We live in a time obsessed with leadership. From TED talks to Facebook message boards, people (leaders and non-leaders) possess a plentitude of opinions on the proper practice of leadership. This obsession isn’t a modern, secular phenomenon either. The evangelical world is awash with conferences, books, seminars, and other resources focusing on church leadership. If a pastor is fortunate enough to grow a church above 2,000 members, he is almost expected to write a book on leadership or host a leadership conference at his church.
Now don’t get me wrong: leadership is obviously a significant topic that must be addressed by the church. However, how often do we examine the scripture to consider our philosophy and methods of leadership? Does the world outside of the church have the market cornered on leadership? That is often the sense I get when reading Christian books on the subject of leadership—even church leadership. Much of this literature simply repackages the wisdom offered by the world, particularly the corporate world of leadership/business development. However, as preachers and ministers of the gospel of Christ Jesus, we have no higher authority than the Word of God. We must always remember that when we open the scripture, we are encountering the very words and thoughts of our God. What could be more profitable for us? In the remainder of this article, I hope to move us toward the idea of text-driven leadership.
Ideas related to leadership are found at the core of the Christian message. As we open the pages of the Old Testament (or, as I like to call it, the Gospel according to the Prophets), God himself is portrayed as the ultimate leader, crafting the universe by the breath of his mouth (Genesis 1:1), giving order and beauty to the cosmos (Genesis 1:2 onward), and defining its design and ultimate telos. He is also the one who defines for his creation what is good and evil, giving laws and direction while putting his ultimate, image-bearing creation in the garden to worship and obey His divine leadership. In our reflection of God’s image, He gave us a particular leadership within his creation. Yet, as the text shows us, we rebelled. In the midst of our revolt and rejection of God’s leadership, He graciously steps into our newly self-shattered reality and leads us toward our ultimate redemption and final restoration in the work of Jesus. Even in our fallen state, God calls leaders to work within His plan of redemption. As we follow the biblical narrative, we see many examples—good and bad—of leadership. Throughout the Old Testament, a leader is judged not in his overall ability to lead people, nor on his accomplishments, but ultimately on the level of his faith.
To me, this brings us a significant question for our reflection: Do we judge leadership solely on someone’s technical ability to lead, communicate, or produce results? When we encounter the text of Exodus 3, we see Moses portrayed as very weak and insecure. Yet only when Moses puts his faith and purpose in the hands of God is he successful in leading the Hebrews out of Egyptian slavery.
However, as the pages of the Pentateuch close, Moses is portrayed as lacking faith and not allowed to enter the Promised Land as the leader of God’s people. Not because he lacked ability, but because he lacked faith! I believe this is the seminal question for understanding leadership: Are we working in our own ability to be “successful,” or does our leadership function on the level of faith that we have in Christ to work through us?
As the OT continues, it becomes evident that leadership rises and falls on faith. How many times does this enter into our conversations on leadership? As we invest in others, are we more concerned about their abilities and talent and how we can further develop these things, or do we move them to a deeper understanding and belief in who God is and what he can do through our obedience?
Moving to the New Testament (or the Gospel according to the Apostles), we see this concept of faith realized fully in the purpose and work of the Messiah. As we read the story of Jesus, the context shows us that God’s people hold no leadership in their land. They are essentially back in exile. Though they dwell in the Promised Land with a rebuilt temple, Rome is very much in control. God’s people are being led by pagans. As the story of Jesus and His Kingdom unfolds, the gospel writers help us to see how Jesus is the new and better Moses, that he is the fulfillment of the Law and the one who has come to lead us out of the bondage of our sin and brokenness. In fact, where every other king, judge, or prophet had failed, Jesus succeeded.
Here are just a few observations about Christ and his leadership that I think are essential for us to develop a text-driven, Jesus-modeled leadership:
Leaders must be scripture-saturated. Jesus’ ministry was all about the scripture. From his temptation to his numerous encounters with the religious crowd of his day, Jesus always went back to the text of scripture. His life was literally text-driven as he constantly opened people’s eyes to see that he was the ultimate object of their faith. His leadership was built upon God’s word and God’s wisdom. How can we improve on this, especially leading the household of God?
Leaders must be servants first. This cannot be overlooked. Though he came to be our leader, Jesus clearly taught that this leadership would be through serving others. “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give His life a ransom for many.” (Matt 20:28) We see the clearly when Jesus stoops to wash the feet of his disciples. This is one of those verses I need to be reminded of daily. What an example for preachers and pastors! My own mentor taught and modeled this well in my life. My pastor, Johnny Hunt, often said that Jesus didn’t just tell us to take up our cross, he actually led us by taking up the cross himself.
Considering the story of scripture and the work of Christ, it is vital that we examine our leadership against our savior and his all-sufficient word, not the expectations and measurements of this world. Developing a faith-shaped, text-driven leadership style will allow us to focus on the glory of Christ and the mission he has passed on to his church.
Jonathan Catanzaro is the Director of Operations for the Office of Institutional Advancement and PhD student in Preaching and Early Christian Theology at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. He is also Senior Pastor of Pleasant Run Baptist Church in Colleyville, Texas.