Ministry Resources

People, Tasks, and Goals: What It Takes To Be A Leader

What makes a strong leader? This lesson series takes a deep dive into the characteristics and attributes of Biblical leaders to try and find an answer. Series written by Billie Davis

Leaders Grow and Help Others Grow

Pastor Minusan breathed a prayer as he went to answer the knock at his door. He was expecting Hagop to come see him today. He wanted to ask Hagop to be his part-time assistant. He was praying because this was a serious step in his ministry and in the life of young Hagop. He was asking the Lord to help them both to make correct decisions.

The church was growing and Pastor Minusan needed help. The problem on his mind was this: Hagop had been a Christian for less time than many of the other believers. His parents were not believers. He was young and sometimes impulsive in expressing ideas unfamiliar to the group. He did not fully understand all the customs and practices characteristic of this church body.

Pastor Minusan saw tremendous potential in Hagop. More importantly, he was convinced, along with the young man himself, that the Lord had called Hagop, and that he could carry out some duties needed in the church at present. He was intelligent, a faithful worker, and an eager student of the Bible.

Still, some people in the church had not fully accepted him. He might be too young. His background might be too different from that of the older believers. “Please, Lord,” the pastor prayed as he opened the door, “help us make the right decision. Help me do what is best for Your people and Your plan.”

The situation in which we found Pastor Minusan is complex and extremely significant in our study of leadership. It involves God’s plan for the development and perpetuation of His Church. In this lesson, we shall examine some biblical examples and principles that will make this clear to us. Also, we will learn more about our own growth and development as Christian leaders.

Paul – A Leader in God’s Plan

“God did extraordinary miracles through Paul” (Acts 19:11). Paul was a special servant of the Lord, specifically chosen and empowered by the Holy Spirit. Just as marvelous as the incidents in his life, which we all recognize as miracles, was the way he was selected to fill a unique place in history and in God’s plan for the perpetuation of the church. In Paul, we find an excellent example of the way God works through the instrument of human leadership.

When we first meet Paul in the Scriptures (he was called Saul then), we see immediately that he was a person who could influence others. He had ideas and goals. He was willing to work hard to accomplish his purposes. He took bold action. He organized support for his cause. We recognize in him the qualities and traits that most people admire in good leaders, but sadly, he used all these assets to fight against the work of Jesus (Acts 7:57–8:3 and 9:2). However, we soon discover that Saul’s misdirected energies were useless against the plan of God, as useless as it would be to throw twigs at a battleship.

Let’s go back in time and briefly review this unchangeable plan for the perpetuation of the church. While Jesus was on earth He did many wondrous works. His greatest act, of course, was His death on the cross for the salvation of mankind. Next to that, His most important mission was to select and train human leaders who would carry on when He went back to glory. He called out the disciples and taught them. Then, He gave them His final instructions, which would be from that moment on the key instructions to Christians in every generation: “Go and preach and teach.” The disciples obeyed Jesus and, filled with the power of the Holy Spirit, these few early leaders influenced hundreds more. The church was set into motion for all time.

There were numerous and varied tasks to be done in the early days of the church. The scriptural record gives us accounts not only of directly spiritual activities (such as preaching and healing), but also of organization, policy discussions, and the constant recruitment and training of new workers. One of the leaders who helped carry on many of these activities of the church was a faithful and wise Christian named Barnabas. He and the others joined in deciding which specific needs had to be met. There were needs such as teaching Christian doctrine to new converts, providing for the welfare of the poor, and helping new congregations get organized. For each type of task the elders appointed workers with appropriate God-given abilities.

Among the many needs to be considered by the church, one was frequently neglected. This was ministry to the Gentiles. No one seemed quite equipped to lead this ministry. The disciples understood best the needs and customs of their own people, the Jews. They did not fully comprehend that God expected them to reach the Gentiles also.

However, God’s unchanging purpose included the salvation of people from all races and nationalities, and what does God do when there are purposes to be accomplished? He calls out people, gives them specific tasks, and guides them in the attainment of His goals.

