Twenty years ago I had just completed what I have come to consider one of the most valuable courses of my academic career: Leadership in the Christian Community. It was a course jam packed with valuable, practical skills and countless conversations around how leadership in the corporate culture both overlapped and differed from leadership in our local Christian communities. A key theme in all of class sessions, assignments, and discussions was that of discipleship. The professor argued, consistently, that no single ministry should be dependent on any one human person. If we were doing what we are called to do, making disciples, we should always be training up the next person, the next generation. If we were suddenly gone for any reason, the ministry we are in charge of should be able to not only survive, but flourish with relatively few issues because the people we would leave behind would be confident in their ability to carry it forward in our absence.
If you have been keeping track, you know we have only one gift left to talk about. The gift of leadership. It is listed in Romans 12:8, between the gifts of giving and mercy. Its placement isn’t an accident. Its placement is telling us that this gift is directly associated with care for others. In Greek, the word used here for leadership is proistemi which means to lead, to assist, to protect and to care for others. Personally, those generally are not some of the first words that come to mind to describe what leadership looks like. Instead, words like take charge, mobilize, direct, and boss. It’s a classic example of the difference between what leadership is all about in the secular world and what leadership is all about in Christian communities.
When we are talking about the spiritual gift of leadership, we are talking about the ability to care for God’s people and lead them into a deeper relationship with Christ. Their success is not measured by numbers on charts but by how the people they are called to lead, as individuals and as a group, mature in their faith. A spiritually gifted leader doesn’t lead from afar, from behind desks looking at reports, but they lead through the relationships they build with those they are leading. Much like a master invites his apprentice to work alongside him so the apprentice can learn by doing, so do spiritual leaders invite those they are called to disciple to get involved in the work they are doing so their wisdom, knowledge, and skill might be passed on to the next generation.
One of the most important traits of someone who has the spiritual gift of leadership is that they understand they are not ultimately the one in control. Everything they do points to the power and sovereignty of God. They do not need or seek applause or accolades for themselves because they know that is only by God’s grace alone they are able to be a good leader. This also enables them to gladly step aside and let those they have worked with have a chance to test their wings. They don’t mourn the lost chance to be the center of attention but celebrate a new leader seeking God’s direction in new steps forward. They are the new leader’s main support and source of encouragement all while they take steps to fade into the background.
It can be easy to look at someone who is clearly a gifted leader and desire the gift of leadership for yourself. There are a lot of great qualities a good Christian leader possesses. Perhaps you admire their ability to speak to a group of people or maybe you wish you inspire others to do the work of Christ with the same enthusiasm and commitment as others seem to be able to. But those with the gift of leadership also find themselves with a heavy responsibility to use their gift as God intended for them to use it. Hebrews 13 talks about how leaders are those who will be called to give an account not only for their life but for those who they were called to lead. In 1 Timothy 5:17-21, Paul does instruct his readers to give respect and honor to those in leadership roles but also states that leaders who are sinning should be publicly rebuked as an example to everyone else.
A final point to remember is there are many ways the gift of leadership can be expressed within the Christian community. Some of the differences will be based on a person’s personality while others will be based on their skill set. Still other differences will be defined by the circumstances one in which one finds themselves being called to lead. We cannot assume someone does not have the gift of leadership simply because they don’t have a title or are not comfortable speaking in front of large groups. Remember, the key part about the gift of leadership is being able to lead people to accomplish a vision or mission given by the Holy Spirit.
Jesus does provide a great example of what leadership is supposed to look like in our churches. But be aware that it is easy to gravitate towards the examples which most closely resemble your assumptions, personality, and bias. When you looking to Jesus as an example of leadership, be sure you are balancing the righteous anger and flipping of tables in the temple with the deep compassion for the woman caught in adultery. Consider equally the teaching and preaching to the crowds with the time spent teaching just the disciples. Appreciate both the scholar who knows the Jewish Scriptures by heart and the guy who could teach and speak in such a way that even children understood the truth he spoke.
- Consider the leaders in your life. In what ways do they measure up the example of Jesus and in what ways do they fall short?
- In what ways are leaders different in the business world? Education? Politics? The Church? In what ways should leadership in these different parts of our lives be different? In what ways should they be more similar?
- Scripture tells us that leaders are held to a higher standard. This is because when they abuse their power, the potential for damage to other’s faith and mental health is so great. If you in a place where you are processing the after effects of abusive or toxic leadership, I want to encourage you to consider Christianity Today’s podcast “The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill.” Using the story of Mars Hill Church based in Seattle, Washington, it examines how Christian leaders too often give into the temptations of power and influence leaving a complex web of emotions and deep impacts on faith and belief in the wake of their collapse.
- From gotquestions.org "What is the Spiritual Gift of Leadership?"
- From Assessme.org "Grace Gifts: Spiritual Gift of Leadership"
- From SpiritualGiftsTest.com "Spiritual Gift of Leadership"