The primary calling of the biblical leader is to know and love Christ. It is our foremost passion (Philippians 3:10). Indeed, to be a leader is to be an authentic disciple of Jesus. Biblical leadership means for leaders to first encounter the power of Christ and then express the power of Christ. The apostle Paul summarized this thought when he said, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (Philippians 4:9). Paul implies that effective, Christ-honoring leadership is not first about leading, but about following.
If biblical leaders are called to give Christ to others (as they certainly are), then they as leaders must follow him, love him, and serve him first. You cannot give to others what you do not possess. Indeed, we are called to behold for ourselves the glory of God and then to reflect it to others. This is to lead!
Because this is true, as one grows as a believer, one has the potential to grow as a leader. In truth, we do not grow as biblical leaders unless we grow spiritually. This means the process of sanctification and the process of leader development go hand in hand. They are concurrent, inextricably tied, and they affect each other significantly. For example, as we grow into Christlikeness, the traits associated with such development—humility, submission, confession, followership, trust in God, and the rest—all create a capacity within us to be used by the Father as leaders. God is able to empower and employ someone fully submitted to him!
Likewise, the desire for holiness creates a humble, teachable, and willing person, characteristics necessary for potential leaders to learn leadership competencies that do not come naturally, or to continue to learn and grow through trial and conflict. Personal holiness defies prideful leadership.
At the same time, God uses leadership, with its associated callings and challenges, as tools to make us more Christlike. In fact, the things that are a part of the function of leadership—perhaps most especially the difficult things—become the very instruments used by God to grow us in faith and holiness. In this sense, leadership accomplishes a godly purpose within the leader, not simply one through him or her. The challenges of leadership get us out of our comfort zone, create disequilibrium, and cause us to question the adequacy of our own skills. These circumstances lead to faith in Christ rather than in self. Indeed, the God who seeks to do a work through us is he who seeks to do a work in us. This we find true for every leader mentioned in the Bible.
As J. Oswald Sanders stated,
It has been said that in achieving His world-purpose, God’s method has always been a man. Not necessarily a noble man, or a brilliant man, but always a man with capacity for a growing faith. Granted this, there appears to be no limit to the pains God is willing to take in his training. He is limited by neither heredity nor environment.[*]
Consequently, biblical leadership—being able to be powerfully used by God to influence others for his glory—is not primarily about a leader’s ability. Rather, it is about his or her availability to God—the willingness to grow in God and follow Christ fully. It is our capacity for a growing faith that determines the quality of biblical leadership.
The disciples may have not been the sharpest of people. They certainly were neither the most educated nor the most externally qualified. They did one thing, however, that many in their day didn’t. They said yes to Jesus. They followed Christ when he called and joined him on a journey of transformation.
Leaders today similarly say to God, “I’m willing. The answer is yes. Now God, what is the question?”
[i] J. Oswald Sanders, Robust in Faith. Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1965. 9.