And Paul was the right person for this unique position in God’s plan. Of course, all intelligence and all gifts and abilities come from God, and already, before Paul’s actual conversion and calling, God knew that the appropriate knowledge and abilities were there. The dramatic and miraculous conversion was God’s way of making His will absolutely clear to Paul and to the church leaders. “This man is my chosen instrument,” said the Lord, “to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel” (Acts 9:15).

We notice that God first spoke to Paul (Saul) in a voice from heaven. (Stop here and read again Acts 9:1–6.) After that, He chose to work mostly through other people to help Paul in his new calling. God allowed Paul to experience the humiliation of being questioned and doubted by the Christians with whom he was called to work. In fact, because of his reputation as an enemy of the Lord Jesus Christ, the disciples at Jerusalem refused to receive him.

Now, let’s remember Barnabas. (Read Acts 9:26–28.) God had given him leadership gifts, and he had gained the trust and respect of the believers. He did not hesitate to use his position to help others. Showing the stability and the empathy of a true Christian leader, Barnabas became a friend and helper to Paul.

“Isn’t he the man who had Christians put into prison?” asked the excited disciples. “How can we trust this man?”

But Barnabas introduced Paul and explained his calling. He supported Paul in every way and helped him adapt to his new position in the church. This friendship and help were very important to Paul in the early days of his ministry.

We have said already that Barnabas showed empathy. That is, he thought of himself in Paul’s place and acted as a friend. He showed stability in that he was not shaken by the fears of the people. He was firm in his own understanding of God’s will. But perhaps his most important leadership trait at this point was his willingness to share leadership. He did not hesitate to help another leader. Barnabas knew that Paul had a special place in God’s plan. Barnabas had his own place, too. Different needs in the church require different kinds of leadership. (Read Acts 11:22–30.)

Leadership Principles Applied

Together, Barnabas and Paul made an effective team. They had a glorious ministry in evangelism and church planting. Barnabas continued to have a great interest in the development of other workers, so we soon find another person on the team. His name was John, also called Mark (Acts 12:25).

Evidently, John Mark had great potential, but the work of the ministry was difficult. He probably missed the familiar life in Jerusalem and became weary with the hardships of travel, so he left the gospel team midway through the first evangelistic mission and went home (Acts 13:13). Later, Barnabas wanted to forgive him and take him on another gospel mission, but Paul disagreed (Acts 15:36–39).

At this point it seems that Paul was so eager to get on with the work of the Lord that he was impatient with someone who appeared to be less dedicated. Barnabas, however, knew that God’s goals are almost always attained through people. He stood behind John Mark and supported this younger minister, just as he had supported Paul when there had been a need.

Even in the incident of disagreement between Paul and Barnabas we see the plan of God being accomplished. Although Paul rejected John Mark at this time, he later changed his mind and accepted him as a co-worker (Colossians 4:10; 2 Timothy 4:11). More importantly, Paul soon began to follow Barnabas’ example. He chose a younger man who had great leadership potential and began to teach and guide him. His name was Timothy.

We find in Paul and Timothy the greatest example of a teacher-pupil relationship since Jesus had taught His disciples. At first, Timothy had to be supported and justified before the Jews, much as Paul had been (Acts 16:1–3). Since his father was a Greek, Timothy had not lived according to all the Jewish customs. For example, he was not circumcised. There was in the church at this time considerable controversy concerning the need for circumcision. The great apostle Peter had been criticized for accepting uncircumcised people as friends (Acts 11:1–3).

In this situation, Paul could have said, “I have my own ministry to think of.” He might have avoided the trouble and responsibility of supporting and counseling another preacher. But he did not. Paul knew that Timothy had been called of God, but because of his youth and his background he might not be able to put his talents into full use. Therefore, he gave Timothy words of instruction along these lines:

It is a noble task to be in a position of leadership. Prophecies have been made concerning you, but it is up to you to develop your talents and hold on to your faith (see 1 Timothy 1:18– 19; 3:1).

