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Leader In The Bible

The Bible, a source of timeless wisdom and guidance, abounds with narratives of remarkable leaders who navigated challenges, demonstrated resilience, and sought divine direction. In this blog post, we will explore leadership lessons from the Bible, drawing inspiration from key figures whose stories offer invaluable insights into effective and transformative leadership.

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Leadership Lessons from the Bible: Examining Key Figures

Shepherd

The biblical image of leader as shepherd is often used in an idealized way. Churches are full of banners depicting Jesus with the sheep, cuddling them in his arms. We have come to see shepherding as a kind and gentle approach to leadership. But that’s not the whole story of what a shepherd does.

A shepherd uses a crook and a staff, not just to protect the flock from enemies, but also to pull back those errant sheep who stray from the fold. And sometimes, it’s not a gentle little push, it’s a yank. A shepherd needs to be fierce at times. And this aspect of shepherding generally is lost in the romanticized way we use shepherd as biblical metaphor for leadership.

Mentor

We often think of Paul as a solitary, heroic leader. But his writings reveal that he was mentor and encourager to more than 100 coworkers. In his letters, Paul employs the widespread Greco-Roman practice of commendation as a way of mentoring these coworkers and recognizing their contributions.

But the commendations in Paul’s letters reveal an approach to leadership that turns the Greco-Roman standard upside down. In the Roman Empire, commendation was used to honor and flatter the elite and the wealthy. In contrast, Paul commends his coworkers for hard work and sacrifice. He makes a point of saying, again and again, that he is with the coworkers in the trenches, doing what they are doing, suffering what they are suffering. Paul is a mentor to his coworkers by modeling servant leadership. He basically says, “Do what I do, not just what I say. I’m doing it with you.”

We learn from Paul that the regularized practice of commendation is a key element of being a mentoring leader. We need to cultivate a culture of earned commendation, or recognizing hard work and persistence, not just awarding medals for participation. Paul does this very, very well.

Prophet

Walter Brueggemann describes a prophet as having two main tasks: To criticize what is and to energize with an alternative vision of community. Too often we emphasize one of these tasks at the expense of the other. But effective leadership requires that the two be kept in a tension-filled balance. We see the two-pronged responsibility of a prophet in the books of Jeremiah and Ezekiel. There is strong criticism of the structures that existed in the time of these prophets. But there is also beautiful imagery of what God intends for us.

Prophetic leaders need a vision so compelling that it pulls us into a different future. And that requires imagination. But imagination is difficult to come by in our rapid-paced, 24/7, 280-character Twitter culture. Articulating a compelling vision takes more time and more imagination. But in this, the biblical prophets pave the way for us. Imagination is looking at the world through God’s eyes. Not only to see what is, but to see what could be. And that takes practice.

The Bible offers important, meaningful lessons on the tough, real-life challenges faced by God’s leaders. But the takeaways are greater when we acknowledge the human vulnerability of biblical leaders and appreciate the complexities of their leadership challenges and practices.

Moses: Leading with Faith and Humility

A. The Call of Moses:

  • Explore Moses’ journey from a reluctant leader to the liberator of the Israelites, emphasizing the role of faith and obedience in responding to God’s call.

B. Humility in Leadership:

  • Discuss Moses’ humility as a leader, learning from his willingness to seek counsel, admit mistakes, and prioritize the welfare of his people.

David: A Shepherd’s Heart in Leadership

A. David’s Anointing:

  • Examine the anointing of David as king, highlighting the qualities that set him apart as a leader with a shepherd’s heart.

B. Courage in Adversity:

  • Discuss David’s courage in facing Goliath, showcasing the importance of resilience and reliance on God in times of adversity.

Deborah: Breaking Gender Barriers

A. Judges 4-5:

  • Explore the leadership of Deborah, a judge and prophetess, breaking gender norms and illustrating the diverse ways God equips leaders for specific tasks.

B. Wisdom and Decisiveness:

  • Discuss Deborah’s wisdom and decisiveness in leading Israel, emphasizing the strength that comes from utilizing diverse leadership qualities.

