Leading is dangerous. It always has been, and it always will be. Yet, leading is required. Someone will lead. But will they lead well, and will they lead with the right convictions? Let’s look at 10 leadership principles and dangers…
1) Leading requires deep conviction
There have, however, been many successful leaders that led vast amounts of people astray. Leaders must have deep conviction; why else would you lead? Especially with how dangerous leadership is? Why lead at all unless you have the dire conviction that something must be done about something, even if you’re the someone that must do it… But it is vital that that something that we have conviction about is the correct conviction. If not, we not only risk and waste our life, if we’re an effective leader, we also risk and waste other’s lives too.
So, leading is dangerous because it requires the correct convictions. If we have the wrong convictions, we can do a lot of wrong (especially, ironically, if we’re “good” at leading). When you have conviction you lead, even if it means leading with a limp.
2) Leading requires talking well
People respect you when you can talk well, whether or not you have the character or maturity to back it up. So, talking well is important. Who’s going to follow someone that is uninspiring and doesn’t make sense? Yet, someone can talk well and amass a massive following and yet have nowhere to go, no ability to actually lead, or is only heading to a very shallow, empty place. Talking well is a blessing but can be the fancy shell that hides the hollow emptiness inside.
So, if you talk well, make sure you live well too.
3) Leading is lonely
Leading is often quite lonely. In the same way that it can be lonely once you summit a great and difficult height. It’s lonely by the sheer difficulty of the journey. But the reality is, it’s also more dangerous at the summit. So, as hard as it is and as much as you may not think you need help, if you lead, you especially need help. You need it in a way that you’re not even aware of and it’ll be harder to find than for others.
So, as lonely as leading is, you need to find people to travel with you and traverse the trails. Leading is dangerous no matter what, but it’s doubly so if you don’t have someone to help you when you fall.
4) Leading is hard, it requires leading
Part of what leading entails is setting the pace, being in front. This can be the case when it comes to work ethic, creativity, dedication, knowledge, or really all of the above. Leaders can’t and don’t know it all, and shouldn’t think they do or can, but leaders do lead. So, if they’re not always in front they’re knowledgeable and encouraging to those that are “in front” in their specific expertise. Yet, to even be competent and relevant in many fields is difficult.
So, leading is hard because it requires diligent work in various fields. It also requires wisdom to navigate what needs to be worked on and when.
5) Leading requires leading and learning
Leading requires audacity but never ignorance. It requires a type of confidence but never arrogance. It takes boldness but must never be blind. Learning must always be a part of leading and if it’s not, leading is very likely to go the wrong way. Humility should also accompany leadership. If not, followers should and hopefully won’t accompany you very far.
So, as you lead, make sure you are also learning; even from those you’re leading.
6) Leading becomes easier, letting character and integrity slip becomes easier too
As leading becomes more natural and second nature it’s easy to let character and integrity slip. When it’s more and more possible to cut corners, it becomes easier to cut corners. When the wake of your own name can carry you and you can drift on what you’ve done in the past, it can be hard to continue to deserve that name in the future.
So, as you become more competent in your leadership, don’t neglect your character. “A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches” (Prov. 22:1).
7) Leading requires delegation, not dictatorship
As a leader you can’t do everything. You can’t even do a lot of things. If you’re going to actually lead you have to get people to do things. Yet, what the leader is called to is wise and loving delegation, not dictatorship.
So, carefully and humbly lead others to contribute. Without them, you would not be a leader. You have the honor, steward, and privilege to lead them. It’s not about you.
8) Leading from the front is where the bullets are
To lead is to be in the front of the fight. It is to be at the front of the fray. To lead is essentially to die daily. It is to make the hard decisions, even the wrong decisions, and it is to own it. Leading means being first out of the foxhole and on to the field. Leading is difficult and costly.
So, remember when you’re in the front you are liable to get “bullets” from the front as well as “friendly fire.” The “bullet”, however, does not mean that you are a terrible person or that it was even specifically meant for you. It’s partly just that a lot of times people direct their rage at leaders.
9) Leading is failing but having the conviction to do it again and again
I’ve heard it said that “Leading is disappointing people at a rate that they can endure.” That truth resonates. Leaders don’t always get it right, but they have the conviction to continue, to endure, and to do it again until they get it right. Where the leader is leading is that important. Conviction for the cause, propels the mission.
So, have no false illusions about what leadership is. But also realize that it’s hard for every leader. So, when you fail it’s no surprise. It’s what happens when you lead. The thing is to get up again and do it again.
10) Leading effects all of life
Leading is not contained within the “9 to 5.” Leading doesn’t just happen at work. Leading is who you are and so leading goes with you.
