Bible Terms: Leadership
Scripture has many expectations for leaders
So you’re in leadership! Perhaps in a large corporation, your own business, or even going into ministry—serving God full-time in the church or a Christian organization. If any of these scenarios apply to you, it’s important to clarify the expectations Scripture lays out for you. Below are 10 terms the Bible applies to leadership and ministry.
Our culture says, “Believe in yourself! Assert yourself!” But we should not be surprised to learn that the Bible tells us to do exactly the opposite of what the world advocates. We read over and over in the Bible that God pulls down those who exalt themselves and lifts up those who are humble (1 Peter 5:6 ). The Lord highlights humility throughout Scripture, but the culmination of true humility is the attitude of submission to God that Jesus himself displayed and that we are to imitate (Philippians 2:4).
Humility often carries the idea of hardship and low position, but it is the only way of life for a leader of God’s people, no matter what his or her title. When God puts us in humbling situations, either to test or discipline us, we should respond without defiance, and accept his will. God’s power and authority should inspire this spirit of submission whenever we approach him, but especially when we know we have sinned (2 Chronicles 7:14). Humility, however, does not mean fear. Proverbs 29:25 tells us that the “fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the LORD is kept safe.” Jesus Christ never cowered, nor did he apologize for doing what was right. When we are walking humbly with God, we will be looking for his approval, not other people’s affirmation.
“Serve people? You’ve got to be kidding!” We tend to associate servitude with oppressed people slaving for a cruel master. In the Bible, servants had a different job description—one more akin to our current-day employer-employee relationship. The servant’s job was to loyally carry out his or her master’s orders and act in the master’s interest at all times. In return, the master was responsible for feeding and clothing the servants and looking after their needs.
The Old Testament identified the nation of Israel as God’s servant; Israel’s job was to glorify God and reveal him to the surrounding nations (Isaiah 27:6). Jesus Christ, however, was the ultimate servant. He put aside his position in heaven to take on human form. He healed and fed people while he was on the earth, and in the greatest act of servanthood, he gave his life for us (Philippians 2:5-8). We’re called to serve God and others, just as Jesus did (1 Peter 4:10). As leaders, it is especially vital that we take the servant’s path to authority and greatness.
We may think of “justice for all” as something that belongs only in the pledge of allegiance. But throughout the Old and New Testaments, God makes it clear that he expects both government leaders and individual believers to pursue moral rightness in the workplace, court system, and in all societal relationships (Micah 6:8). There may not be perfect equity now, but the Lord expects us to make justice a high priority in our lives—and that means justice for others, not ourselves.
Someday the Lord will take his seat as judge and bring about complete justice for all. Until then, we seek justice for others. We introduce people to the good news that, though we justly deserve God’s wrath, Jesus took our punishment. Now God’s justice means that we are restored to relationship with him when we trust Jesus Christ as our Savior (Romans3:2). In God’s eyes, justice is very much a part of the ministry of every believer.
How often do you find yourself in a quandary over what to do in a specific situation? What you need is wisdom—the ability to reach sound decisions through knowledge, insight, and discernment. The Hebrew word for wisdom means the skillful ability to live in harmony with reality. It is not just about what is best or right for us, but what is best and right in God’s eyes (Proverbs 2:6). In other words, wise choices are also moral ones.
Being wise is much more than just being smart. You can get straight A’s, but without wisdom, you will do foolish things. The wise leader makes choices rooted in the fear of God— the desire to please God and obey his commands. You cannot serve God or lead others without his wisdom guiding your life.
“Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day,” the old saying goes, but “teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.” Teaching and learning are also crucial to our Christian faith. Jesus taught the people about God. He explained what the Scriptures meant, and he taught with an incredible authority the people had never seen before (Matthew 7:28-29). Then he lived his life before them as a real example that they could see and touch.
Jesus told us to carry on his work (Matthew 28:19-20). We are to instruct people not only in the facts about salvation but also in how to obey God and apply what they hear. Above all, we are to live according to the teaching of God that we are passing on to others.