Nehemiah: Visionary Leadership in Rebuilding

A. Nehemiah’s Vision:

  • Examine Nehemiah’s leadership in the rebuilding of Jerusalem’s walls, focusing on the importance of visionary goals and strategic planning.

B. Overcoming Opposition:

  • Discuss how Nehemiah navigated challenges and opposition, showcasing resilience, prayer, and steadfastness in pursuing God’s purpose.

Jesus: The Ultimate Servant Leader

A. Servant Leadership Model:

  • Explore Jesus’ model of servant leadership, emphasizing qualities such as humility, compassion, and a focus on empowering others.

B. Teaching through Parables:

  • Discuss Jesus’ use of parables as a leadership tool, conveying profound truths in a relatable and impactful manner.

Paul: Leadership in the Early Church

A. Missionary Journeys:

  • Examine Paul’s leadership in the early Christian church, emphasizing his commitment to spreading the Gospel and establishing communities of believers.

B. Adaptability and Resilience:

  • Discuss Paul’s adaptability and resilience in the face of challenges, drawing lessons on navigating diverse cultural contexts and persevering through adversity.

Applying Biblical Leadership Today

A. Principles for Contemporary Leaders:

  • Extract principles from biblical leaders that are applicable to contemporary leadership contexts, fostering personal and professional growth.

B. Leadership in Diverse Settings:

  • Discuss how the lessons from biblical leaders can be adapted and applied in various settings, including business, community, and personal leadership roles.

Timeless Leadership Principles from the Bible

Principle no. 1: Leadership is a partnership

In our 1969 book, “Management of Organizational Behavior,” Paul Hersey and I presented a situational approach to leadership, which our company now calls SLII®. This approach is based on our findings that the best leadership style is the one that matches the developmental needs of the person you’re working with.

Using SLII®, leaders partner with people, using directive and supportive styles as needed to help each person reach their highest level of development. Regardless of what style a leader uses, the principle underlying SLII® is that leadership is a partnership between a leader and their direct report. 

Unfortunately, plenty of leaders persist in believing command-and-control leadership is the only way to lead. The person in charge uses their position power to tell people what to do and how to do it. These leaders still use words like subordinate (which literally means “less important”) to describe someone who reports to them, and discipline to describe how they might treat an underperforming employee in the same way a parent might punish a child. This kind of leader might find it hard to switch to a mindset where they see their team members as partners. Many of them wouldn’t even think of asking a direct report for their opinion or involving workers in important decisions that may impact them. 

But leaders with a partnership mindset know they are better off partnering with their team members. They gain each other’s trust and work together on team goals. The trusting relationships and extraordinary results that come out of this kind of partnership just don’t happen to leaders who stay in their office, make all the decisions, bark orders, and take credit for every success. 

Principle no. 2: Catch people doing something right

Like the first principle, this one was revolutionary for its time. Bosses were widely regarded as people whose job it was to catch their workers doing something wrong. Managers would evaluate someone’s performance, reprimand them, demand improvement and disappear until it happened again. To me, it sounded like the opposite of a motivational environment. It seemed that leaders should focus less on evaluating and judging people and more on catching them doing something right.

Back in the day, I learned that most people had never looked at their boss as a friend or colleague. When people saw their boss coming, they would hide because they knew they were going to get in trouble. After all, that was the only time the boss ever showed up. I couldn’t help but think: What if that were reversed? What if the boss walked around catching people doing things right, praising their progress, and cheering them on? And if there was an area where the boss noticed behavior or performance wasn’t great, what if they said, “How can I help?”

 Would that make a difference? You bet it would!

Catching people doing something right is a powerful tool for bringing out the best in others. This principle is consistent with how my parents raised my sister and me. I remember as a kid when my good friend and I were on the same team and our families would get together after the games. If our team won, we would all celebrate. But if we lost, my friend’s parents would get on his case and tell him everything he did wrong.

 In contrast, my folks would tell me not to get down on myself, that I played the best I could, and they would give me a chance to talk. They always led with encouragement. That’s where I got the idea of praising people not only for doing things right, but also for doing things approximately right. People shouldn’t have to be perfect to earn a little praise.

