True leadership is achieved through character. Therefore it is important to understand that leadership is not achieved through a title, position, or qualification. This is exemplified whenever the Bible comes to speak of leaders in the Christian community it is not concerned with their title, position, or qualification granted by society (or others). Rather, the Bible is concerned about character.
The most pertinent passages concerned with leaders in the Christian community were written by a man called Paul, to two young men (Timothy and Titus) who were charged with putting leaders in place in new congregations of Christians. Paul tells them to look for men who have particular characteristics: faithfulness, self-control, respected, able to teach, gentleness, dignity, hospitable, humble, generosity, discipline and above accusation. These lists can be found in 1 Timothy 3:1-13 and Titus 1:5-9. However, throughout the Bible Christian men are called to be leaders in a variety of circumstances, and so there are many more characteristics which are required of leaders.
We will consider just six broad characteristics of a true leader.
A leader is someone who must make difficult decisions, must bear responsibility for those decisions and in the end face the consequences of those decisions. Therefore, if a man seeks to be a true leader he must be courageous. This is a characteristic exemplified in the Bible – Moses courageously pleaded with God to spare Israel when they sinned against him (Ex. 32:11-14) and David courageously tackled Goliath for blaspheming Israel’s God (1 Samuel 17).
It must be noted, however, that courage is not carelessness. Courage is a calculated confidence to tackle an otherwise painful, difficult or intimidating circumstance. It is the strength to make difficult decisions and both bear the responsibility and consequences of those decisions. Sometimes this will require leaders to say, ‘No’. Other times it will require leaders to face the circumstances they find themselves in instead of running away. But, it also gives the opportunity to dream for the future, plan for change and embrace the twists and turns of life.
Since true leadership is found in character and not ability, it is something which can be worked at and bettered. This work is not easy, and so to be a true leader one must be diligent. Character is not developed overnight, nor is it inherited from parents or grandparents. Family, friends and culture certainly have a role to play regarding the values we are taught – but character can be gained or lost despite the values we have been taught.
Gaining and developing this character is difficult though and therefore requires a diligence, a persistent grafting towards particular characteristics. Two Bible characters who stand out for their diligence are Joseph and Daniel. Both men found themselves living in foreign countries, surrounded by difficult circumstances, harsh threats and many temptations. But, they were diligent, persistently working hard to remain pure, godly and leaders of those around them. In fact, in the countries they found themselves in they soon found themselves at the top of the government because of their diligence.
No matter where we find ourselves, we will not be leaders unless we are diligent.
Bad leaders want to do everything themselves – they must be the centre of attention, in the middle of all that is happening, the one to give final decisions on each and every detail and really someone who is doing too many things.
On the other hand good leaders have numerous people working toward the goal that they have communicated to and implanted in them. They have people responsible for different areas of the work, people capable of making smaller decisions, and people doing things they can’t do themselves. True leaders are able to delegate aspects of their responsibilities to other capable people.
The Bible tells us that the church is made up of many individuals all with different skills (Rom. 12:4-8; 1 Cor. 12:12-31). None of us are capable of doing everything; true leaders recognise this and are able and willing to bring others along with them, giving them responsibility, to help to achieve the goal.
There is little that is as destructive as pride, arrogance and a refusal to admit to being wrong. People who are willing to acknowledge their error are people who will learn, develop and change. Leaders are people who must be capable of learning, developing and changing over time. Good leaders are not content to rest on their laurels, they desire to grow and mature in their leadership.
The Bible teaches us ‘Let the wise hear and increase in their learning, and the one who understands obtain guidance’ (Proverbs 1:5). Don’t be afraid of looking weak or silly by asking someone to help you or give advice. Further, leaders are not perfect and so won’t always get it right. Therefore, don’t be afraid to admit your wrongdoing, or to ask for forgiveness when you get it wrong. To be a true leader we must be humble.
A famous saying reads, ‘patience is a virtue, possess it if you can, seldom in a woman, never in a man.’
Men can be quick-tempered and impatient. They want things done their way, in their timing and to their liking. Bad leaders think like this – it is their way or no way, their timing or no timing, to their liking or not at all. However, the good leader (showing humility and a willingness to delegate) understands that everything does not need to be done their way.
In addition, it can take people time to come to terms with your ideas, plans and leadership.
It is so very important that leaders show patience toward those who follow them and those they are responsible for. Leaders are not given to rule and reign in a domineering way (not in the Christian community anyway). Rather they are given to care for, protect and cultivate those in their keeping (1 Peter 5:3). The more patience you can show those who follow you, or who are responsible for you, the better you become as a leader. The reason for this is that they will come to trust you more, and be eager to desire to join your vision, ideas and goals.
6) Submit to God and His Word
As Christians we can never hope to be true leaders without first submitting ourselves to God and His Word.
The Bible is inspired, true, and without error. It contains all that is necessary to live a life of godliness, and that includes godly leadership. If we hope to become true leaders we must possess the characteristic of submission to God’s Word. One of the most important leaders in the Old Testament, the king, was required to submit to God’s Word (Dt. 17:18-20). The king was to make himself familiar with Scripture, then obey what he knew and to do this to keep himself humble by learning and living God’s way.
Knowing our Bible is not just for preachers, pastors and old Christians – it is for all Christians. Whether you are a leader in a bank, at home, in government, in a sports team, in a charity – living a biblical life will equip you to be a true leader.
God reveals himself through the Bible and so submitting to the Bible naturally brings one into submission to God. There is a subtle distinction though. Rather than just following rules and regulations that Scripture teaches, there must be genuineness to how we live our lives. We must understand that even though the internet did not exist when Scripture was written, that God still cares about how we use it. Each and every area of our lives is lived in front of God – he sees all, nothing misses his attention. We must know that as we attempt to lead, that only true leaders recognise they lead with God watching on. He cares about how you lead, why you lead and who you lead. He is interested in what you are doing, and he will also hold you accountable for your leadership. Our leading, if it is to be truly great, must be done with God continuously in mind.
The complete example of leadership is Jesus Christ. Being perfect, without sin, he cannot be anything other than a perfect leader. Consider how he took only twelve disciples and entrusted them with the gospel of the kingdom; look now how many disciples there are across the world. Jesus was a true leader. We can only hope to be true leaders by first being good followers of Jesus Christ.
Jesus death (a courageous act, yet a humble act, which was in submission to both God’s Word and God) won forgiveness from sin for us. This forgiveness then changes us as sin is removed, and the Holy Spirit then given to us. As God the Holy Spirit works in us he makes us more courageous, humble, diligent and submissive – he makes us more like Jesus. However, he does not do it alone, we must work with all our might also.
The Bible is clear, true leaders are not people with titles, positions, ability and qualifications. True leadership is not achieved. Rather, true leaders are people of character; people who show courage, diligence, delegation, humility, patience, and submission to both God and His Word.