What the Bible says about leadership

Jennifer DeWeil

You see the signs. You hear the ads. You read the papers. And yet, you’re still confused. Is this really what leadership should look like?

Too often, our leaders’ actions leave us wondering if being a great leader is even possible. Is “great leader” just another oxymoron?

Whether you find yourself confused by the actions of those in charge or coming into in a new leadership position yourself, the Bible is full of insight about the kind of leaders God calls us to be and the responsibilities we have even when we’re not in charge. 

Five Facts About Leadership

1. A leader honors and submits to God’s authority. 

From Genesis to Revelation, the Bible contrasts leaders who honor God by loving Him and doing what He said with those who chose to honor themselves by doing what they thought was best. People prospered under leaders who honored God and sought after Him, but were oppressed by leaders who did not. 

The first two commandments God gave His people were that we should have no other gods before Him and we should not make any image that we worship before Him (Exodus 20:3-4). The idols we worship today are more likely to be people than statues. We revere and honor those in leadership roles — sometimes more than we revere and honor the Lord. 

With leadership often comes recognition. And with recognition comes the temptation to put ourselves or our positions before God. If we’re not careful, we can worship the position instead of the One who promoted us to that position. 

2. A leader serves. 

We can learn so much about the qualities and characteristics of a leader by studying the greatest leader, Jesus. In Matthew 20:25-28, Jesus tells His disciples that leaders should not exercise authority over people. Instead, whoever wants to become great must lower himself to be a servant. Leaders realize that serving others is the only way to lead with a pure heart, free of pride and arrogance.  

3. A leader knows and cares for their people. 

Imagine what an impact it would make if the CEO or president of your company walked up to you, called you by name, and asked a genuine question of care concerning your family? That’s the kind of leader Peter, one of Jesus’ followers, describes in 1 Peter 5:1-5. Peter reminds us that leaders should be like shepherds, caring for and watching over the group of people they’ve been entrusted with. 

This reference to shepherds may not mean a lot to us today, but it’s a perfect description of the kind of leader God calls us to be. A shepherd knew the sheep in his flock. He named them and cared for them, inspecting their health and teaching them his voice. If a sheep wandered away, the shepherd didn’t forget about it or hoped it would come back. He went to it, found it, and brought it back to the flock. 

Likewise, a leader should know his people. He should speak to them regularly, ask genuine questions to care for them, and do all he can to serve his team. 

4. A leader can be any age. 

Have you ever been in a conversation with a child or teenager when they said something that convicted your heart or made you think twice about your actions? I know I have. 

The first thing that filled my mind was, “Who do they think they are? They’re just a child!” But true wisdom knows no age limits. In 1 Timothy 4:12, Paul tells the young pastor, “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, and in purity.” 

5. A leader is someone you want to follow. 

In a paraphrase of Proverbs 29:2, The Message says, “When good people run things, everyone is glad, but when the ruler is bad, everyone groans.” From the leader of your friend group in high school to the owner of the company you work for, you can feel the excitement and hope for progress when the leader is someone you want to follow. 

But what do you do when that’s not the case? How are you supposed to respond when your leadership is the total opposite of the godly leader outline in the Bible? 

If You Have Nothing Good to Say, Pray!

When you have been hurt or burned by a leader, it’s much easier to gripe, complain, or gossip than it is to take your concern to God and leave it with Him. 

In 1 Timothy 2, Paul tells us to pray “for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.” This wasn’t just some “pie in the sky” way of thinking. Paul wrote these words under one of the harshest rulers in history, Nero — much worse than any leader we’ve faced today. 

Your example is contagious to those around you.

We can pray for our leaders to have wisdom, to be able to discern what is best for the people they are leading, and for unity within the organization they lead. Don’t use your words to tear down or degrade your leader, but lift them up to the only One who can help the situation. 

When the world leaves us confused and questioning, turning to God’s Word helps us know fact from fiction. The area of leadership is no exception. 

You may not see too many examples of godly leadership to imitate, but you can go first! You can lead as Christ would lead and allow your example to be contagious to those around you. Be a leader who honors and submits to God’s authority; serves, knows, and cares for others; and is someone others want to follow. 

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