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Christian Leadership Defined

January 20, 2015

This is a wonderfully written position paper on Christian leadership. Dr. Bruce E. Winston discusses the importance of loving God and loving other people as a starting point.

Christian Leadership Defined.

Bruce E. Winston, PhD

January 10, 2015

I have enjoyed the opportunity and privilege of studying leadership for the past 25 years and have come to understand some key principles that undergird successful transformative leadership. Most notably to me are the principles that come from the New Testament. This essay presents what I have found and how these principles relate to those who are in leadership positions today.

To be a Christian means that one follows the beliefs, tenets, and principles that are ascribed to Jesus in the four Gospels and presented by the Apostles in the letters included in the New Testament. This essay begins with the Great Commandment to love God and to love our neighbor and presents what I believe it means to be a Christian Leader.

When Jesus was asked by the Pharisees to name the most important commandment, Jesus responded by summarizing all of the commandments: “And He said to him, 'YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.' This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, 'YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.' "On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets." (Matthew 22:37-40 New American Standard (NAS)). A review of the Ten Commandments shows that the first four commandments relate to loving God and the last six commandments relate to loving people.

Christian Leadership Demonstrated Through Loving God

Jesus stated that the foremost commandment is to love God. I believe that a Christian leader would openly declare his/her belief and commitment to Jesus, as the Son of God and the Messiah, and to agree to live by Jesus’ stated principles. John 6:38 shows that Jesus said that He came to do the will of his Father. This recognition of ‘calling’ is an important element for a Christian leader in that the Christian leader should seek to do the will of the Father as conveyed through Jesus. Over the past 25 years I have interviewed countless successful Christian leaders who tell me that they understood their calling and even thought they might not have been educated/trained in how to do the work they experienced success and attributed their success to following their calling.

In Romans 12:2 Paul helps us see why it is important to listen to God and follow Him: “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect” (NAS). Paul helps us see that we will know our calling by transforming (the Greek word used here is similar to metamorphosis) our minds through studying what we read and hear in order to know what God’s will is for us. Note that Paul ends this advice by showing that God’s will is good, acceptable, and perfect. A Christian leader will spend time in study, prayer, and meditation listening for God’s direction.

Paul provides another principle for Christian leaders in Col 3:23-24: “Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve” (NAS). The Greek word we translate to ‘heartily’ has the root of spirit, soul, breath of life, etc. that implies more than just mere completion. It seems to me that Paul’s admonition is that Christian leaders should do everything as if it is a form of worship to God. Thus, Christian leaders seek to serve God, rather than other people or one’s self.

James, in chapter 4 of his letter, offers some strong advice about doing what you want to do and expecting success, but rather we should focus on what God wants us to do. James’ teaching supports the view of Loving God to be the foremost commandment and to focus, first on God, and then on people.

Christian Leadership Demonstrated Through Loving People

Jesus said that the second commandment involved loving our neighbor. The Greek word we translate as ‘neighbor’ implies that it refers to anyone other than ourselves, thus my use of the term as meaning ‘people’. For this essay, ‘people’ refer to those in our organizations where we lead. Jesus presented seven virtues of those who would follow Him in the Sermon on the Mount: humility, concern for others, controlled discipline, seek what is righteousness, show mercy, be pure in heart, and, create/sustain peace.

The Seven Virtues Related to Loving People

Christian leaders would demonstrate these seven virtues in measurable ways so that those people in the organization can see the leader demonstrating humility, which was one of the two characteristics of ‘great leaders’ in Collins book ‘Good to Great’.

Christian leaders should decide what, in the organization, needs to be done and how it should be done with the good of the organizational members in mind. This includes working conditions, family-work issues, payment for work done, creating a positive workplace in which, as Greenleaf said about servant leaders in his book ‘The Servant Leader’: “The difference manifests itself in the care taken by the servant-first to make sure that other people’s highest priority needs are being served. The best test, and difficult to administer, is: Do those served grow as persons? Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants?”

Connected with the virtue of concern for others is the virtue of controlled discipline. A criticism of servant leadership, espoused in the research literature on the topic is a concern that there is no discipline by servant leadership. This is not true, as evidenced by a chapter co-authored by Buford, Gomez, Patterson, and me  in the book ‘Servant Leadership: Research and Practice’ edited by Selladurai and Carraher where our research showed that servant leaders used discipline appropriately but in a manner that sought to align with Greenleaf’s test that people were better off because of the discipline.

Christian leaders should demonstrate behaviors and explain their actions in ways that show that the leader seeks what is right, just, and holy, which is what the Greek word we translate as ‘righteousness’ implies.

Related to the virtue of controlled discipline is virtue of showing mercy. Mercy is one of three related components that includes justice and grace. Justice is getting what you deserve, grace is getting what you don’t deserve, and mercy is not getting what you deserve. Jesus demonstrated mercy in His interaction with the woman, as recorded in John 8:1-11. The law of that time called for the woman to be stoned. Jesus, for an unstated reason, called for mercy. Christian leaders have the discernment to know when justice would not serve the person or the organization well and provide mercy as needed. Mercy can be the start of repentance and transformation for organizational employees.

