The idea of godly leadership is a concept that almost seems like an oxymoron. In a world that seems to thrive on a “me-first” mindset, can you live by godly principles and be a good leader?
What does the Bible say about leadership? Let’s dig into our Bibles to see what we can learn.
What Is Leadership?
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Before we can uncover what godly leadership is, let’s understand the general concept of leadership.
The Oxford Dictionary Online defines leadership as the action of leading a group of people or an organization.
That’s not very helpful, is it? What does it mean to lead? Are you simply taking the person by the hand and guiding them in a particular direction? Sometimes, but that’s not the type of leadership we’re talking about.
The word lead, according to the Oxford Dictionary, means to show (someone or something) the way to a destination by going in front of or beside them.
That sounds more like it. So a leader then is someone who shows others the path by coming alongside or going in front. You can’t lead from behind. As a leader, you need to be in the trenches with your people—walking through the experience with them.
It doesn’t mean that you have to be with them every step of the way, but you should at least have some experience with what they’re going through so you can direct them when they come upon obstacles.
Yet, how many leaders do you know who have absolutely no idea what their employees are doing and have no desire to learn?
They remain at a distance directing the action, hoping to glean the expected results…often becoming punitive when the desired results are not achieved.
What is Leadership According to the Bible?
The Bible gives several illustrations of leadership, but we’re going to zoom in on one today.
In Matthew 20:20-28, we read about a mother who wanted her sons elevated to leadership. Specifically, she wanted one to sit on the right and the other on the left in Jesus’ kingdom (Matthew 20:20-21).
In a throne room, the persons who sit beside the king wield almost as much power as the king.
The mother of the sons of Zebedee probably didn’t understand fully what she was asking. All she knew was that she respected Jesus and knew He had power. Knew He was the Son of God. That He would establish His kingdom. She wanted her sons to have some of that power. To have a role in His kingdom.
Needless to say, the other disciples were not impressed with the sons of Zebedee. How dare they ask to be elevated to a position above everyone else? Why should they receive that privilege and not the other ten?
Too often, our quest to become leaders can often disintegrate into childish squabbles and infighting. You may wonder, what are the biblical qualifications of a leader?
Thankfully, Jesus was quick to intervene and provide an alternative to the worldly type of leadership we’re all familiar with.
But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”Matthew 20:25-28 ESV
The Keys to Godly Leadership
Jesus’ words contain two keys for godly leadership:
- Do not lord your authority over your subordinates.
- Serve others rather than expect them to serve you.
Let’s dig deeper into these two keys of godly leadership.
Don’t Lord Over Others
At first glance, this seems like an impossible ask. How can you lead without exercising your authority?
Based on the context of Jesus’ words, He was not against the mere exercising of power, but rather the abuse of it.
The Greek word translated as “exercise lordship” is katakyrieúō, (pronounced kat-ak-oo-ree-yoo’-o”. Katakyrieúō means to lord against, i.e. control, subjugate, exercise dominion over (lordship), be lord over, or overcome.
Katakyrieúō is used in the Bible to convey the following ideas:
- to bring under one’s power, to subject one’s self, to subdue, master
- to hold in subjection, to be master of, exercise lordship over
As you can see, this is not a simple, “I’m responsible for you, so let me lead you in the right direction”. No, the connotations of the word are more forceful. And indeed, the sentiment is repeated in the brief statement.
You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them
(Matthew 20:25 NKJV, emphasis mine).
The second key to godly leadership is to be a servant rather than a master.
Again, Jesus repeats the sentiment twice:
“…but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave—” (Matthew 20″26-27 NKJV, emphasis mine).
The word translated as “servant” is the Greek word diákonos, (pronounced dee-ak’-on-os) which could have been translated as an attendant, a waiter (at a table or in other menial duties), or, minister, servant.
Interestingly, it could also have been translated to mean a Christian teacher and pastor (technically, a deacon or deaconess).
The word translated as “slave” was the Greek word doûlos, (pronounced doo’-los) meaning a slave (literal or figurative, involuntary or voluntary, bondman, or servant.