He encouraged Timothy to respect the law and the customs of the elders, going so far as to see that he was circumcised in order to avoid controversy. But, at the same time, Paul said, “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young” (1 Timothy 4:12).

In the midst of a successful ministry, Paul never forgot that he was just one in the leadership line necessary to carry out God’s universal gospel plan. He said God “called us to a holy life— not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace” (2 Timothy 1:9). This grace, he explained, was given before the beginning of time and was revealed on earth through Jesus Christ “And . . . I,” said Paul, “was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher” (2 Timothy 1:8–11).

Can you imagine how a great leader like Paul, very sure of his own position, could share so freely and honestly with a young beginning leader? Now you are a leader, too, in this same stream of God’s purpose and grace. That is the meaning of Paul’s words! “Timothy,” he continued, “guard what has been entrusted to your care. Don’t neglect your gift. Fan it into flame! Be diligent Make progress.” (See 1 Timothy 4:14–15; 6:20; 2 Timothy 1:6.)

But he did not stop there. He went on to charge the young leader to remember, in his turn, the ultimate goal of helping to develop other leaders to carry on God’s work: “And the things you have heard me say . . . entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others” (2 Timothy 2:2).

Leaders are called and Developed

The Leader’s Call and Development Explained

Paul spoke often and boldly of his calling. He knew he had been chosen by God for a certain kind of ministry. Probably you have studied or read about the ministry gifts. God has given the church several kinds of leaders to minister in various ways. These include prophets, pastors, and teachers. Remember that Barnabas accepted Paul first on the basis that he had been called of God. It was this that he explained to the others when he supported Paul. Barnabas was not simply introducing a talented new leader. He was giving assurance that he recognized the call of God upon Paul’s life. The call was thus recognized as God’s claim upon his life, the grounds or basis for his ministry.

We found that Paul recognized God’s calling upon the life of Timothy. However, the newly “found” leader was like a tender, young plant, which needs to grow, develop, and mature. Timothy needed to develop the skills of leadership, acquire spiritual knowledge and a knowledge of people, and mature in judgment. Paul thus gave Timothy many practical instructions concerning the development of his leadership capacities, but he began with the declaration that Timothy had received his leadership gift through a divine message (1 Timothy 4:14). The divine call was thus the basis for Paul’s recognition of Timothy’s leadership potential.

Of course, Paul and Timothy were ministers and preachers. We think of them as very special people. But what about those Christian leaders who are not preachers nor full-time workers in the church? Are they called, too?

Certainly there are unique callings in the plan of God. There are indeed separate classifications of workers. Local church bodies need ministers who are called of God and officially recognized as the spiritual leaders—the pastors of the flock. In most cases, these persons should have specialized education and should be devoted fully and, whenever possible, exclusively to the gospel ministry. They are to be respected by all members and must be consulted concerning all activities related to local church bodies.

In addition to the full-time ministry, there is a sense in which any true Christian may be called to serve in specific ways. We have seen in Paul’s words Timothy that even a gifted and called worker needs teaching and development This leads us to the conclusion that all Christian leaders are both called and developed. If we are to use our full potential in the work of the Lord, we must assume two major responsibilities:

1. To recognize the importance of God’s calling upon our own lives and the lives of others.

2. To develop our own gifts and help others develop theirs.

The Leader’s Development Examined

In order to understand the importance of leadership development we must know exactly what is included in the concept leader. We know that people are called by God to meet various needs. Some who are called and used by God are not actual leaders. They are outstanding individuals. Sometimes they are called “up-front persons.” Among these are the prophets. Isaiah and John the Baptist are biblical examples of prophets. They influence many people and bring glory to the Lord. Their main ministry is communication of God’s Word, rather than working with others.

