The Real Definition of a Gospel-Centered Leader

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A brief biblical theology of leadership by Matt Chandler.

This excerpt is taken from Chapter 9 of Creature of the Word: The Jesus-Centered Church by Matt Chandler, Josh Patterson and Eric Geiger.

Leadership is a hot topic. Myriads of books dissect it from every angle, universities offer doctoral degrees on it, and leadership gurus debate over the exact combination of personality types and attributes that make the perfect leader.

While much of this conversation is profitable, perhaps the attempt to produce a formula for making the ultimate leader has caused us to lose the wonder of God’s providence in choosing and using leaders. Throughout history, God has raised up men and women, some weak and some strong, some smart and some slow, in certain seasons and certain situations, to accomplish His overarching purposes in the world. A distinctly Christian understanding of leadership must be biblically rooted and theologically formed.

Even a cursory study of the biblical witness provides several prominent elements necessary for our understanding of leadership.

First, our leadership is a derivative leadership sourced in God Himself.

He establishes nations and governments and directs the course of the king’s heart (Rom. 13:1; Prov. 21:1). He dresses the lilies of the field and watches over the sparrow (Matt. 6:26–31; 10:29). This becomes even more explicit when talking about God’s sovereign leadership over His church. Jesus is the Head of the Church and has been given authority over all (Eph. 1:20; 5:23). He is the preeminent One and the “chief Shepherd” of the Church (Col. 1:18; 1 Pet. 5:4 hcsb). Every joint and ligament in the body of Christ is held together and fits together in Him (Eph. 4:16; Col. 2:19). God’s sovereign leadership over all is foundational for understanding human leadership.

In short, because our leadership is ultimately derived from God’s, it is always subservient, always secondary. In no way does this demean the role and responsibility of human leaders; rather, it defines the scope of human leadership. It puts it in its proper place and provides the right limitations. The apostle Paul discusses this in 2 Corinthians 5 when he describes the role and responsibility of the believer in ambassadorial terms (v. 20). We are sent to the world as agents on behalf of another. We are representatives carrying the message of one greater than ourselves.

Second, God raises up leaders.

They are born under His auspices. They are elected under His watch. They rise to the occasion under His reign. They are given a voice by His decree. He builds up platforms and dismantles platforms. He gives some of them long seasons of influence, while others have shorter windows in which to serve.

Yet in all of this, there is mystery. God’s sovereign reign over leaders does not diminish the freedom for humanity to seize opportunities. Consider, for example, Mordecai’s wisdom to Queen Esther: “If you keep silent at this time, liberation and deliverance will come to the Jewish people from another place, but you and your father’s house will be destroyed. Who knows, perhaps you have come to your royal position for such a time as this” (Esth. 4:14 hcsb). In this passage we see that God’s purposes cannot be thwarted (namely, that deliverance will come to His people), but Esther still had the opportunity to act, to lead. God’s sovereignty doesn’t diminish our responsibility or opportunity.

God doesn’t call the qualified; He qualifies the called. How often we see Him in Scripture calling the unexpected and the average into significant roles of leadership. In some sense, there is no concrete mold or predictable pattern for the person God raises up to lead. Consider the calling of Moses to lead the Israelites out of slavery. Moses was filled with reluctance and anxiety. He was slow and hesitant in speech. How was he to be God’s mouthpiece?

But Moses replied to the Lord, “Please, Lord, I have never been eloquent — either in the past or recently or since You have been speaking to Your servant — because I am slow and hesitant in speech.”

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  • Dan Leisher

    You should get some of Bobby Clinton’s materials from Fuller Theological Seminary. Great stuff and on the path of leadership formation with a signicant emphasis on how GOD forms the leader! One book that is helpful, “The Making of A Leader: Recognizing the Lessons and Stages of Leadership Development.”

  • Angel

    When you talk about leadership in the church you must consider the element of time and the significant task of the leader, remember that biblical leadership in the Old Testament is different from the New Testament. The Old Testament leaders mostly their task were leading a nation, involved in a physical war by conquering territories specifically the promise land. The New Testament leaders were involved in a spiritual warfare not in a physical warfare, to conquer lost soul by the preaching of the gospel ( Romans 1:16 and 1Corinthians 15:1 to 4 ) let’s be careful to intermingle the presentation of our ideas without considering the element of time and the specific task assigned to them. It is very obvious and out of the context to tell that leadership is a gift of the Holy Spirit, when in the Old Testament where the office of the Holy Spirit is not yet fully in function ? Because Jesus is not yet incarnated,died, and resurrected ? there is no existence of the local body of Christ the Church? How can we say that the good type of leadership is the gospel leadership of which mostly of the leaders in our time have no burden to the lost souls and mostly are endangered species because of personal unconquerable wrong view in the ministry that when they never met their expectation and desires within the ministry they quit and have gone out, and having no concern about their calling?

  • Mar Komus

    This should be required reading

  • Ike

    The Gospel led leader is a servant leader just like Yeshua showed us whilst He was here on earth…

  • Dave Ekstrom

    Excellent article. One thing I’d add. One can’t consider Gospel-leadership without considering Jesus’ express statement on leadership (in fact the only express statement from Jesus on leadership that I can think of) Lu.22:25-27 Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.

    In my younger years, I was in fundamentalist groups that always talked about the pastor as a “man of God” who was not to be held accountable to anyone or even questioned about anything. It led to terrible abuses. This is not Biblical leadership. While I do believe that God calls leaders and they are to be held in honor, the entire body is to discern if a particular individual is indeed a godly leader. A board of elders must exist that hold leaders accountable in morals, doctrine and effectiveness. A good guy who isn’t skilled in leadership isn’t called. A charismatic guy with poor character doesn’t belong either. And one of the most important tasks of a pastor is to guard the faith (Acts 20). It’s not ok for a pastor to be off on doctrine, I don’t care how many they bring in the door.

  • Jimliv

    Over seasons of time, ideas of leadership have changed. Why is this? The people who get “raised” up as pastors rule and find corruption taking them over. Why? The work of God is to rule. The work of man is to serve or facilitate the general edification of Christ’s Church, not to run the church. To rule is dangerous in the mind of man because of the temptation to take over. Jesus served and facilitated opportunities for His disciples to serve like He did. They began to experience His authority given by the Father and empowered by the Holy Spirit, but were always reigned in by limited revelation.
    Not until Jesus showed them His ultimate sacrifice, resurrection and ascension did He fully entrust the Holy Spirit to them. Even then, they did not have total rule. They were to lead by His example and by the continued guidance given of the Holy Spirit. This highly emphasizes dependency.
    A secular leader takes over. The man subservient to God relinquishes control. He leads humbly, knowing he he has limited faculties to lead. His sober judgment of himself is key.
    And sober judgment is kept easier in the first model of church leadership which was mainly house to house.
    “Church leadership” has been tamed by the soul of man, in many cases across the globe, as opposed to being directed and maintained by our wonderful and awesome God.
    If God calls one to lead, take seriously the role or you will hold back God’s plans to edify His Body. Keep dependency at the forefront, not some ideology of leadership written by a multitude of authors who, perhaps themselves, have unknowingly have been corrupted by little dependence on God.
    Keep reading the Word of God to be transformed by the Word Himself, or corruption is around the corner.

  • pat

    It seems that today many leaders have forgotten that they should be following God’s agenda instead of their own agenda,which usually may not have anything to do with God’s agenda.



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