What Does The Bible Say About Leadership?

The Bible has examples of good and bad leaders. Jesus is the prime example of leadership in the Bible.

Thousands of books have been written on the topic of leadership, hundreds related to Christian leadership. Though not a guidebook on the topic of leadership, the Bible does provide a few means by which we can better understand what leadership should look like. The Bible contains:

  • Examples of good leaders
  • Examples of bad leaders
  • Wisdom for making choices and discerning godly leadership
  • Teaching for those who would aspire to be leaders

What does the bible say about leadership and management?

Leaders in the Bible are those who hold a great responsibility. The Bible describes national and multinational interactions between various people groups across thousands of years of history.

The Bible speaks of leaders who hold positions among the people of Israel, being divided into groups of various numbers so that the people can receive proper representation (Exodus 18:25).

In the book of 1 Timothy, both husbands and wives are given responsibility to manage the household (1 Timothy 3:4; 5:14).

What does the bible say about leadership (KJV)?

“Then Solomon assembled the elders of Israel, and all the heads of the tribes, the chief of the fathers of the children of Israel…”1 Kings 8:1

Leaders were very important in the organization of the people of Israel. The leaders of the people were responsible to represent the people to the elders, who represented the people to the King and ultimately to God.

“Him hath God exalted with his right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins.”Acts 5:31

The word translated “Prince” (archēgos) is translated “leader” in other translations. Jesus is the supreme leader of the Christian faith, and his life and ministry are often seen as a model for leadership for many.

Qualities of a leader in the bible

In the Bible, leadership qualities include:

  • Wise
  • Humble
  • Servant
  • Obedient to the word of God
  • Seek to be part of God’s mission of redemption

Certainly these qualities are just the foundation of what leadership is intended to look like in the Bible. While the need for humility and servant-mindedness is growing in Western culture, some of the qualities of a biblical leader can be counterintuitive at times to the qualities held by many leaders today.

“But ye shall not be so: but he that is greatest among you, let him be as the younger; and he that is chief, as he that doth serve.”Luke 22:26

Good leaders serve others. The desire to be the greatest can be seen as a precursor to failure (Proverbs 16:18 ). Those who serve recognize the needs of others ahead of their own and seek to meet those needs. Good leaders submit themselves to God, to obey his word and his commands. Leaders within the church are expected to know how to lead their families and live lives that glorify God to others.

“Moreover thou shalt provide out of all the people able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness; and place such over them, to be rulers of thousands, and rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens.”Exodus 18:21

Leaders must act justly and be those who people can trust.

In one sense, anyone, Christian or otherwise, can be a good leader. Any leader can be a servant, care for the needs of those who follow him or her, and act justly.  In another sense, Christian leaders are different from others in that they understand the foundation and goal of leadership as being about glorifying God.

Still, there are plenty of poor examples of Christian leaders, and many examples of non-Christian leaders who are more aligned with the leadership principles of Scripture than are their more religious counterparts. Leadership, then, is ultimately about the disposition of the heart.

What does the bible say about leadership in the church?

Jesus’ example of servant leadership in John 13 is a helpful model for the ways in which leadership should function in the life of the church. While some leaders want a platform to say what they think is important and others want the power associated with a large following, Jesus teaches his disciples that the greatest leaders are those who take the last place, the worst seat in the gathering, and the position of the lowest servant.

“My brethren, be not many masters, knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation.”James 3:1

Here James points out the dangers of leadership, since teachers in the church carry a great responsibility for leading their people to Christ and not leading them astray.

“A bishop then must be blameless…”1 Timothy 3:2-4

The Apostle Paul gives a general description about the characteristics and qualities that should be indicative of elders and deacons within the church. While leaders are not expected to be perfect, they should be those who fight against sin, walking by the Spirit, striving to live lives that display the beauty of the Savior.

What does the bible say about leadership styles?

Servant Leadership

“For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you.”John 13:15

Jesus says these words to his disciples after washing their feet. Here Jesus exemplifies the style of servant leadership.

Self-sacrificial leadership

“Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than themselves.”Philippians 2:3

Leadership that enables others to lead

“… as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you.”John 20:21

Here Jesus emphasizes that leadership must empower and enable others to carry on the task of leadership.

What does the bible say about leadership accountability?

The importance of leadership accountability in the Bible can be seen from the relational dynamics of leaders and those around them.

Moses recognized the need for looking to other leaders for wisdom in dealing with the people of Israel. Heeding the advice of his father-in-law, Jethro, Moses appointed judges to arbitrate issues that were of lesser importance but needed adjudication in order to rightly bring justice to all the people:

“Moreover thou shalt provide out of all the people able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness; and place such over them, to be rulers of thousands, and rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens: And let them judge the people at all seasons: and it shall be, that every great matter they shall bring unto thee, but every small matter they shall judge: so shall it be easier for thyself, and they shall bear the burden with thee.” Exodus 18:21-22

Such distribution of leadership also provides accountability since the responsibility of leadership is passed into the hands of others.

