Category: What is the spiritual gift of leadership?

What is Christian leadership? What should a Christian leader be like? There is  no finer example for Christian leadership than our Lord Jesus Christ. He  declared, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the  sheep” (John 10:11).  It is within this verse that we see the perfect description of a Christian  leader. He is one who acts as a shepherd to those “sheep” in his care.

When Jesus referred to us as “sheep,” He was not speaking in affectionate  terms. In truth, sheep rank among the dumbest animals in creation. A stray  sheep, still within earshot of the herd, becomes disoriented, confused,  frightened, and incapable of finding its way back to the flock. Unable to ward  off hungry predators, the stray is perhaps the most helpless of all creatures.  Entire herds of sheep are known to have drowned during times of flash flooding  even in sight of easily accessible higher ground. Like it or not, when Jesus  called us His sheep, He was saying that without a shepherd, we are  helpless.

The shepherd is one who has several roles in regard to his  sheep. He leads, feeds, nurtures, comforts, corrects and protects. The shepherd  of the Lord’s flock leads by modeling godliness and righteousness in his own  life and encouraging others to follow his example. Of course, our ultimate  example—and the One we should follow—is Christ Himself. The Apostle Paul  understood this: “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (1  Corinthians 11:1). The Christian leader is one who follows Christ and  inspires others to follow Him as well.

The Christian leader is also a  feeder and a nourisher of the sheep, and the ultimate “sheep food” is the Word  of God. Just as the shepherd leads his flock to the most lush pasture so they  will grow and flourish, so the Christian leader nourishes his flock with the  only food which will produce strong, vibrant Christians. The Bible—not  psychology or the world’s wisdom—is the only diet that can produce healthy  Christians. “Man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from  the mouth of the LORD” (Deuteronomy  8:3).

The Christian leader also comforts the sheep, binding up their  wounds and applying the balm of compassion and love. As the great Shepherd of  Israel, the Lord Himself promised to “bind up the injured and strengthen the  weak” (Ezekiel  34:16). As Christians in the world today, we suffer many injuries to our  spirits, and we need compassionate leaders who will bear our burdens with us,  sympathize with our circumstances, exhibit patience toward us, encourage us in  the Word, and bring our concerns before the Father’s throne.

Just as the  shepherd used his crook to pull a wandering sheep back into the fold, so the  Christian leader corrects and disciplines those in his care when they go astray.  Without rancor or an overbearing spirit, but with a “spirit of gentleness” (Galatians 6:2), those in  leadership must correct according to scriptural principles. Correction or  discipline is never a pleasant experience for either party, but the Christian  leader who fails in this area is not exhibiting love for those in his care. “The  LORD disciplines those he loves” (Proverbs  3:12), and the Christian leader must follow His example.

The final  role of the Christian leader is that of protector. The shepherd who was lax in  this area soon found that he regularly lost sheep to the predators who prowled  around—and sometimes among—his flock. The predators today are those who try to  lure the sheep away with false doctrine, dismissing the Bible as quaint and old  fashioned, insufficient, unclear, or unknowable. These lies are spread by those  against whom Jesus warned us: “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in  sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves” (Matthew 7:15). Our leaders  must protect us from the false teachings of those who would lead us astray from  the truth of the Scripture and the fact that Christ alone is the way of  salvation: “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father  except through Me” (John  14:6).

A final word on Christian leaders comes from the article  “Wanted: A Few Good Shepherds (Must Know How to Wash Feet)” by John  MacArthur:

“Under the plan God has ordained for the church, leadership is  a position of humble, loving service. Church leadership is ministry, not  management. Those whom God designates as leaders are called not to be governing  monarchs, but humble slaves; not slick celebrities, but laboring servants. Those  who would lead God’s people must above all exemplify sacrifice, devotion,  submission, and lowliness. Jesus Himself gave us the pattern when He stooped to  wash His disciples’ feet, a task that was customarily done by the lowest of  slaves (John 13). If the Lord of the universe would do that, no church leader  has a right to think of himself as a bigwig.”

The Bible gives the means for the church to accomplish tasks, develop the local  congregation, serve the needs of the fellowship, and help it establish a  community witness. The Bible describes these means as spiritual  gifts, one of which is the gift of leadership. The spiritual gift of  leadership in the local church appears in these lists in two passages, Romans 12:8 and 1  Corinthians 12:28. The Greek word translated “rule” or “govern” in these  verses designates one who is set over others, or who presides or rules, or one  who attends with diligence and care to a thing. In 1Thessalonians 5:12, it is used in relation to ministers  in general: “And we beseech you, brethren, to know them which labor among you,  and are over you in the Lord.” Here the word is translated “over you.”

