The Heart of Leadership

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Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life. By deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such wisdom does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil. For where you have envy and selfish ambition there you find disorder and every evil practice. But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure, then peaceloving, considerate, submissive and full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness (Jas. 3:13-18).

Leadership is dangerous. This is true of leadership in the church, or leadership in the house as a father, leadership in the home as a husband, or leadership in the world as an employer, or leadership anywhere. Any kind of leadership has many dangers accompanying it.

The central danger that accompanies every form of leadership is pride. We have the clear teaching of the Scriptures that leadership in the body of Christ is to be completely different from worldly leadership. Jesus said that the Gentiles lord it over one another. Christians are not to be like that. The greatest is to be the servant. In the upper room Jesus knelt and washed the disciples’ feet. He said, You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you should wash one another’s feet (John 13:13-14).
Who is wise and understanding among you? Should he strive to make it to the top? What kind of wisdom is that? That kind of wisdom is not heavenly but earthly, unspiritual, and of the devil.

The point to be made here is that Christian leadership is not the sort of thing that you can be ambitious about. You may aspire to leadership as Paul says to Timothy. You may desire to be in a position of leadership. You may desire to take a wife and be her head as the Lord is head over the church. You may desire such things, but if you have any form of selfihs ambition, any desire to lord it over anyone, you have completely misunderstood what Christian leadership is. It is not the sort of thing you can be ambitious about.


“Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.” A person cannot be a Christian leaders in any area of life unless he is primarily a servant. Not a servant in name, but a genuine servant. The fact that he is a servant does not diminish the authority that he has. It increases that authority. Psalm 23 states, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures.” That initial phrase is striking. The Lord is my shepherd. Who is the absolute and total master of the sheep? The shepherd. What grass to they eat? The grass he takes them to. What water do they drink? The water he takes them to. Who protects them from the wolf? He does. He controls their fate totally and completely. He is their Lord and master.

But who is the absolute servant of the sheep? Teh shepherd. Who waits on them? Who takes them to the grass they eat? Who takes them to the water they drink? Who provides everything for them? The shepherd. The Lord is my shepherd. So you have a servant who is a King. You have a King who is a servant. You have a Master who is a shepherd. You have a shepherd who is Master.

We see this attitude in God Himself. The Lord is not the sort of person who says, “No, I’m sorry. I just sit on the throne and give orders.” That is not the kind of leadership that we have in God. We do not have an arrogant, proud leadership from the throne room. We have someone who is willing to shepherd. We have someone who is absolute Master, absolute Lord, and yet servanthood is at the very heart of His Lordship.

We see this same truth in 1 Thessalonians. Here we see the attitude in Paul: As apostles of Christ we could have been a burden to you. But we were gentle among you like a mother caring for her little children. We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us. Surely you remember, brothers, our toil and hardship; we worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone whil we preached the gospel of God to you. You are witnesses and so is God, of how holy, righteous, and blameless we were among you who believed. For you know we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God who calls you into His kingdom and glory (1 Thess. 2:7-12).

There are two things to point out in this passage. One is the comparison of a mother caring for her little children. The other refers to a father dealing with his own children: encouraging, comforting, urging them. The same point is being hammered home. Just as the shepherd is the Lord over the sheep, and yet is the servant of the sheep, so it is with a mother. This is something I have thought of while watching my wife with our children. She is in charge. She runs the show. She is, on a day to day basis, lord of our little ones. And yet, who is the servant of our little ones? She is. Every need that they have she meets. She waits on them. This does not change the nature of authority. The authority is very much there. But it is only a good authority if the servant aspect is also there. If you have authority with a servant’s heart you have the right balance of biblical qualities. If you have authority in the sense of “you serve me; you wait on me” then you have got a distortion of biblical authority. You must have a servant’s heart at the center of that authority.

This is the first in a series on Christian principles of leadership.

This article originally ran in the summer of 1985 in The Hammer (Vol. 4, No. 2), a publication of Community Christian Ministries.

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