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In the coming months, Laurie and I will be traveling to a foreign country to teach a group of pastors. One of the topics that will be addressed is leadership. I will tell these dedicated men that they should be very wary of—and even reject—many things that pastors and leaders from the West have taught them.

Please allow me to explain.

To allay any fears the reader may have, what I won’t be doing is criticizing the brothers who have traveled to this country with their digital folders overflowing with what is called “leadership principles.” These are men with hearts for the Lord and are endeavoring to instruct others what they think is good and helpful. Unfortunately—sadly—many of the “leadership principles” that they have taught contain little about biblical leadership. If moral teaching is involved concerning what a leader is, well, then, yes—they have done what is good and true. However, when we come to such topics as 14 Traits of Effective Church Leadership or 20 Characteristics of a Successful Leader,” we have strayed off the mark. What mark is that?

The biblical mark.

Before we proceed, I call your attention to the words “effective” and “successful” in the titles above. What is meant by these two words? Both spin within the galaxy of numerical church growth. Biblically, “successfully” and “effectively” growing and bearing fruit have nothing whatsoever with numerical growth informed by leadership principles. Growth, as Paul told us in 1 Corinthians, comes from God alone. Many of us live in an evangelical world where churches are just not up to snuff if they aren’t growing. The meme: A healthy church is a growing church. Thus, pastors are shepherds no longer. They are corporate leaders who run organizations which must “succeed” and be “effective” according to measures of the world, not of the Bible.

If you are skeptical about my claims, I invite you to peruse the New Testament to discover what biblical leadership is. What did these people do as leaders? How did they lead? And if you want to get down to the core of leadership, consider Jesus, our example. Was He a leader? How did He lead? Would He be a leader today?

In light of that inquiry, let’s look at one of Jesus’ commandments concerning leadership. When James and John approached Jesus and wanted to sit next to Him, ruling in His glory, Jesus replied:

“You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:42–45).1

This event is included in all three gospels. Luke added the characteristic of becoming “as the youngest” to be leader: “But not so with you. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves” (Luke 22:26).

It is right and proper, don’t you think, that we as Christians should ask the following questions?: “Do I as a pastor or a person in a position of authority, lead like a slave?  Like the youngest among us?” If not, why not?”

Secondly, “Do I lead like the Gentiles, exercising authority over others?” “Why?”

These are questions we as a group of pastors will be considering. They are very poor and perhaps have not been infected with church “success” and “leadership effectiveness” but rather have managed to emphasize fruitfulness and discipleship. We will look at Jesus, our example of leadership, who said, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” That “for even” indicates that if even Immanuel, God Almighty in the flesh, led like this, serving to the point of the sacrifice of His life, not as one exercising authority over others, it is obvious that we should, too.

You are invited to check out my book, Leadership on the Brink: The Church’s Confrontation with God’s Word, in which the topic of biblical leadership is addressed in depth.


1All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

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