Everything rises and falls with leadership. The more skillful and effective the  leadership, the better the organization runs and the more the potential for  growth increases. In Romans 12:8 the word translated “ruler” indicates care and diligence with reference to the  local church. The ruler is to attend, with constant diligence, to his work,  which is to watch over the flock and to be ready to sacrifice personal comfort  to look after needy sheep.

There are several characteristics of those  with the spiritual gift of leadership. First and foremost, they recognize that  their position is by the appointment of the Lord and is under His direction.  They understand that they are not absolute rulers, but are themselves subject to  the One who is over them all, the Lord Jesus who is the Head of the church.  Recognizing their place in the hierarchy of the administration of the body of  Christ prevents the gifted leader from succumbing to pride or a sense of  entitlement. The truly gifted Christian leader recognizes that he is but a slave  of Christ and a servant of those he leads. The Apostle Paul recognized this  position, referring to himself as a “servant of Christ Jesus” (Romans 1:1). Like Paul, the gifted leader recognizes that  God has called him to his position; he has not called himself (1 Corinthians 1:1).  Following Jesus’ example, the gifted leader also lives to serve those he leads,  and not to be served by them or lord it over them (Matthew  20:25-28).

James, the half-brother of the Lord Jesus, had the gift  of leadership, as he led the church in Jerusalem. He, too, referred to himself  as “a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ” (James 1:1).  James exhibited another quality of spiritual leadership—the ability to sway  others to think rightly, biblically, and godly in all matters. James persuaded  those in Jerusalem on the contentious issue of how to relate to Gentiles coming  to faith in Jesus the Messiah. “And after they had become silent, James  answered, saying, ‘Men and brethren, listen to me: Simon has declared how God at  the first visited the Gentiles to take out of them a people for His Name’” (Acts 15:13-14). With that  opening statement he led them to think clearly and biblically, enabling them to  come to a right decision on this issue (Acts  15:22-29).

As shepherds of God’s people, ruling with diligence  includes the ability to discern true spiritual needs from “felt” needs and to  lead others to maturity in the faith. He leads others to grow in their ability  to discern for themselves that which comes from God from that which is cultural  or temporary. Like Paul, his words are not “wise and persuasive” but are filled  with the power of the Holy Spirit, leading and encouraging others to rest their  faith on that very power (1  Corinthians 2:4-6). The goal of the gifted leader is to guard and guide  those he leads “until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the  knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of  the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians  4:13).

The spiritual gift of leadership is given by God to men and  women who will help the church to grow and thrive beyond the current generation.  God has given the gift of leadership not to exalt men, but to glorify Himself  when men and women use the gift He gave them to do His will.

There are several definitions for “spiritual leader” and the term brings to mind  different things to different people. Some think of a spiritual leader as a sort  of guru. Others think of him/her as a life coach, one who can guide others  through the problems and trials of life. The Bible describes a spiritual leader  as one who possesses the spiritual gift of  leadership, the ability to lead others as a direct result of the gifting  received from, and performed by the power of, the Holy Spirit.

The  biblical spiritual leader understands that his/her leadership is one of  servanthood. The spiritual leader leads by example, as Jesus did, who said He  came to serve others, not to be served by them (Matthew  20:25-28). The spiritual leader recognizes that he is first and foremost a  servant. Jesus modeled the true servant style of leadership, when He, the Lord  incarnate, bent down and washed the feet of His disciples, teaching them that  the true measure of a leader is one who first serves others (John 13:12-17).

The spiritual leader also recognizes that his role in the church is “to equip  the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:12), and he  concerns himself with doing just that. Spiritual leaders know that their main  task is to sanctify the people of God and their prayer is the same as Jesus’  prayer to the Father: “Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:17). Like Jesus, the  spiritual leader knows that the Word of God is the food of the soul and that it  alone sanctifies. Rather than acquiescing to the “felt needs” of the people he  leads, he shepherds others to maturity in the faith by speaking the truth in  love so that those he leads “will in all things grow up into him who is the  Head, that is, Christ” (Ephesians  4:15).

Finally, the spiritual leader is concerned with the souls of  those he leads. This is not to say that he cares nothing for the physical needs  of his people. But his primarily responsibility is leading them to spiritual  maturity so that they will be fully equipped and “no longer be infants, tossed  back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching  and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming” (Ephesians 4:14).