5 Characteristics of a Godly Leader

by Adam McClendon May 23, 2017

What is leadership? Well, definitions abound, but in general, we see that leadership is about influencing people and taking them, their organization, or their processes from one place to a different place for a designated purpose. Leadership skills are important to all areas of life and without it, we tend to stay stuck in one place without advancement, without improvement, and without hope.

However, we must also understand that all leadership is not created equal.

One can also influence others through negative means or for negative purposes. Sometimes we make the mistake of thinking someone is not a leader simply because their methods or outcomes don't mesh with our personal value systems. This perception is simply not the case. Leadership in the generic sense is simply about change without the imposition of morality. Therefore, as we talk about the need for leadership in the church, it is important that we do not simply talk about leadership in a way that merely emphasizes competence and results, but we also talk about biblical character and biblical methods.

May I suggest that what the church needs today is not more leaders, but more godly leaders?

Below, at the broadest of levels, I want to provide five of the basic characteristics of a godly leader. Hopefully, this list not only helps as we evaluate our own leadership, but also the leadership of others within the church.

A godly leader focuses on a cause bigger than him/herself.

What do I mean by this? Personal benefit is not a godly leader’s sole motivation. Certainly, we want to benefit personally from our own efforts. The Bible even leverages this natural desire of self-benefit, but presses us to go beyond our egocentric tendencies. For example, “For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Gal 5:14).

A godly leader wants others to benefit from what they do. Let’s use marriage as an example. Why should a godly man want to be a good husband? Generally speaking, being a good husband will make his own life better, but he will also want to honor God and see his wife flourish and grow in God. That’s the point Paul presents in Ephesians 5:25-26: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word…” (see also vv. 28, 29). Notice that part of the role of a godly husband is that his wife is holier as a result of his presence.

Godly leaders are committed to using their gifts, intellect, talents, and passions to make others great, lift others up, bless others, and transform others. This approach to leadership takes great humility and goes against many of our natural tendencies. The enemy of the people of God does not want us to lead with such a perspective. Rather, he persistently temps leaders to leverage their leadership for the idols of wealth and power. Often, this subtle temptation slowly takes over undetected like a small gas leak until disaster hits. Wealth and power are bad primary motivations and horrible taskmasters seeking to bring ruin (1 Tim 6:6–10).

A godly leader must live for a cause greater than him or herself, and the Bible reveals that the ultimate focus any leader can have is to glorify Jesus and lead in obedience to his prompting in our life. Colossians 3:17: “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” 

A godly leader does everything with excellence for the glory of God.

Like in Colossians 3:17, Paul reiterates this principle in 1 Corinthians 10:31: “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” We’ve all heard it said, “If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right.” Godly leaders seek to do things with excellence because they know they serve the Lord, even when doing the smallest of tasks. This idea of excellent service entails the leader seeking to avoid doing the wrong things, while committing to do the right things the right way.

A godly leader thinks about how his/her actions influences others.

Leaders leave an impression and that impression impacts other people. Godly leaders understand that what they do reflects upon the God they represent. Godly leaders understand that they have a responsibility beyond congregants and shareholders to think about how their actions, tweets, posts, blogs, and words impact and influence the broader constituency around them. The Apostle Paul realized this when he wrote to the Corinthian church: “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Cor 11:1).

A godly leader is a lifelong learner.

The Apostle Paul understood that so long as the Lord had him on this earth, the Lord had a purpose for him. Even as Paul prepared to die, he wrote to Timothy and requested for him to come and visit and bring a few things: “When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, and my scrolls, especially the parchments” (2 Tim 4:13). Paul, in the twilight of his ministry and his life, was still reading, still studying, and still growing. A godly leader is always growing and always looking for the best way to do something. A good leader is always looking for truth and wisdom.

A godly leader takes care of his or her body.

A godly leader cannot lead if he or she is not present. We need to take care of ourselves. What we eat and the way we live impacts our energy, strength, mental processes, and ability to lead. Paul’s writings again are instructive here, “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for God’s temple is sacred, and you together are that temple” (1 Cor 3:16–17).

We need to take care of our bodies. We need to eat in a moderately healthy fashion. We need to exercise regularly, and get appropriate amounts of sleep to be ready to do the work that God has for us the coming day. Our bodies are important. There is a reason we will have a resurrected body one day and not just exist in the heavenly Kingdom as incorporeal souls. Just as we would not intentionally do something to hurt anyone else’s body, a godly leader understands his/her responsibility to take care of his/her own body.