Biblical Principles for Leadership

(1) [1]Leadership should be framed within the overarching context of divine sovereignty. This truth implies that God chooses leaders (e.g., Deut 17:14-15) and that leaders are accountable to Him (e.g., Luke 12:48).

(2) Leadership is a gift which derives from God and is not something about which a leader can boast (1 Cor 1:26-31; 3:21; 4:6-7).[2] One should thus exercise his or her leadership with humility for God’s glory and the benefit of others.

(3) Biblical leadership as endorsed in Scripture differs from the world’s leadership. For example, pagans often sought to dominate one another whereas believers are to serve one another (e.g., Mark 10:42-44; see also Luke 22:24-27).[3]

(4) The Bible highlights some traits of leaders precisely because they are unexpected (e.g., Moses lacked eloquence, Exod 3:9-4:16; Gideon hid out of fear, Judg 6:11-12; David was Jesse’s youngest son, 1 Sam 16:11). God thus uses many different kinds of people with strengths and weaknesses to serve as leaders.

(5) A consistent characteristic of godly leadership is the desire to seek and respond to the revealed will of God who is recognized as sovereign over human affairs (1 Sam 13:14; Acts 13:22). A godly leader, then, leads people to do God’s will, not his or her own will.

(6) Spiritual leaders in the Bible were often noted for their ability to teach or communicate God’s word (e.g., Ezra 7:10; John 13:13).

(7) The godly leader is one whose lifestyle provides an example appropriate for others to imitate (e.g., Rom 4:12; Heb 11:4-40; Jas 5:10).

(8) Godly leadership is characterized in the Bible by humble service (Luke 22:26-27; Acts 20:19) in contrast to self-exaltation (Exod 10:3; Deut 17:20; 1 Pet 5:3) and a seeking after personal glory (1 Cor 4:8-13).[4] However, humility in leadership is not to be confused with weakness (e.g., compare Matt 7:29 and 9:8 with 11:29).

(9) Two reoccurring metaphors used for leaders in the Bible include servant/slave (e.g., Mark 10:45, Luke 22:26, John 13:1–15; Phil 2:6–11) and shepherd (e.g., Jer 23:1–4, Ezek 34:23; John 21:15–17). These images imply that a leader serves others and meets needs (servant/slave). A leader also protects, provides and guides (shepherd).

(10) Character is a foundational qualification for those who serve as a leader (e.g., 1 Tim 3:1-7). A lack of character discounts one from serving as a leader.


Recommended Reading on Leadership

A. D. Clark. “Leadership,” in New Dictionary of Biblical Theology, ed. T. Desmond Alexander et al (InterVarsity, 2000), 636-640.

Ken Blanchard. The Heart of a Leader. Insights on the Art of Influence (David C. Cook, 2007).

Don N. Howell. Servants of the Servant: A Biblical Theology of Leadership (Wipf & Stock, 2003).

James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner. The Leadership Challenge, 3rd ed. (Jossey-Bass, 2002).

Aubrey Malphurs. Being Leaders. The Nature of Authentic Christian Leadership (Baker, 2003).

Oswald Sanders. Spiritual Leadership: Principles of Excellence for Every Believer (Moody, 2007).


[1] These principles, which help to establish a foundational understanding of Christian leadership, are taken primarily from A.D. Clark, “Leadership,” in New Dictionary of Biblical Theology, eds. T. Desmond Alexander et al. (InterVarsity, 2000), 636-638.

[2] Leadership is a spiritual gift given by God, similar to the spiritual gifts mentioned in the New Testament (e.g., 1 Cor 12:1ff). Nevertheless, even if one does not have the spiritual gift of leadership he or she can (and should) learn to grow as a leader.

[3] This is a general principle that is often true. However, one must remember that some leadership principles affirmed by non-Christians are also true. All truth is God’s truth, regardless of its source.

[4] Beware of the leader “who loves to be first” (3 John 9).

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