Some “up-front” persons are more like performers, or “stars.” They are greatly admired by others. Often, their influence is great and they are effective in the Lord’s work. Usually, however, their popularity fades and they leave little behind them because they have called too much attention to themselves. They seldom train anyone to carry on after them, so even if they build a work, much of it is lost eventually.

Other “up-front” persons are “bosses,” or supervisors. They think in terms of getting a task accomplished. They expect others to obey them because they are in control. Often, they accomplish specific purposes. They get jobs done. But the people who work under their orders are unhappy, take little interest in the work, and develop no talents to help them accomplish other, greater purposes.

If you desire to be a true leader, your best gift probably is that you really love and respect people and want to work with them in the Lord’s service. You notice in Paul’s letters that he speaks to Timothy on two levels. In one sentence he gives instructions concerning Timothy’s own life and conduct. In the next he tells Timothy what to teach others. Thus, Paul demonstrates to Timothy, and to all of us who read these letters, that a leader is constantly aware of the task and the people. A leader is constantly learning and growing and helping others learn and grow.

Some Examples from Paul’s Letters

For Timothy to learn: Train yourself to be godly.

For Timothy to teach: Godliness has value for the present and for the life to come.

For Timothy to learn: Set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith, and in purity.

For Timothy to teach: The overseer must be above reproach. If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?

For Timothy to learn: Turn away from godless chatter.

For Timothy to teach: People are not to have an unhealthy interest in controversies, arguments, and constant friction. They are not to gossip.

For Timothy to learn: Do not rebuke an older man harshly but exhort him as if he were your father. Treat younger men as brothers, older women as mothers.

For Timothy to teach: People should put their religion into practice by caring for their own families.

These examples demonstrate to us the significant truth that a good leader is never very far from those he or she leads. The best way to develop our own abilities is to begin at once to help others develop theirs. Timothy was not instructed to become fully trained so that, at some point, he would be a leader who could take charge of others. He was guided into the beautiful truth that good leaders remain teachable and involved in the lives of their people.

Leaders help Develop Others

Turn back to the beginning of this lesson and review the situation of Pastor Minusan and Hagop. This illustration reminds us that what we learn from Barnabas, Paul, and Timothy is important for leaders today. God still works through people, and they are still called and developed in the scriptural way. Leaders like Pastor Minusan see the need for helpers as the work grows. Dedicated believers such as Hagop feel the touch of God upon their lives and wish to accept leadership responsibilities.

As the work of the Lord progresses, needs arise and leaders are sought to fill appropriate positions. More mature and experienced leaders must understand how to recruit and develop younger leaders. Younger Christians and those who are just beginning in leadership roles must accept guidance and direction.

Whatever your position is, you need to understand both the position of Pastor Minusan and that of Hagop.

Probably the most important goal you will ever attain as a leader is to help develop the leadership potential of others. For example, if you are a youth leader, you will need to help young people assume responsibility for leading family members and schoolmates into the church. If you lead men, you help train them to be leaders in their homes and work places. Every Christian needs some form of leadership training.

How to Help Others Develop

The first modern books on leadership were written by people interested in commercial goals and industrial production. These books gave instructions for getting people to do the will of a leader or “boss.” Christian leaders read some of these books and began to use many of the same methods. In most of the earlier leadership studies, the emphasis was upon methods of persuasion. Christian leaders, anxious to do the work of the Lord in efficient and effective ways, wanted to know how to establish control and authority. They wanted to motivate people—keep them working to attain goals that the leader felt were important.

Recently, commercial and industrial leaders, and leaders in government and education, have agreed that their methods did not work very well. They have announced the discovery of new and better methods of leadership. It should not come as a surprise to Christians that these “new” methods are very similar to those used by God’s greatest leaders and described for us in the Bible.

I once attended a two-hour seminar conducted by a famous consultant on leadership. He used all the latest expressions of psychology and management. He described dozens of leadership situations and problems. We waited expectantly for him to tell us the great new discovery, but suddenly, his fountain of fine words was dry.