So, ensure that as you lead at work or your organization, you’re leading and loving well at home too. If you say “yes” to something, know that you’re saying “no” to something else. Make sure you say “yes” to the right things: your faith commitments, your family, your friends.
 Notice that non-leaders get murdered and killed but leaders get assassinated. That is, people kill other people on accident and people murder people for money or as a result of someone’s rage. But leaders get assassinated because they led. Leaders literally put themselves into harm’s way in all sorts of ways.
*Photo by Mathias Jensen
I really enjoyed Paul David Tripp’s book, Lead: 12 Gospel Principles for Leadership in the Church. There were a lot of good takeaways. Here are some of my highlights but you should read the book for yourself, especially if you are in church leadership.
“The gospel of Jesus Christ is meant to be your life hermeneutic, that is, the means by which you understand and make sense of life” (Paul David Tripp, Lead, p. 12).
“Every human being is a meaning maker, a theologian, a philosopher, or an anthropologist, always taking things apart to understand what they mean. As a ministry leader, you are doing theological work not just when you preach, teach, or lead but also in the ways that you think about yourself, understand your ministry, and relate to fellow leaders” (Tripp, Lead, p. 12).
“If sin blinds, and it does, and if sin still remains in us, and it does, then, even as ministry leaders, there are pockets of spiritual blindness in us. So it is vital that we all forsake the thought that no one knows us better than we know ourselves. If there are places where we still suffer from spiritual blindness, then there are inaccuracies in the way we see ourselves and interpret our words and behavior. If, as a leader, you deny the possibility of personal spiritual blindness and trust the accuracy of your self-view, you are not humbly open and approachable to fellow leaders whom God has placed near you to help you see what you won’t see on your own” (Tripp, Lead, pp. 67-68).
“Leaders must push the gifts of others forward, willing to listen and willing to submit to the wisdom of others who are gifted in ways that they are not. Humble leaders surround themselves not with ministry clones but with leaders who have gifts that they do not and are therefore smart in ways they are not and strong in areas they are weak. This kind of community will always produce a quality and longevity of fruit that won’t ever be produced by a domineering leader” (p. 75).
“Every leader needs to be the object of ongoing discipleship, every leader needs at moments to be confronted, every leader needs the comforts of the gospel, every leader needs help to see what he would not see on his own, and every leader needs to be granted the love and encouragement to deal with the artifacts of the old self that are still within him. If this is so, then we cannot be so busy envisioning, designing, maintaining, evaluating, and reengineering ministry that we have little time to care for the souls of the ones who are leading this gospel work. A spiritually healthy leadership community participates in the ongoing personal spiritual growth of each one of its members” (p. 86).
“A leader whose heart has been captured by other things doesn’t forsake ministry to pursue those other things; he uses ministry position, power, authority, and trust to get those things. Every leadership community needs to understand that ministry can be the vehicle for pursuing a whole host of idolatries. In this way, ministry leadership is war, and we cannot approach it with the passivity of peacetime assumptions” (pp. 109-110).
“If ministry leadership is your identity, then Christ isn’t… Ministry leadership identity produces fear and anxiety and will never produce the humility and courage that come with identity in Christ. Looking horizontally, as a leader, for your identity, meaning, purpose, and internal sense of well-being asks people, places, and position to do for you what only your Messiah can do. This will produce either pride in success or fear of failure but never the kind of humility and courage of heart that results in humble, willing, confessing approachability. Ministry as a source of identity will never result in healthy gospel-shaped relationships in your leadership community, the kind of relationships in which candor is encouraged, confession is greeted with grace, and bonds of love, appreciation, affection, understanding, and respect grow strong” (p. 156).
“If identity in ministry is a battleground for every ministry leader, and if the exchange from identity in Christ to identity in ministry is often subtle and usually takes place over an extended period of time, then it is important to identify some of the symptoms you will see when a leader is looking to get from his ministry leadership what he was meant to get from Christ” (p. 168).
“Because of the dynamic of spiritual blindness, we don’t always see ourselves with accuracy, so we all need instruments of seeing to help us. We must not let ourselves think that we’re grace graduates or that no one knows us better than we know ourselves. Because we as leaders have been welcomed by God’s grace, we can be humble and approachable, thereby protected and able to grow” (p. 204).
“If we are not living with the presence and glory of God always in focus and always as the primary motivator of all we say and do, what we say and do will be driven by the glory of self. Every human being is glory oriented, because that orientation is meant to drive us to God. So we are all always living for some type of glory” (p. 214).
Recently, I’ve seen a lot of Christian leaders be criticized or criticize, and even call other Christian leaders names because of disagreement on such things as politics, the pandemic, and policies regarding justice. And not surprisingly, those who are not leaders are also jumping into the fray and lobbing grenades too.