Do you see? Jesus was serious about this idea that a good leader is one who serves as He Himself came to serve humanity.
An Example of Godly Leadership
I enjoy reading fiction that illustrates life lessons as I believe this is one way we can learn things without having to experience them ourselves. The idea of leadership is one theme explored in Sarah Sundin’s The Sound of Light.
Readers will be exposed to poor leaders and exceptional ones. The difference between the two was whether or not they sought to live by the two principles discussed managing their authority without abusing it and serving others rather than themselves.
Leadership was like fire. In the right hands, it warmed all in range. In the wrong hands, it destroyed everything.– The Sound of Light, Sarah Sundin
The Sound of Light Review
Was it right to do wrong to do right? Was it wrong to do right to do wrong? These were the questions Sarah Sundin wrestled with in The Sound of Light as she portrayed the romance between Baron Henrik Ahlefeldt and Dr. Else Jensen.
When we meet Henrik on page one, he’s on the cusp of greatness or despair. With the German occupation of Denmark, he had a choice to make. Did he continue to live his life only for himself? Or did he choose to put others first?
This was especially challenging for a man who struggled with the idea of leadership—he wanted to be in charge, but he feared what wielding the power would do to him.
Dr. Else Jensen is a physicist in a male-dominated environment. Some of them are not as willing to work with her as others. She must learn to fight for herself…on the verge of learning to fight for others.
At the beginning of the story, she’s hesitant about a romantic relationship with Hemming, the laborer who is slow in speech and thought, but she quickly puts her prejudice aside, making an effort to reach out to Hemming.
The result is a friendship and later a romantic tendre. I liked how she imagined herself in Hemmings’ shoes until she developed compassion for him.
I enjoyed how Ms. Sundin spun this story out one thread at a time, creating characters who were endearing and who you wanted to triumph.
She blended in the love story so smoothly, it was possible to see how love shines brightly even in the darkest of times.
I could truly see how the selfish baron had grown into a man who cared deeply about others. Readers are taken on a journey with Henrik as he first learns to humble himself, then to lead with compassion. And, when he fails, he learns how to apologize.
I also enjoyed how Else learned how to be brave—for herself first, and then for others. Else learned that sometimes leaders do not handle their power well. Yet, as subordinates, we need to learn how to respect their position even if they make themselves odious.
The Sound of Light will remind readers that if the laws of man violate God’s laws, then we must choose. We must choose to obey our Heavenly Father rather than earthly authorities.
If you enjoy redemption or World War II stories, give The Sound of Light a read.
I received an advanced reader’s copy from the publisher through NetGalley and the Revell Reads program; a positive review was not required.
About The Sound of Light
When the Germans march into Denmark, Baron Henrik Ahlefeldt exchanges his nobility for anonymity, assuming a new identity so he can secretly row messages for the Danish Resistance across the waters to Sweden. American physicist Dr. Else Jensen refuses to leave Copenhagen and abandon her research—her life’s dream—and makes the dangerous decision to print resistance newspapers.
As Else hears rumors of the movement’s legendary Havmand—the merman—she also becomes intrigued by the mysterious and silent shipyard worker living in the same boardinghouse. Henrik makes every effort to conceal his noble upbringing, but he is torn between the façade he must maintain and the woman he is beginning to fall in love with.
When the Occupation cracks down on the Danes, these two passionate people will discover if there is more power in speech . . . or in silence.
Becoming a Godly Leader
So how do you activate these seemingly simple keys of godly leadership? The key is becoming a godly person.
As we read and study our Bibles, allowing the Word to change us, we take on the characteristics of Christ.
As we become more like our Savior, we get better at leading like Him.
About the Author
Sarah Sundin is the bestselling author of When Twilight Breaks, Until Leaves Fall in Paris, and the popular WWII series Sunrise at Normandy, among others. She is a Christy Award finalist and a Carol Award winner, and her novels have received starred reviews from Booklist, Library Journal, and Publishers Weekly, and have appeared on Booklist’s “101 Best Romance Novels of the Last 10 Years.” Sarah lives in California. Visit www.sarahsundin.com for more information.
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