I had several teachers through the years who were also encouragers and cheerleaders. It was easy to see that they got better results and formed better relationships with their students than the teachers who were tyrants or bullies. Positive reinforcement is a better way for parents to get the best from their kids, teachers to get the best from their students, and leaders to get the best from the people on their team. 

I’ve said for years that if someone took away everything I’ve taught except one thing, it would be the concept of catching people doing something right. It’s in the first leadership parable I ever wrote“The One Minute Manager®,” which I co-authored with Spencer Johnson in 1982 — and it’s also in my latest book, “Simple Truths of Leadership: 52 Ways to Be a Servant Leader and Build Trust,” which I co-authored with Randy Conley in 2022. Just think, that’s 40 years of catching people doing something right!

When somebody does something right or approximately right, praise them. If they stumble on the way to a goal, help them get back on the right track. To me it’s just common sense. And the best leaders make common sense common practice.

Principle no. 3: Leadership is love.

I’ve always believed that in order to be a great leader, you have to care deeply about your people. It’s a way to acknowledge that we’re in this thing together. It’s the ultimate we, not me. It says, “I really care about you. I honor you. I see you and I hear you. I love having you on my team.” The best leaders are servants who love their people and want to bring out their best. 

People look a little surprised initially when I use a term like love in a business setting, but after I share some of these behaviors, it starts to make more sense. What do you do when you love somebody? You’re there for them. You’re praising them. You’re noticing them. You’re involving them. They’re part of your team. And that’s what great leadership looks like.

You might think that leading with love is too idealistic. What happens when people don’t behave well or financial results aren’t what you need them to be? How can you approach the tough reality of leading people with something as soft and fuzzy as love? 

The answer is: By treating the people you lead with care, candor, and respect — no matter what. This is the essence of leading with love. Over time, people who report to the leader emulate the leader’s behavior and start extending care and respect to others. This creates a culture where people feel safe, seen, and acknowledged. People throughout the organization become passionate about the company. On the receiving end of that passion are clients and customers, who become raving fans of the organization. In turn, the organization thrives. 

DEFINING BIBLICAL LEADERSHIP

What is leadership, and what is Biblical leadership? Biblical leadership is (1) serving others (2) from a place of selflessness and sacrifice (3) that points to God.

Biblical leadership is about (1) serving others. Leadership is not about position, privilege, or power. Positional, privilege, and power leadership can be identified when a leader does not get their agenda pushed forward, their project highlighted, or their ministry funded. This secular, divisive, and competitiveness is the opposite of Biblical leadership. Biblical leadership is not about self, but about others. A Biblical leader asks how others can be serviced, how their needs can be met, how others can be lifted. Service is about seeing a need and meeting a need. It is personal. It is giving. It is other-oriented.

Biblical leadership is about (2) selflessness and sacrifice. Attitude and motivation influences everything and every action, seen and unseen. The Biblical leader’s core attitude and motivation are selflessness and sacrifice. If it is selfish or self-serving, it is rejected. How to tell if something is selfless and sacrificial? It is selfless and sacrificial if it costs the leader and benefits others. If it costs you and aids others, it may come from an attitude and motivation of selflessness and sacrifice.

Biblical leadership is about (3) pointing to God. Leaders make decisions and if the decision might be questionable, ask if the decision, choice, or action points toward God. That is the goal. The goal is to point people to God. The lost need God and pointed to God for the gospel of Jesus Christ. They need the salvation, forgiveness, and acceptance in Jesus. The saved, Christians, need God and pointed to God for the Lordship of Jesus, surrendering to Jesus’ leadership, submitting to God’s commands, principles, and holiness. If we are not pointing to God, should we bother doing it?

QUALIFICATIONS

The core requirements to be a Biblical leader within the church are character and calling.

