Distinctives of the Christian Leader

What does a Christian leader look like?  There are many similarities between leading in the secular world and leading in the Christian one but there are a few differences that stand out.

A Christian leader considers himself a servant

This must be seen as one of the most significant distinctives of a Christian leader.
There are a number of implications of servant leadership:

  1.  He leads out of relationships, not by coercion.
  2.  He leads by support, not by control.
  3.  He leads by developing others, not by doing all the work.
  4.  He leads by guiding, and not by driving.
  5.  He leads from love, and not domination.
  6.  He seeks growth, and not position.

Jesus said, “I came to serve.” He set an example of the Christian leader by washing his disciples’ feet. He told them, and us, repeatedly that the way to be the greatest is to be the servant of all (Matthew 20:20–28: 23:11; Mark 9:35; 10:43–45; Luke 9:48; 22:26–27; John 13:14). Paul said of Jesus, “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death— even death on a cross! ” (Philippians 2:5–8).

King Rehoboam serves as an example of a biblical leader that failed to apply this principle. He chose to ignore God’s approach to management and tried to “lord it over” his people. Rehoboam asked the elder statesmen of the nation how he should lead the people. They replied, “If today you will be a servant to these people and serve them and give them a favorable answer, they will always be your servants” (1 Kings 12:7). But King Rehoboam ignored their godly advice and used his power and authority to manipulate, control, and exploit the people. As a result, the nation rebelled against him and he lost the majority of his people.

 A Christian leader will build up or edify the group

The Christian leader will multiply himself by training others. He will not try to do everything himself, but train and equip others to do the work. Jesus is an outstanding example of the training leader. Most of his public ministry was spent in training the twelve apostles. Jesus was called teacher, and not leader, more than any other name.

Church leaders in the New Testament were told repeatedly that their work was to “equip the saints.” This is a major part of the work of the Christian leader today. He must be developing the leadership potential of those under his authority. Ephesians 4:12 makes it very clear that the work of the pastor is “for the perfecting of the saints for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.” God will hold the individual responsible for what he does with what he has, as is shown by the parable of the talents, and also by the statement, “to whom much is given, much is also required” (Luke 12:48). It follows then that God holds the Christian leader responsible for the way he equips his church.

This concept must be a part of all a Christian leader does. When he plans, organizes, guides, and controls, he must consider: “Will this build up the individuals under my authority?” Many actions undertaken by church leaders in recent times have not considered this principle, and they violate a basic teaching of Christian leadership.

Love will be behind all the efforts of the Christian leader

1 Corinthians describes Christian love. The Christian leader will display those attributes. The Bible makes it plain that Christians are to love each other, their neighbors, and even their enemies. When we love our neighbors as ourselves we will find it very easy to follow the Golden Rule.

The Christian leader, when making decisions, attempts to find God’s will, and finds and follows God’s methods

Jesus set a good example in this. In the model prayer He taught us to pray, “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Also in the garden before His arrest He prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” (Luke 22:42).

The Christian leader will always attempt to determine the will of God, and act accordingly. He will be familiar with the scriptures, which will give a lot of direction. No action should be taken that would be in violation of a teaching in the Bible. His concern is not just that this action is legal, or even moral, but that it is God’s will. Integrity and honesty should not be a problem for a Christian leader that is following God’s will. God will never direct a person to do something wrong.

Biblical Leaders

One can talk about Christian leaders all day but the best way to understand Christian leadership is to observe how Biblical leaders led.  Here is an overview of some Biblical leaders.


Joseph was bought as a slave, and yet became a high official very quickly. Later, when put in prison, he quickly became the keeper of the prison. His leadership was very evident to those he served. He was content to do the best he could in all situations. As a slave, and even a prisoner, he worked hard and with a good spirit. He was determined to keep his life pure. His greatest test as a leader came as he helped to prepare Egypt for the seven years of famine. During the seven years of plenty, he planned wisely, delegated responsibility, established policies and controls, and organized the work force in such a way that the country could not only survive the famine, but help other countries as well.


Moses has to be one of the greatest leaders in history. He led a large company of people, who had been slaves for several generations, to leave their slavery and to establish a separate nation. These people had no leaders, no laws – nothing. Spiritually he was a man of faith, vision, integrity, obedience, and responsibility. He had to be able to make decisions; in fact, in the beginning he made them all. He was able to organize the people, select and train leaders, and delegate responsibility to others. The organization he established is a good model with an
excellent span of control at each level.


King David was an outstanding leader. He had an almost unbelievable respect for God’s anointed leader, King Saul. Even when Saul was attempting to kill David, and David had an opportunity to kill Saul, he would not touch God’s anointed leader or allow his followers to harm Saul. That kind of loyalty in a follower can really prepare one to be an exceptional leader. David was a strong spiritual leader. He was not ashamed to be involved in spiritual exercises. He sought God’s blessing, and gave God the credit for his successes.  He was a wise diplomat and won many friends, such as Hiram, King of Tyre.


He was one of the greatest men of prayer in the Bible. The book of Nehemiah is filled with actual prayers and with mentions of prayer. He had compassion and concern for his people. He was willing to accept responsibility. He knew how to plan, and how to carry out the plans. He could see through plots and schemes to entrap him. He was able to think far ahead, as in asking for timber permits, and didn’t just run off and start something. He showed evidence of being a real skillful strategy designer as he contrived how to get the walls built, announced his scheme, involved almost all the people, and got the job done. He was a man of sacrifice, giving of himself and his personal wealth, taking care of others, and refusing to accept the salary that was due to him.


Barnabas sold his property and gave all the proceeds to the church, which was a real sacrifice (Acts 4:36). He showed himself a courageous leader when he believed Saul of Tarsus was really saved and recommended him for membership to the church at Jerusalem (Acts 9:27). He showed unusual ability in selection when he went to Tarsus and had Paul come and be his assistant at Antioch (Acts 11:22–26). However, his greatest moment came when he stepped aside from being the number one man and very unselfishly allowed Paul to take over. The Antioch church had sent out Barnabas and Saul (Acts 13:2), soon it became Paul and Barnabas (Acts 13:7), and then it even became Paul and company (Acts 13:13). Throughout this, Barnabas was praising the Lord and serving Him. Very few men can do that. Not many men could start a church, hire an assistant, and see that assistant take over without having real problems.  Later Barnabas stood up to Paul for Mark. Paul and Barnabas broke up over this and Paul went with Silas. Barnabas had given Paul a chance, but he also wanted to give Mark a second chance. He was known as the son of encouragement and this is in fact what his name means.