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Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age. Amen (Matthew 28:19-20).
There are some questions you don’t need to ask believers. One of those is whether they are a leader. God has called all His children to lead, and whether they know it or not, they are leading. Though we do it differently and have differing leadership gifts, the one common thread that weaves through the body of Christ is that every person is leading. I’m not suggesting that everyone is leading well, but that everyone is influencing someone.
The most basic idea of leadership is replication. Paul talked about this in 2 Timothy 2:2, “And what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men.” Christ said it differently, but the theme is the same. Jesus taught His disciples to be like Him, our primary objective for Christian leadership. Jesus identified a group of folks and trained them. Afterward, He died on the cross, rose from the grave, ascended to heaven, and left His disciples to carry out His missional strategies. His disciples then taught others to follow them as they followed Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1).
Jesus left behind a Christlike group of disciple-makers. There is more to biblical leadership than replicating your Christ-life into another person, but if there is not at least a replicating effect in your sphere of influence, you will hinder the purposes of God in succeeding generations. You and I must lead in such a way that it leaves the transformative effects of Christ on others. Any leadership activity that does not move a person toward Christ is not biblical leadership. No exceptions. Husbands must influence their wives to love Christ more. Wives should have a similar effect on their husbands. Parents impact children for Christ, as well as the kids motivating the parents to live for Christ.
Part of the reason all Christians are leaders is that God made the human family in His image, and God is a leader. We mirror His image (Ephesians 5:1), and Jesus gave us a perfect image of biblical leadership while He was on earth. I’m not talking about having “just any effect” on someone. We all can impact a life, good or bad, merely by being ourselves. My point here is an other-worldly, Spirit-empowered special gift of leadership given by God for the express purpose of replicating the Christ-life into another human being. That perspective is narrow in scope but redemptive in the outcome.
Christian leadership means the believer is on a mission from God, which is different from someone trying to influence others for self-serving purposes. God profoundly communicated this perspective to Jeremiah as He laid out the trajectory of his life: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations” (Jeremiah 1:5). It would be wrong to assume that every image-bearer will use his God-given gifting for redemptive purposes—millions of examples from the human family highlight the abuse of the privilege to lead others. Adolf Hitler had an extraordinary leadership gift and used it for vile and heinous purposes.
Biblical leadership is the purest form of proper leadership—the kind God intended. It is a person who uses their distinct leadership gift to lead people to a higher, better, deeper, and more passionate understanding of our Creator. You measure the results by how they export what their leader gave to them to others. A leader’s two essential methods for these aims are their example and expertise. To lead anyone well, you must be the most precise possible imitation of the person you want others to emulate. Secondarily, but just as important, are the skills you use to help a person to become Christlike. Your example provides a picture for them as you teach them with expertise how to follow you as you follow Christ.
Christian leaders are always on the prowl, identifying potential leaders whom they can train. The husband continuously thinks about his wife and how he can help her mature in Christ. She serves him similarly. The parents are identifying the uniqueness of their children and training them in how they should go. This type of training is as pneumatic as it is principled. Because each person is different, you do not “cookie-cutter” your training. It would be best to ask the Spirit to illuminate your mind with the insight needed to train a unique person in Christlikeness. Principally, you’re making character and capacity assessments and then sculpting a plan to help this individual grow into Christ.
Most Christians will only lead their spouses and children. That’s okay. Some may influence others, i.e., on the job or in the church. The scope or quantity of your influence should not be vital to you. The primary objective is to use what the Lord has given to you so that you can influence others within the network that you operate. Once you identify a potential leader—spouse, child, friend, etc.—you want to isolate that person and begin a practical discipleship process. Your approach is always a mixture of assessments, training, application, and more. You measure the results by how that person is influencing others. “What affect is this person having on others?” Though you may be caring for many people at the same time, you’re developing those who are the closest to you. Even a pastor must follow these guidelines. He could have hundreds of people in his church, but his first call is to lead and develop his wife and family. Everybody will receive a leader’s care, but the leader does not treat everyone equally.
Here are a few leadership concepts that universally apply to all of us. The pastor and the plumber can implement these truths within their spheres, hopefully impacting more future leaders for Christ. The stay-at-home mom and the corporate executive will benefit from these ideas too.
Presence, Not Perfection: Since all image-bearers are leaders, what you don’t want to do is assume that each person is a fully-actualized one. My point here is that you’re not looking for the perfection of a leadership gift in a person but the presence of it. Rarely do people come to you with a “perfected gift” of leadership. Who has perfected their leadership skills? Not me! Rather than focusing on where they fall short, you want to identify their strengths and help them mature. You’re looking for the gift, even in its most diminutive and undeveloped form. My daughter has a knack for leading, but she has not perfected it yet. It’s exciting and challenging to direct her path according to how God has gifted her. My job is to help her develop and grow this gift with a Godward orientation.
All Spouses Are Leaders: I’ve made this case already, but it needs its own space; if you are married, you are a leader. Your gift might not be as pronounced as the most exceptional leader you know, but you are still a leader. God has called you to lead your spouse. If you have children, He has called you to lead them too. A spouse and parent’s responsibility is to lead their family to the fullness God intends them to be.
Leadership Is Consistent: A true leader is consistent in their leadership endeavors. This idea means they are not just leaders at the office. If they lead at the office but do not lead at home, they are abusing their gift by not bringing glory to God or serving their family. This kind of compartmentalized leadership points to a character flaw. The leader should confess this sin to God and the “affected others,” and a repentance process must ensue.
Character Is Most Vital: Perhaps you have heard of someone getting a job because of their ability, but you knew there were character flaws in the person. This approach to hiring staff in the church happens regularly. In many cases, the hire proves to be a relational disaster. Having Liberace as your piano player at church may create a joyful noise, but it will devastate the church. If a person’s “public gifting” is the primary criterion for hiring or promotion, disappointment will follow.
Leadership in Dating: Take note of what your boyfriend does with you during your dating season. I have written about how Sex before Marriage Is the Beginning of a Trail of Tears. If he is not leading you spiritually before you are married, things won’t be any different after you tie the knot. Some people will dichotomize dating from future marriage. They see dating as a time for fun and their future marriage as a time for responsibility. These immature girls will assess their boyfriends on how much fun they have rather than how responsible he is. Boys will make similar mistakes. They like her for her looks or how she makes them feel. Any relationship that has “what’s in it for me” as the main thing will not end well. Their character, good or bad, will set a trajectory in your life that will reap a fruitful harvest or many bitter herbs.
Don’t Compare Yourself: You’re not Paul, the great apostle to the Gentiles. Don’t sweat it. There was only one apostle Paul, and he had a pronounced leadership gift. Perhaps you have someone else in your sightlines with whom you’re comparing yourself. Don’t be naive or immature. It does not serve you to compare yourself to anyone unless you’re squaring yourself up to Jesus. The better question is, how are you honoring God with what He has given you?
Rick launched the Life Over Coffee global training network in 2008 to bring hope and help for you and others by creating resources that spark conversations for transformation. His primary responsibilities are resource creation and leadership development, which he does through speaking, writing, podcasting, and educating.
In 1990 he earned a BA in Theology and, in 1991, a BS in Education. In 1993, he received his ordination into Christian ministry, and in 2000 he graduated with an MA in Counseling from The Master’s University. In 2006 he was recognized as a Fellow of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC).