I have come to the conclusion that sustaining a lifelong trajectory of leadership growth is one of life’s most challenging and interesting endeavors. As children, we grow physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually without a great deal of thought. As teenagers and young adults we begin to chafe against some of the growth that is thrust upon us. In our twenties, the realities of sustaining an adult life and the associated responsibilities force us into a growth posture that is often sustained deep into our thirties. All of this to say that, for most of us, a great deal of our growth in the first half of life is thrust upon us by other people and outside circumstances. Sadly, the extrinsically motivated nature of our early growth journey does not prepare us adequately for a sustained developmental trajectory in the second half of life.
Within our American culture and in this time in history a phenomenon has appeared that we have come to know as “midlife crisis.” For many this phenomenon has a direct correlation to a plateau in their developmental journey. Research conducted by Gallup suggests that “workers aged 30 to 64 are less likely to be engaged at work than are those who are younger or older.” Undoubtedly there are complex reasons for this discovery in the research by Gallup, but one possibility may be that middle age workers find it difficult to make a successful transition to intrinsically motivated development that is necessary for successful personal leadership development in the second half of life. This challenge to embrace internal motivation may undermine the ability to engage deeply in meaningful work. I have observed that this lack of engagement also occurs in church leadership, often for the same reasons we have described above.
Biblical Leadership Growth
As Christ followers, we must consistently turn our eyes toward the divinely inspired measure of true leadership. In the scope of the Biblical narrative, there are significant models and patterns for leadership that honor the heart and purposes of God. While this article will not allow for an exhaustive exploration of leadership within the Bible, we can take the time to extract several foundational leadership characteristics from the text.
Vision – One particular character within the Biblical account offer us significant insight into the pattern and practice of spiritual vision development and deployment. In Genesis chapter 6 we find a Biblical account that introduces us to a man named Noah. In this passage we find God growing in his displeasure over the trajectory of humanity and conceiving a plan (vision) to address the problem. In Genesis 6:8 we are told, “But Noah found favor in the sight of the LORD.” Additionally, we are told in the next verse that “Noah walked with God.” God breathed his vision into the heart of a receptive Noah who subsequently shifted the entire trajectory of his life to embrace this vision.
"As Christ followers, we must consistently turn our eyes toward the divinely inspired measure of true leadership."
Armed with the information in these verses and observing the subsequent story that develops we can draw several interesting conclusions about the development and deployment of spiritual vision. First, we can observe that vision is born in the heart of God. Second, we can note that God deploys his vision into the heart and mind of a man or woman who “walks with God.” Thirdly, we find that acting on a spiritually birthed vision requires an extended journey of faith-filled obedience.
We can observe that a primary vision distinctive between spiritual leaders and secular leaders is the origin of leadership vision. For those committed to spiritual leadership there is a fundamental reality and challenge that vision is not originated in our humanity, but rather it is conceived in the heart of God. This reality leads us to a second distinctive of Biblical leadership.
Intimacy with God – The Biblical text bears consistent witness that there is one spiritual leadership trait that supersedes and precedes all others. This trait was found in all of the significant leaders of the Bible. What did Abraham (Gen.17), Noah (Gen.6), Jacob (Gen.32), Nehemiah (Neh. 1-12), Elijah (1 Kings 17,18), Samuel (1 Samuel 3), Moses (Exod. 3), Joshua (Deut 31:23), David (1 Samuel 16), Joseph (Gen 39:21), Daniel (Daniel 1), Jesus (Matt. 3:17), Peter (John 21:15), John (John 21:7), and Paul (Acts 9:4) have in common? In every case, these leaders were defined primarily by the depth and intimacy of their relationship with God. Undergirding effective spiritual leadership is the capacity to know when God is communicating to our mind, heart, and spirit, differentiating His direction from our own emotions and desires. For the modern Biblical leader; there is no more important facet of leadership than the understanding and application of a lifelong pattern of intimacy with God.
Servant Leadership – One of the most compelling and impactful external traits of Biblical leadership, is the posture taken toward those who are being led. Human nature tends to lend itself toward, and celebrate an authoritarian style of leadership. In sharp contrast to this human inclination is the example of Jesus in John 13. In this particular passage we are told that “Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands and that he had come from God and was going to God, 4 got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. 5 Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him.” Jesus, in action and word, exemplified a leadership that is focused on the care and development of those who were his followers. This example from the history’s greatest leader informs the posture and activity of those who purport to be Biblical leaders and is the single greatest external evidence of Biblical leadership.
"For the modern Biblical leader; there is no more important facet of leadership than the understanding and application of a lifelong pattern of intimacy with God."
In addition to the three characteristics that I consider the “big three” of Biblical leadership we find several additional characteristics of Biblical leaders in 1st Timothy. In these writings we find several qualifications for church leaders (3:1-13 above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money) and the spiritual disciplines of a church leaders (1:18,19; 4:6-16 discipline, diligence, set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity) as guiding principles for those aspiring to spiritual leadership.
Clear, passionate leadership is extraordinarily challenging to sustain in church work. Pastoring is often a series firefighting activities that make it increasingly hard to measure progress. Despite that reality, I would invite each of you to consider your leadership, exploring its effectiveness and considering its alignment to the biblical measure of success. As always, I remain your partner in this journey and am praying for your success on behalf of the Kingdom.
Director of Leadership Development