Teaching is a God-given ability or spiritual gift; however, it doesn’t guarantee that a person with this ability is always right about everything. The Bible warns against listening to and teaching faulty information about God’s truth. Those who teach must study the Word carefully because they have a powerful influence on others (2 Timothy 3:16).
Ministry is serving other people. There are countless ways to minister: teaching, praying, providing financial help, leading others in worship, preaching the Gospel, caring for the physical and emotional needs of others. Jesus’ ministry involved serving us through his teachings, his life and his death (2 Corinthians 5:18-21).
Ministry isn’t about chalking up points with God—we can’t earn God’s love. Ministry is an expression of our love for God displayed in the way we love others. We love others through our actions because God loves us. Our ministry—the greatest service we could ever be to someone else—is also to tell them about Jesus Christ’s love and saving power.
What is “the call”? Some people wonder if God is calling them to be missionaries or pastors. One thing is for sure: God calls each of us to follow Jesus Christ (Luke 9:23). Jesus once compared the kingdom of heaven to a man who invited many guests to a great banquet. the guests ignored the invitation; they had more important things to do. No matter what family you come from or what occupation you hold, God calls you to know, love, and follow his Son (John 10:27). It’s an invitation you don’t want to refuse!
In the book of Acts, the apostles and Paul received special instructions from God (Acts 1:7-8). We think of those as “calls” from God, but most believers don’t receive verbal, individualized instructions like that. Never fear—the whole Bible gives each believer a call to love God, obey him, and share his Good News with our whole lives. That’s call enough to keep us busy no matter where our talents, desires, and circumstances lead us.
If someone poured oil over your head (“anointed you with oil”), you probably wouldn’t consider it a blessing, but in the Old Testament, oil symbolized the Holy Spirit. Kings, priests, prophets, and even physical articles destined for holy purposes were anointed with oil. Anointing indicated that the individual or thing was set apart for God’s purposes and equipped by his Spirit. The Bible’s use of the term also represents God’s bestowal of favor on, or his selection of, an individual to perform a special task (1 Samuel 9:16). For example, David was anointed as king of Israel (1 Samuel 16:13). The Bible often refers to Jesus Christ “the Anointed One.” He is God’s chosen instrument, bringing salvation to people on earth (Psalm 2:2).
When we believe in Christ, we are also anointed with his Holy Spirit. The New Testament does not call on Christians to physically anoint their leaders—only those Christians who are sick and need healing are to be anointed (James 5:14). Why? Because we are all anointed spiritually. We are each chosen and empowered to serve God. We speak of “anointing” when we experience power from the Holy Spirit to accomplish special work for him. That, too, is not just for leaders and ministers, but for every believer.
To dedicate or devote something is to give completely, without holding back. Christians give their lives—their very bodies—completely to God (Romans 12:1-2).
Sometimes, we make a special dedication of our time, energy, or possessions. God takes our promises and commitments seriously. He wants us to carefully consider what we dedicate to him. Don’t make specific promises you cannot carry out (Proverbs 20:25).
For example, Paul cautioned young widows to avoid committing themselves to serve God through a lifetime of singleness because God knew their sensual desires could cause them to break their commitment (1 Timothy 5:11-14).
God honors our commitments as our expressions of love and worship, and he will never be in our debt. When we give to God, he always gives back above and beyond what we could ever imagine (Romans 8:32).
In Bible times, elders were older members of the community. They held positions as governors, administered justice, and were active in citizens’ concerns. Their respected offices were transferred to the next generation after their deaths. In Moses’ time, elders represented the people when they met before God.
When the early church began, elder positions (pastors, overseers, general leaders) existed, but other positions, such as deacons, were soon created due to new situations and special emergencies. Both the young and the old filled these new positions; so, yes, even the young can be church elders. However, God requires special qualifications of elders because they are called to be spiritual shepherds of God’s flock (1 Peter 5:2-4). Those qualities include the following: They must be blameless, self-controlled, and hospitable; not overbearing, quick-tempered, or given to drunkenness (1 Timothy 3:1-7). If our personal lives aren’t under control, how can we carry the heavier responsibilities of caring for the church?
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