perception of it, our understanding of it, our comprehension of it, is going to be imperfect. Even if we had perfect hearts with perfect desires, perfect motives, these pass through and reach expression through our brains. And so they’re going to be obstructed and misdirected. They are going to be frustrated and weakened by passing through this fallen organ. So whether it’s an incoming perception or an outgoing thought, they are all going to be damaged in one way or another by passing through our brain. We don’t live in a perfect world either. We don’t have perfect hearts either. We have imperfect minds, brains, in an imperfect world with imperfect hearts—what a toxic mix! There is sin coming at us from every direction affecting, contaminating, everything within and without, all being processed by the sin-cursed brain. All these negative forces. And we’re going to walk the leadership tightrope? Sin imbalances us.

Role Models🔗

Thirdly, role models imbalance us. We’re all thankful for the powerful impact of godly men and women in our lives. I’m sure we can all look back and think of pastors, elders, teachers who modeled godly leadership for us. And we can’t help but consciously or unconsciously imitate them. However, strangely, oddly, we tend to imitate their quirks rather than their strengths. Have you ever noticed that? When people imitate another creature, they usually imitate the thing that really bugs everybody else. The eccentricity, the idiosyncrasy, rather than the strength and the qualities. And even if that model was just perfect, it was perfect for that situation and that time. We’re going to be in different situations and different times; that kind of leadership may not fit our time, our situation.

So the secret of Christian leadership is to know the balance of leadership characteristics required for every situation we are in. Knowing our temperament, knowing our sin, knowing how role models have influenced us for good and for ill will help us to prayerfully seek God’s wisdom to know the kind of leader we should be in each situation. So what does that mean? That means that the Christian leader is like a chameleon in the best sense of the word. He’s changing all the time, depending on the situation he’s in. He is not changing fundamentally in his core, in his morals, in his ethics, but changing his approach. In one day you will have to be a courageous captain, then a farsighted visionary, then a team builder, then a peacemaker, then a counselor, then an administrator, then a judge—all in one day! And our ability to choose the right model for the right situation, or in the right proportions, will make or break our ministries and our congregations. It is that significant. If what’s called for is a listening ear and all we do is talk; if we’re just peacemaking instead of holy warfare when facing false doctrine—then we’re going to fail. We fail ourselves, we fail our congregations, and we fail God. The secret of leadership is that balance. And in the light of that we’re so thankful for that promise: “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all men liberally and upbraids not, and it shall be given him.” This should be our daily prayer and experience of this wonderful promise. God alone is able to balance out our imbalances and keep us on the tightrope.

The Satisfaction of Christian Leadership🔗

I want to conclude with the satisfaction of leadership. We have looked at quite a number of the difficulties and challenges and obstacles. We will continue to look at some of these as we look at the models individually. But I do not want to end this session on a really depressing note. There is going to be loneliness and fatigue and criticism and rejection and stress, but leadership of Christ’s church is incredibly satisfying as well, and rewarding.

Personal Satisfaction🔗

There’s personal satisfaction, first of all. Yes, we have challenges, we have personal disappointments, we have failures, but we also get to see God’s people grow and develop and mature under our leadership. We get to counsel them and advise them and help them through problems. See them defeat problems and answer problems. And we see decisions we’ve made vindicated. We see team spirit develop. We see divided people united. We see dormant gifts being deployed for the benefit of the church. It’s so wonderfully rewarding just to be used by God in these ways. There is so much personal satisfaction.

Congregational Appreciation🔗

There’s also congregational appreciation. We don’t serve God’s people to be praised by them, but it is very rewarding when fellow Christians express gratitude for our guidance or leadership. When we sense a growing love of God’s people towards us and their respect for us—for our wisdom, maturity, our gifts, our counsel. It’s just so encouraging. Especially when you hear, maybe you sense in the prayers of God’s people, a growing thankfulness for their pastor. You get it also in visitation. In my last congregation there was a fair number of village and country folks. Although it was in a town, lots of people came in from the villages. When I came back from pastoral visitation, I often come home with bags full of eggs and pork chops and chickens and lamb and salmon. I tell you, no food tasted as good as that food, because you tasted the love of God’s people in it. You tasted their appreciation. When food is marinated in Christian love, it’s tasty! And I think that congregational appreciation will go on into eternity. Part of our reward in heaven will be to see the impact of our lives and our leadership on those we led in this world, that maybe we didn’t see the fruit of here. But we will see it there in so many dimensions and angles. How what we did or said or didn’t do or didn’t say have borne fruit in precious lives. I think that will be a wonderful experience.

Eternal Reward🔗

That brings us on to our eternal reward. We don’t want to be leaders because of rewards in this life or the next, but God does encourage us with wonderful promises of eternal reward (Mathew 25:23). We think also of Daniel 12:3, this wonderful promise: “They that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness, as the stars forever and ever.” So there’s great satisfaction now and forever in Christian leadership, despite all the difficulties and trauma that we will sometimes have to pass through in this world.

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