(The following article was first published in The Exhorter on July 25, 2021, at the Cedar Park Church of Christ. Due to the COVID delta-variant outbreak, many from church wouldn’t be able to pick up a physical copy, so hopefully they can read it here instead. RTS, age 15)
As many of you know, I recently earned the rank of Eagle Scout in the Boy Scouts of America program, so that has been on the forefront of my mind for the past few months as everything was getting wrapped up. One of the requirements for Eagle candidates is to demonstrate a proven history of leadership in the troop and/or the community. The program also encourages scouts to attend week-long leadership training courses. I attended one of those a couple of years ago. Although the program encourages scouts to be reverent to God, the Bible is never used as one of the sources for leadership training. It should be the textbook!
Throughout the Bible, God has made it clear that He is the ultimate authority. God’s guidance, acceptance, and/or rejection of leadership is seen in Moses, Joshua, all the judges & kings, the prophets, and in the leaders of battles. Leadership principles are even taught throughout Proverbs. In the New Testament, Jesus appointed apostles to take the lead in starting the church after he ascended, and under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the apostles led the way in setting up elders as leaders of local churches.
Countless lessons can be found in these examples and in others from the Bible, yet people still come up with their own ideas for leadership. A quick Google search definition of leadership is “The state or position of being a leader”. This does not exactly tell what leadership is, though.
There are many distinctive styles of leadership. For instance, in the political realm, a democratically elected leader who has the possibility of removal at the next election cycle will probably lead differently than someone appointed for life or someone who seizes power for themselves. Either way, Romans 13:1-2 says, “Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God.Therefore, whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist willbring judgment on themselves.” There have been times in the Bible when God chose leaders directly and obviously, and there have been times throughout history in which people would question how God could allow certain people to rule. Either way, as long as the leadership isn’t telling us to go against God’s will, Romans says we are supposed to follow their lead.
Getting back to Biblical examples, there is frequently a pattern for who God chose to lead His people in the Old Testament and who Jesus later chose as those who would start the church: people who were humble and who looked to the best interests of others. Some, like Saul, became more authoritarian and arrogant later in life, while other rulers/leaders maintained their humility. Arrogant leadership styles harm a ruler’s influence. Another example is Athaliah in 2 Kings 11. In a desperate bid for power, she killed all but one of the royal heirs of her son, Ahaziah, who had just passed away. The one survivor, Joash, was rescued from his murderous grandmother by the priest, who hid him away in the temple. Joash remained there for several years until a counter-coup was initiated by the priesthood that put him in power.
In the modern day, God still has things to say about leadership. For instance, He has decided that in local churches, elders should lead. This is described in great detail in 1 Timothy 3:1-7, which tells us that elders: “… must be blameless, the husband of one wife, temperate, sober-minded, of good behavior, hospitable, able to teach; not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, but gentle, not quarrelsome, not covetous; one who rules his own house well, having his children in submission with all reverence (for if a man does not know how to rule his own house, how will he take care of the church of God?); not a novice, lest being puffed up with pride he fall into the same condemnation as the devil. Moreover, he must have a good testimony among those who are outside, lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.” Did you notice that a man who would be an elder must first prove himself to be a leader in his home and respectable in his community? He’s a man who puts others first.
I believe that the most important leadership qualities are discussed in Matthew 20:25-28. “But Jesus called them to him and said, ’You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.’” The most important thing a leader can do is serve the ones they are leading.
A leader is many things, but an effective, Godly leader is one who patterns himself after the servant-leadership example of Jesus and who makes himself an example to others as well. There are those who are just learning to lead (“Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.” 1 Tim 4:12), those who are leaders of today (“not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock” 1 Pet 5:3), and those who are leaders of tomorrow, (“And what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” 2 Tim 2:2). Not everyone is meant to be a leader, but if you’re a parent, teacher, elder, government official, or even just a kid in a scouting program, lead with humility and have a servant’s heart.