Samuel warned the Israelites of the dangers of having a king, such that his accountability to God can be compromised by desire for power, wealth, and self glorification (1 Samuel 8:10-18).

What does the bible say about leadership and power?

“Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.”Matthew 20:28

While many may characterize great leaders by their accomplishments or their charizma, their ability to make large sums of money or gather a great following, Jesus describes the best leaders as those who serve others. One who serves others enables people to then go out and do that which they were called to do. In this sense, then, leaders empower others through humility.

“Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up.”James 4:10

In Luke 16, Jesus tells a story of a man who is shown mercy concerning his debt, but who is himself unwilling to be merciful to a man who owes him a much lesser debt. The tendency to abuse whatever power we have is great, as is seen from this example. Leaders in every position need accountability to avoid the dangers of abusing power.

What does the bible say about bad leadership?

“Let them alone: they be blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch.”James 4:10

The word for leader in this context (hodēgos) is used almost exclusively in the Bible to talk about spiritually “blind leaders,” those who lead people away from discerning the truth in exchange for falsities. Once the word is used to describe Judas, who became a “guide to them that took Jesus” (Acts 1:16).

“For the leaders of this people cause them to err; and they that are led of them are destroyed.”Isaiah 9:16

Leaders are often held responsible for causing their followers to sin. This is especially true of the kings in the Old Testament, but equally true of leaders today who teach distorted doctrines of biblical truth. As James 3:1 points out, such leaders will be judged for their actions.

“…Haman sought to destroy all the Jews that were throughout the whole kingdom of Ahasuerus, even the people of Mordecai.”Esther 3:6

Haman held great power in the Persian Empire (having a seat above all of the princes of Persia) and his contempt for one Jew led him to seek the extermination of the entire Jewish people. Further, his pride of prominence led him to carry out his plan, though it was ultimately thwarted.

The characteristics of such poor leadership can be typical of all bad leadership, not only those who would identify as being Christians. As with Haman, bad leadership at times seeks to advance oneself or tear down others because of personal vendetta. Leaders who violate the governing laws of the land can bring much harm to those under their leadership.

Examples of great leaders in the bible

“For it became him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings.”Heb. 2:10

Here Jesus is called the “captain of…salvation.” Jesus is the greatest leader in the Bible, for through his humble submission to the cross he brings salvation to many.

In the Old Testament, Moses’s leadership of the people of Israel is held in high regard (Numbers 33:1). After his death, Moses’ successor, Joshua, led the people of Israel to obtain the land, if only in part, promised to Abraham.

Samuel’s leadership merged some of the roles of prophet, priest, and king. As such, Samuel sought to lead the people of God to hear and obey the voice of the Lord. Samuel’s leadership, characterized by submission to the word and will of God, effectively bypasses the kingship of Saul (1 Samuel 15:26; 16:1) and is conferred to David, who leads the of Israel into a time of growth and flourishing. Solomon’s reign is characterized by wisdom, such that “there came of all people to hear the wisdom of Solomon, from all kings of the earth, which had heard of his wisdom” (1 Kings 4:34; Matthew 12:42).

In the New Testament, the Apostles themselves carried the message of the gospel across the Roman Empire, establishing churches wherever they went. As such, they may be seen as leaders of the largest religious movement of all time, yet not to make a name for themselves.

Great leaders in the Bible are often characterized by humble submission to God and his Word.

Bible verses about leading others to God

“Wherefore he saith, When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men.”Ephesians 4:8

Jesus is, again, the ultimate example of leading people to God. His victory over sin and death secured salvation for his people.

“And Nathanael said unto him, Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth? Philip saith unto him, Come and see.”John 1:4:6

The “come and see” approach is an important means of leading people to Jesus. As Christians, we don’t have all of the answers that people are searching for. We can, however, lead others to a Christian community, the Church, where the gospel is proclaimed and they are introduced to Jesus. It is in the context of hearing the word of God and being convicted of sin by the Holy Spirit, that people are effectively and decisively led to God.

“Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.”Matthew 5:16

Finally, we can lead others to God through our lifestyle, one that displays the greatest of Christ Jesus.

Stephen D

Stephen Dillard serves as a Bible Scholar with Wycliffe Associates and is a contributing writer on Revelations.org. He is a graduate of Covenant Theological Seminary, St. Louis, Missouri. He and his wife, Madison, have four children and make their home in Indiana.

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