How many people, however, actually think through the appropriate way to evaluate Christian leaders? And how many people know what reasons Scripture gives for concern? How many Christians have a sort of theological triage they use to evaluate and make these important decisions?
There are doctrines of “prime importance and great weight” that we must insist on. “There is a time to fight. There are certain hills that must not be surrendered, even if the cost is losing our lives.” Some of the hills that we must be willing to die on are the deity, life, death, resurrection, and Second Coming of the Lord Messiah Jesus.
Other doctrines, beliefs, and convictions are, or should be, a little further down the list of importance. Just as a doctor would jump to help the patient with a gunshot wound to the chest before she would help someone with a broken pinky finger. It is not that the pinky finger is not important; it is that the gunshot wound is more important and dire.
So, let’s look at some biblical criteria by which to evaluate Christian leaders. It should be understood that these criteria do not have the same weight. The criteria of “Christology,” for example, should be given more weight of importance than “Clarity.”
1. Christology (& sound doctrine)
Christian leaders have the duty to communicate God’s transforming truth, exalt Jesus Christ, teach the Bible so that people understand and apply what God has said, and encourage conformity to Christ (see e.g. Neh. 8:7-8; 1 Tim. 3:2). Faithfulness to the revelation of God and preaching Christ are paramount (Col. 1:28). If the word of God and Jesus the Messiah are not being preached then you have reason for concern.
If false or unhealthy things are said or taught about God, His word, or Jesus the Messiah then you have great reason for concern and should share your concern and likely leave that individual’s leadership. It is important that we are aware that leaders sometimes don’t preach the truth. Peter told us that there will be false teachers among us, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought us (2 Pet. 2:1).
“If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions” (1 Tim. 6:3-4).
So, in evaluating a Christian leader, ask yourself:
- “Does this person preach/teach true, healthy doctrine? Does this person preach/teach the goodness and glory of Messiah Jesus?”
- “Do I like the style etc. of the person?”
See also: Deut. 13:1-5; 1 Jn. 4:1-3; 1 Cor. 12:3; Col. 1:28; 2:8 2 Thess. 2:15; 1 Tim. 1:10; 2 Tim. 1:13; 4:3; Titus 1:9, 13.
The leaders own life should be in order. That is, the leader should have Christ-like character. Leaders and teachers can “profess to know God” and yet “deny Him by their works” (Titus 1:16). That’s partly why it’s so important that Christian leaders meet the biblical qualifications (1 Tim. 3:1-13; Titus 1:1-9).
Q&A: Many churches adopt confessions, why then do leaders and laypersons often stray from orthodoxy? What lessons can we learn from this?
Q. Many churches adopt confessions, why then do leaders and laypersons often stray from orthodoxy? What lessons can we learn from this?
A. Confessions are good and have biblical precedent. Humans, however, are fallen and as 1 Timothy 4:1 says, “some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons.” People are lovers of self rather than lovers of God (2 Tim. 3:2-4). That is why there are problems with heterodoxy and heresy, even where there are solid confessions in place. Confessions may not keep false teaching from emerging but it is helpful to have them in place to quench the spread (like gangrene) of unhealthy teaching.
One lesson we learn from the prevalence of unhealthy belief and teaching is the importance of qualified leaders. It is vital that pastors/elders be able to teach (1 Tim. 3:2) and correct opponents of the truth (2 Tim. 2:25). We also see the important place of church discipline. The church is set apart as the light of the world and the “pillar and buttress of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:15) if the truth is not proclaimed and protected by the church how dark will the darkness be?!
The second lesson is that churches must work hard to be watchful and stand firm in the faith (1 Cor. 16:13). If someone is contradicting orthodox teaching and causing division then they should be removed from the church community (1 Tim. 6:20-21; 2 Tim. 3:5; Titus 3:10). The church is to be the set apart people of God (Eph. 1:4; 5:27). Thus, Paul writes “stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter” (2 Thess. 2:15).
“The synagogue was under the management of “elders” (Luke 7:1–5) who seem to have had disciplinary and administrative authority as well as religious…Because of their heritage, New Testament leaders likely knew and used the synagogue models for the organization of the church… This might explain the fact that the New Testament gives no historical record of the institution of the eldership as it does with the Seven (Acts 6). Much of the church’s organization is assumed in the New Testament rather than argued… However, development in the church’s organization is found in the New Testament.Christian elders are first mentioned in Acts 11:30 as an existing institution. It is possible that some of the first Christians were already (Jewish) elders and continued in a similar capacity in the early church… Throughout the Book of Acts the elders are seen to be leaders of the church (Acts 14:23, 15:2, 20:17, 21:18).”