Christian leaders should behave in ways that clearly show the leader as being focused on the purpose of the organization and on God’s ‘calling’ for the leader. There are thousands of things that any organizational leader could choose to do, but the Christian leader knows to filter all of the possible with the knowledge of what God has called the leader to do. This is connected with the Romans 12:2 passage presented above. Of interest, this sense of focus, or ‘fierce resolve’ was the second characteristic of ‘great’ leaders that Collins found and reported in his book ‘Good to Great’ mentioned before.

Christian leaders should behave in ways that demonstrate the leader’s focus on creating and sustaining  peace in the organization. Conflict can be either destructive or constructive. Destructive conflict results in damaged people and broken relationships, thus a break in the community of the organization. Constructive conflict is the natural tension between wants and desires of diverse people. The Christian leader creates and sustains an organization culture that recognizes the value and necessity of constructive conflict and promotes prevention and resolution of destructive conflict. This also ties to Greenleaf’s test of servant leadership mentioned earlier.

A collection of seven tests, one for each of the seven virtues, can be found at: At the present time we do not have norming information, but if you wish to look at the statistics of the instruments you can find it at:

Kilroy, J., Bekker, C., Bocarnea, M., & Winston, B. E. (2014). Seven scales to measure the seven beatitudes in leaders. Journal of Biblical Integration in Business. 17(1), 7-24.

Paul’s 15 Statements About Agape Love From 1Cor 13 Related to Loving People

Paul provides seven statements about what Agape love is and eight statements about what Agape love is not. While Paul’s audience was the church in Corinth, the diversity and community represented by the Corinthian church makes the 15 conceptual statements applicable to contemporary organizations. In summary of 1Cor 13, Paul calls for Christians, and I include Christian leaders here, to demonstrate by beliefs and actions that “love is: (a) patient, (b) kind, (c) rejoices in truth, (d) bears all things, (e) believes all things, (f) hopes all things, and (g) endures all things. Paul contrasts these seven positive statements with eight statements of what love is not: (a) does not act unbecomingly, (b) does not seek its own, (c) is not provoked, (d) does not rejoice in unrighteousness, (e) not jealous, (f) does not take into account a wrong, (g) does not brag, not arrogant, and (h) does not rejoice in unrighteousness.” (Quoted from an unpublished manuscript on Organizational Leadership that I am currently working on.) There are similarities in Paul’s 15 statements with comments Paul makes in Col 3:12 and in the Fruit of the Spirit presented in Gal 5.

Christian leaders should evaluate their beliefs and behaviors according to the 15 statements above, along with the parallel concepts found in Col 3:12 and Gal 5. I recommend that if an organization uses a 360-degree style of leader evaluation that people evaluate their supervisors/leaders using these 15 statements. At present I am not aware of a commercially available evaluation tool that uses the concepts included in this essay, but I hope to see something in the future that helps leaders and followers to evaluate each other using Scriptural concepts.

Paul’s Advice from Galatians 6 Related to Loving People

Paul advises that people help each other as needed, but should limit the help so that the ‘helper’ does not become the one who needs help. Thus, I see that Christian leaders need to offer help when they see someone (boss, peer, or direct-report) who needs help but to do so in a manner that does not lead to the leader ending up in a problem situation. Paul goes on to say that if you help someone you should not boast about it, which ties back to his comments in 1Cor 13, but then Paul makes a curious statement and says that if someone wants to boast to boast about completing his/her work without needing help.

Loving People By Placing People in the Right Jobs.

Person-Job fit is a concept that helps understand the positive motivation resulting from placing people in jobs that best fit their gifts, skills, and abilities. Christian leaders take the time to understand the gift profile of the seven motivational gifts listed in Romans 12. These seven motivational gifts exist as a profile and understanding what jobs best fit the motivational gifts is a means of helping employees exercise the gifts that God gave each of them. For a more detailed presentation and the statistical analysis of the Motivational Gift test you can find more at: and you can find the online motivational gift test at:

When people work in jobs that align with their motivational gift profile they are happier and more productive. In addition they require less supervision, show higher levels of loyalty and commitment to the organization.


In summary, a Christian leader should first love God and second love people. A Christian leader does this by committing his/her life to believing in Jesus as the Son of God and the Messiah, seeking to know God’s calling upon his/her life, adopts and lives out the virtues from the Beatitudes, decides on his/her behaviors based on the principles from 1Cor 13, Col 3:12, and Gal 5. In addition the Christian leader seeks to treat employees in a manner that would pass Greenleaf’s Servant Leadership Test, while seeking to know the motivational gifts of employees so that all employees can follow God’s call upon each of their lives.


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