“Well,” he said, “after extensive research we have reached the conclusion that only one type of method is really basic and consistently effective. That is a method based upon caring for people.” Caring for people! We did not have to pay a fee and listen for two hours to a wordy professor to know that! We learned it in our Bible classes, didn’t we? Why is it so often difficult for us Christians to accept the fact that all real truth is God’s truth? There is no wisdom and no effective positive method of working with people for which we cannot find a foundation in the Scriptures.

Let’s examine some of the principles given in the best professional writings on leadership. We will find that all of them are compatible with the teaching and behavior of Barnabas and Paul.

Be aware of talent and ability in the people you wish to lead. In Christian leadership, this includes recognition of God’s calling on the life of another person and divine gifts.

Accept differences in people. Do not believe that every difference is a problem to be eliminated. Remember, the different backgrounds of Paul and Timothy were accepted and became assets in the work of the Lord.

Help people adapt their different qualities to the situation. Support them among other workers and leaders so that they feel accepted. Help them recognize needs they can fill. Remember, the words of Paul indicate that he was pleased to be able to fill a unique place as an apostle to the Gentiles.

Help people understand exactly what is expected and required of them. Explain and interpret the attitudes and behaviors that are appropriate in each situation so that each person has a chance to adapt. Let people know the reasons behind your requirements and actions. Help new people get acquainted with the background, history, and special customs of a group. Remember how Paul accomplished this in his letters to Timothy, reminding him of the past and preparing him for the future. Paul gave Timothy specific instructions and training.

Let people know that you care about them as people, not just as workers. “Caring” is not superficial. It is genuine. It is expressed in actions and attitudes as well as in words.

Express appreciation for good work. There is an important warning with this. Appreciation in this case should not be personal. Do not say, “I like you. You are nice.” This may make someone feel good for a moment, but it seldom helps him or her to develop his or her talents and gifts. You must accurately evaluate the person’s abilities and contributions. People need to be appreciated and recognized for real achievements. The most effective word of appreciation is something like this: “The program you planned was excellent. It met a real need.”

Recognize the fact that development of others enlarges your own effectiveness. There is no place for competition in God’s work. When leaders are afraid to help develop others, they weaken their own position. Leaders do not develop credibility with others nor confidence in themselves and the Lord by being self-assertive and authoritarian. Our own feelings of self-worth or self-concept are important, as long as we recognize that we are servants of our sovereign Lord. And, according to the experts, self-concept is the result of how others respond to us. The best way to have a good, Christian self-concept is to help someone else develop his or her concept of himself or herself as a person important in the Lord’s work. Leaders increase their own influence and effectiveness when they help others and surround themselves with competent workers. If leaders are insecure in their own position and fail to recognize the contributions of others, they become weaker.

Share goals and decision-making as much as possible. Instead of trying to get others to work toward your goal, let them know the goal is theirs, too. You don’t just announce this, of course. You make it plain that this is not a case of someone helping you in your ministry. It is rather that they have their own ministry with goals identical to yours. You can reach your goals only if your workers reach theirs. They can reach their goals only if you reach yours. This is the basic principle of working as a body. Christian leaders who expect to make all the decisions and get others to help them in their ministry are almost certain to fail. More success comes to leaders who invite others to help in decision-making. Such leaders do not say, “Work for me.” They say, “Let’s work together for the Lord.”

Help people develop order and discipline. Most people work better if they have clear directions and work according to plans they understand. Making strict rules will not bring success, but providing appropriate structure will. A good leader knows how to plan, set deadlines and standards, organize, and coordinate his or her workers and materials. In our next lesson we will learn more about how to plan, coordinate, and organize.

Questions for meditation and self-analysis. What gifts and abilities do you feel you have received from the Lord? Do you think of this course as one step in the development of these gifts and abilities? What have you learned from the biblical examples that will help you grow as a person and as a leader? Can you think of specific ways you might use your knowledge to help someone else?

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