Lessons from 1 Timothy for Modern Leaders

Leadership requires Clarity regarding your Non-Negotiables

Timothy, living and leading in one of the greatest urban centers of his time, faced a constant stream of opinions and perspectives about life, leadership and God. In this way, modern leaders can resonate deeply with Timothy for they face a torrent of perspectives relating to the values they should hold and the ethics that should guide their leadership. In Timothy’s day it was the latest teacher or religious practitioner, in modernity it is the latest blog, podcast, seminar, tweet, Instagram or Facebook post. Leaders of every century face the difficulty of finding and sustaining personal clarity.

Paul, leveraging the wisdom of years of leadership, encouraged Timothy to stand fast in what he knew was right.  Paul understood that a leader cannot offer effective leadership to others in the absence of personal clarity. This wise older leader extends a reminder, “ Timothy, my son, I give you this instruction in keeping with the prophecies once made about you, so that by following them you may fight the good fight,  holding on to faith and a good conscience” (1 Ti 1:18–19). Inner ethical clarity and a persistent discipline of living a life centered on that clarity is the foundation of true leadership. Covey (1991) reminds us that, “Those striving to be principle-centered see life as a mission, not as a career.” (p.34) Leaders who live with values in place, discover that by keeping internal promises made to themselves (ethics and values) will build a growing self-confidence based on their capacity to be trustworthy in the places where nobody can see. This internal trustworthiness inevitably becomes the foundation for an external trustworthiness that others call character.

Leadership begins with an Internal Transformation

All great leadership is first built in the internal spaces of our lives. Spiritual leaders understand that the internal transformation necessary for deeply ethical leadership is catalyzed and empowered by the presence of God in our hearts. Paul reminded Timothy that, “Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief.  The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus”. (1 Ti 1:13–14)

Modern leaders must remember that trainings, seminars, certifications and even degrees can never accomplish the internal work necessary for truly ethical leadership. This important internal journey germinates in the fertile soil of humility, is nurtured into strength by the presence of the Holy Spirit and only emerges into the exterior of our life after long hours of internal discipline.

All Leadership is Expressed in Relationships with Others

While all leadership begins in the fertile soil of our hearts, its fruit is not fully formed or enjoyed until leadership is deployed into the relationships for which it was formed. Self-leadership is the training wheels for leading others. Paul suggests that the most effective expression of leadership fruit can be observed as a leader who is, “temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect.” (1 Ti 3:2–5)

Modern leaders express the most important aspects of their ethics and values in leadership as they engage in the relationships of leadership. For leaders, it is those that they lead and are led by that offer the most accurate expression of leadership impact and are the most direct reflection of the ethics and values that drive a leader.


The heart of leadership and the fundamentals which make it successful have not changed in the millennia which separate the earliest Christian leaders from those who lead in the modern era. Contexts have changed and technology has advanced but the human component of leadership remains the same.

·         Leaders still require deep clarity on the non-negotiables that will drive their life and leadership.

·         Leadership always begins with the self-leadership decisions that nobody sees.

·         Leadership is most fully expressed as we engage the relationships that God puts around us.

For these very issues, Paul wrote to his friend Timothy reminding him of the foundations necessary for the work that God called him. The mentorship displayed in 1 Timothy 1-3 has borne generations of fruit, crossing the divide of time and reaching into our lives, still bearing the fruit that God planted in the heart of Paul so many years ago.

Dan Scarrow, Director of Leadership Development