What makes some leadership Christian? Some say it’s an attitude of the heart. “We just need to serve other people the way Jesus served others, kind of like the way He washed the feet of the disciples.” Others say it’s all about “vision-casting,” making sure the whole church buys into the vision that God has for the congregation. Still others would look to the Bible to see what leaders like Moses, David, Paul, and the early church did. While these answers have an element of truth and can be helpful, they miss THE key component of Christian leadership. Before we explore that component we need to make some observations about leadership in general.
First, leadership is not about power, authority, or influence. For example, someone holding a gun to your head may be influencing your behavior (!), but very few people would call that leadership. Others may insist you do something because they’re the boss, they’re in charge, and you’re going to get hammered if you don’t obey! These are examples of power-wielders, not leaders. Leadership is a relationship you have with someone else. It has to do with the motivations and personal values of the leader and the follower coming together.
Second, leadership is about change of some kind, usually requiring a change in attitude and behavior on behalf of both the leader and the follower. Change can be a difficult animal to wrestle with. Most of us perceive change as resulting in some kind of loss on our part: loss of influence, or authority, or control, or maybe just the loss of being comfortable with a stable situation. It’s not that people resist change, we resist what we think change will cost us.
So what is Christian leadership? The key component to Christian leadership is the Holy Spirit. Why? Because leadership is about a relationship with someone else dedicated to making a change of some kind. It is the Holy Spirit Who must direct the change. He is the One who empowers us to change. He is the One Who sets out the rules of relationships within the church. Relationships within the community of the church are based on His leadership.
So what does this mean for us? First, the Holy Spirit fills all of us so it is possible for each of us to be a leader in the community at one time or another. Scholars call this distributed leadership, meaning we shift from being a follower to a leader and back again in some way and at different times. Second, everyone’s voice needs to be included when attempting to determine what the Spirit’s leading is for the church. He speaks through Scripture but He also speaks through His people. Third, relationship comes before the task. Whatever task God sets before us, it is designed to make the community more like Him. After all, He could snap His fingers and the task would be done. Therefore a good working definition of Christian leadership is the following: Christian leadership involves mobilizing God’s people to tackle the tough challenges of behavior and attitudinal change that He sets before us.