At my local home church in Dar es Salaam, several church elders – who were on the church board and many other committees – have died from COVID-19. We all know that this disease has wreaked havoc in our world; the Church is not unaffected. Therefore, we now face the serious challenge of a leadership vacuum in our churches. We desperately need more Christian leaders.

Yet this is not a novel problem. Churches need new leaders in every age, although it is perhaps truer in times of crisis. Nor is this need for leaders unique to the church. From the religious to the social, industrial, and even the political world, one hears, “Give us leaders.” But what is leadership? Where are the leaders? How do we identify them? If we lack natural leaders, can we develop leadership qualities in others? How can we accomplish all of this? In this article, I will suggest some solutions to the questions posed by this challenge.

What Qualities Do Leaders Need?

For many, the word ‘leadership’ connotes: power, authority, honour, prestige, and personal advantage

Confusion quickly arises when our concept of leadership is not defined or determined biblically. For many, the word ‘leadership’ connotes: power, authority, honour, prestige, and personal advantage. Leaders with such a view of their role will typically demand more than they give. But this is not Christian leadership.

Christian leadership can be defined as the type of leadership that…

  • seeks to be of service to others, rather than dominating them (Luke 22:26; Mark 10:45)
  • enacts Jesus’ words, “whoever wishes to be the first among you shall be your servant, even as the Son of Man come not be served, but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:27-28)
  • encourages and inspires, identifying strengths (Ephesians 4:11; Titus 1:5; Titus 3:8)
  • respects individuals without exploiting individual people or groups (1 Peter 5:1-4; 1 Thessalonians 2: 5-12)

To find a Christian leader one would need the above requirements in their job description. Leadership is not just about having the right to give orders and make decisions; enforcing the obedience of your subordinates. Christian leaders must pray and act on Jesus’ words. So, let’s consider Him.

Real Leaders Wash Feet

Jesus was the greatest leader of all time. Yet he took a towel and washed his disciples’ feet. When he finished he said, “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you” (John 13:15). That is leadership! Jesus tells his disciples that they are to serve one another in the same way that he has served them. “If I, your Lord and teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet” (John 13:14-15). This specific example parallels the broader “new commandment” Jesus gives in John 13:34, “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” This kind of love and Christian leadership are inseparable.

Jesus was the greatest leader of all time. Yet he took a towel and washed his disciples’ feet

Real Leaders Serve Others

The mother of James and John sought Jesus’ favour (Mark 10:37). She wanted her sons to be placed in the top two positions of Jesus’ imagined cabinet. When the kingdom arrived in glory, she hoped to see John and James flanking their Lord. What arrogance, one might exclaim! For these were not men born to high status. They had done no great feats of valour. They displayed no executive prowess. Yet James and John were not alone in their ambition. For when the other disciples “heard of the request, they immediately became indignant” (Mark 10:41). Why were they so upset? Because they desired the same destiny: pomp, prestige and power.

Jesus, never one for missing a teaching opportunity, challenged them sternly. He called his disciples together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and the great ones make their authority over them felt. But it shall not be so among you. Rather, whoever wishes to be the first among you, shall be your slave and give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:25-28). Again, according to Luke 22:26-27, Jesus remarked: “Let the greatest among you be as the youngest, and the leader as the servant for who is great; the one seated at table or one who serves? Is it not the one seated at tables? I am among you as the one who serves.”

Real Leaders Follow Jesus

In Jesus we see how one can be both a mighty leader and model servant. These offices are not exclusive

Let us make one more point about Jesus, before we conclude. He did not merely teach sacrifice but also embodied it. His call for servanthood was an exhortation to pick up our cross and follow him. His imperatives to humble leadership are the challenge to imitate him. In Jesus we see how one can be both a mighty leader and model servant. These offices, at least in Jesus’ life, are not exclusive. Nor should they be sundered in Christian leadership.

Jesus’ leadership demonstrates selfless love and humble service. The world’s definitions of leadership are often far from this. If this is the case in the Church then it raises questions over who we are following and imitating. Christian leadership should be distinctly Christian. Therefore, as we go about identifying potential leaders and raising up new elders in our churches, let us look for men and women who look like Christ.