A Biblical leader must be saved, baptized, and surrendered in Jesus. A Biblical leader must live godliness in the power of the Holy Spirit. Character is about applied godliness in thinking, speaking, and lifestyle. We suffer in our culture because of church leaders who lack godly character, and the enemy uses such disgraces to drive seekers away from our holy God. Character counts a lot. When we talk about character, it is about lifestyle, choices, actions, and speech. It’s about public and private godliness. It looks like service, generosity, spiritual healthiness of the leader and their family. It’s about reputation within the church and the greater community. It is big. It is complicated. It is holistic. And we need to take it more serious than we tend too, as all the church scandals indicate. Let’s have godly integrity – personally, within our households, as leaders, as teams, as a church.

Does divine calling to specific tasks, ministries, and position apply to everyone, even those who are not pastors/elders/oversees and deacons/servants? I think it does. Personally, I don’t want someone in nursery ministry holding, rocking, singing, and changing diapers on my infant if God has not called and thereby equipped them for it. Let’s commit personally and as leaders to strive to be in God’s will in all things. Be in the center of God’s will for where you live, where you work, who you marry, who are your friends, and your service to God in and out of the church. God’s calling and God’s will are intermixed. God’s calling is about the Holy Spirit selecting the person to the mission, responsibility, and accountability of Biblical leadership within the church. Calling is spiritual and involves the person hearing the call and involves others discerning and affirming the call like the seven deacons of Acts 6 and Saul in Acts 9. It is better for a position to remain open, vacant, and desperate, waiting for God’s person to show up, then to fill a slot for manning and have the wrong person doing the right thing for the wrong reason. Let’s re-examine and re-affirm God’s calling and God’s will for each of us as Biblical leaders.

If a leader in the church lacks godly character in private and public and/or lacks divine calling to the position and ministry, they are disqualified. Ideally, the disqualified leader would under the prompting of the Holy Spirit and knowing the truth gracefully step back and out of the position. But the Bible and church history show they do not because of the very lack of character. So, they stay and passively or intentionally cause impotence or harm. God protect us from such a nightmare and give us insight and boldness to do the right thing, do the best for God’s kingdom.

POWER OF THREE

A Biblical leader’s task involves training up the next generation leaders. A servant-leader tries to replace themselves because eventually a leader moves on, moves away, or moves up. In Bible terms, this is discipleship. Jesus did it to the twelve and the seventy-two. Paul did it to Timothy and John Mark. Following Jesus’ example and commands about discipleship with his application from Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 by sending out pairs in Luke 10, the principle of discipleship applies to leaders: mentee-me-mentor.

Each of us needs a wiser, godlier mentor. A Biblical leader will have a more mature servant-leader as their mentor, guide, advisor, accountability-partner, and prayer-partner. Someone ahead of them on the spiritual journey of godliness and service. Prayer for a mentor and actively search for one. When you find a mentor, have that conversation, and ask them to mentor you, pray with you, and hold you accountable. Most Biblical servant-leaders when asked will say yes. And then maintain that relationship. Keep it because it is precious and can be more powerful with time. Who is your mentor? Without a mentor, you are weaker and more vulnerable than necessary. Let’s do it.

We also need to be a Paul and have a mentor. An aspect of leading is replacing ourselves by investing in the next generation. Each of us needs a mentee or protégé or leader-in-training. A Biblical leader will have a less mature leader-in-training to mentor, guide, advise, train, teach, and co-labor with. Someone behind them preparing to replace them. Think of it as on-the-job training or continual education/certification. Pray for discernment and act upon the people who God points at. Have a conversation and explain the ideas. Let them have time to pray and consult and think about it. If it doesn’t work out, it doesn’t work out. Invest time in the relationship, let them watch you, talk about what you do, answer questions, give them opportunities to do it, provide feedback and evaluation, and train them up to replace you and extend your ministry beyond yourself.

Therefore, no servant-leader works without a guide ahead of them, and no servant-leader works alone without walking together with the future leader. Who is your mentor? Who is your mentee?

Conclusion:

In exploring the leadership stories within the Bible, we discover a treasure trove of timeless principles that transcend cultural and temporal boundaries. Whether learning from the humility of Moses, the courage of David, the wisdom of Deborah, or the servant leadership of Jesus, the Bible offers a rich tapestry of insights for leaders in all walks of life. May these lessons inspire and guide present-day leaders on their journey of impactful, compassionate, and purposeful leadership.

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