What Do You Do For A Living?

What Do You Do For A Living?

“What do you do?”

That question intimidated Joshua Millburn. It wasn’t that he had a bad answer. He enjoyed his job as a regional manager and he liked the people he worked with. He earned a great salary doing something that gave him money, respect, and outlets for his talents.

The problem was the question. “On the surface, it seems like an ordinary question, one we ask each other every day . . . so we have something—anything!—to talk about,” he wrote cynically. But there was more to it than that.

“Sadly, what we’re actually asking . . . is: How do you earn a paycheck? How much money do you make? What is your socioeconomic status? And based on that status, where do I fall on the socioeconomic ladder compared to you? Am I a rung above you? Below you? How should I judge you? Are you worth my time?”

For Joshua, the question and its implications kept pushing him to compare himself to others and reminding him that he was being judged by others too. To free himself from a deepening depression, he decided that the only solution was to free himself from conventional work. He quit his job, gave away many of his possessions, and became a writer and blogger advocating a minimalist lifestyle.

Maybe you aren’t ready to change everything like Joshua did, but you’ll probably agree that, for better or worse, work is one of the biggest elements in your life. If you have a job you probably spend most of your waking hours working, getting ready for work, or commuting to and from your workplace. The activities you do most often are the ones you do at your job. The people who take up most of your time and attention are probably not your family and friends, but your boss, your clients, or your coworkers.

And the real problem is even more than the amount of time, isn’t it? The question What do you do? is what our culture uses to define ourselves and other people—to determine Who are you? How valuable are you? Many of us see work as a key part of our identity. Our work makes us feel useful—or not, which is why many unemployed and retired people can fall into despair. Our work can make us feel successful or worthwhile, not just in the moment, but in the whole trajectory of our life—or not. In a culture that says you can do anything you set out to do and the door is open to achieve all your dreams, it’s hard not to believe that when things go well, it means you’re really worth something, and when things go wrong, it means something is wrong with you.

As a result, work makes up more of our identity than it was ever meant to—and that is not doing most of us much good. We are offered lots of conflicting advice about how to get the most out of our work life. Some people say that work is straightforward—find a career that will make you a lot of money and climb the corporate ladder. Others say that corporate careers are stifling—real work is about finding your passions. Money doesn’t matter as long as you are in control of your life and enjoy what you’re doing. Advice from Christian sources sometimes draws from one or both of these beliefs, or tells you that your only legitimate work option involves some sort of religious ministry.

What we often fail to see is that God can redeem our understanding of work, whether we’re sitting in an office or picking up the garbage—or even if we can’t find work at all. It is a perspective on work and identity that finds value in work, no matter what kind it is, yet keeps work from having too much power over us as we find our value and identity in Christ. God’s Word gives us a framework to think about what we do for a living and how it relates to him. Even more than that, the Bible shows us how to find our value and identity in Christ rather than in our work.

This is an excerpt from my minibook, What Do You Do for a Living?, which you can get here.

Grace Motivates and Other Things I Wish I’d Known…

Grace Motivates and Other Things I Wish I’d Known…

About Leadership

Grace is not the opposite of strong leadership, but the heart of it. This is important for leadership in all realms, and especially in ministry.

Insecure leaders worry about power dynamics and control. They worry about losing. Or as my friend Steve Brown says, “Real pastors worry about people and their walk with Christ. Wolves in sheep’s clothing worry about power and control.”

Because of their misunderstanding of people and leadership, weak leaders manipulate instead of persuade. But strong leaders know that grace motivates.

Grace is not the opposite of strong leadership, but the heart of it.

Mature leaders are secure enough to be insecure. We get this from Jesus, who demonstrated his power by death on the cross. Following him, Christian leadership looks like suffering and self-sacrifice in the service of others as we give ourselves unconditionally to the aid of others. Mature leadership is built on trust, empowering others, and a deep sense of security, not in self, but in Christ.

Carl Trueman explains powerfully the implications for this new understanding of Christian authority: “Elders, for example, are not to be those renowned for throwing their weight around, for badgering others, and for using their position or wealth or credentials to enforce their own opinions. No, the truly Christian elder is the one who devotes his whole life to the painful, inconvenient, and humiliating service of others, for in so doing he demonstrates Christlike authority, the kind of authority that Christ himself demonstrated throughout his incarnate life and supremely on the cross at Calvary.”

About God’s Sovereignty

The sovereignty of God is not just some abstract principle—it should be understood in the context of the character of God. The God who is sovereign is the same God who is merciful, gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty (Exod. 34:67). God is merciful, compassionate, loving, holy, and just.

Weak leaders manipulate instead of persuade. But strong leaders know that grace motivates.

God’s sovereignty is not merely a technical, abstract, theoretical concept but a truth about God and how he relates to his creation. It is a description of the God who Jesus teaches is also my “Father” who loves, protects, and provides. Sovereignty should be understood in a more robust manner than the mechanical and sterile way some talk about it.

God’s sovereignty should bring believers comfort. Here are two examples.

First, Article 17 of the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion talks about God’s sovereign grace in a powerful way:

As the godly consideration of Predestination, and our Election in Christ, is full of sweet, pleasant, and unspeakable comfort to godly persons, and such as feel in themselves the working of the Spirit of Christ, mortifying the works of the flesh, and their earthly members, and drawing up their mind to high and heavenly things, as well because it doth greatly establish and confirm their faith of eternal Salvation to be enjoyed through Christ, as because it doth fervently kindle their love towards God: So, for curious and carnal persons, lacking the Spirit of Christ, to have continually before their eyes the sentence of God’s Predestination, is a most dangerous downfall, whereby the Devil doth thrust them either into desperation, or into wretchedness of most unclean living, no less perilous than desperation.

Put most simply, God’s electing grace should lead us to focus on Jesus’ cross, not the doctrine of election. To focus on the latter at the expense of the former leads to either despair or pride.

God’s sovereignty should bring believers comfort.

Second, the “Prayer of Humble Access,” a prayer said before communion, brings together to majesty of God and his mercy: “We do not presume to come to this thy Table, O merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy manifold and great mercies. We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy Table. But thou art the same Lord whose property is always to have mercy. Grant us therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat the flesh of thy dear Son Jesus Christ, and to drink his blood, that we may evermore dwell in him, and he in us. Amen.” The God “whose property is always to have mercy” is also the one who is your advocate, Father, and judge.

Because God is more sovereign than my sin, suffering, and stupidity, it means that he also cares more than I do about the things that burden me. God’s sovereignty means that God is “the One who loves in freedom.” This sovereign grace is about God overcoming the sinner’s resistance with divine love.

About Counseling

Listening is more important than you think. If listening is just a skill or technique, it is more about you coming off as a good or wise counselor. But listening is a ministry. Ann Long describes the ministry of listening as a gift, hospitality, and healing. Almost anyone can give advice, and most people give way too much way too early.

Listening is a way to serve someone humbly, love them well, and share their burden. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer explains, “The beginning of love for the brethren is learning to listen to them.”

Stanley Hauerwas on Leadership

Stanley Hauerwas on Leadership

Stanley Hauerwas answers questions about Christian leadership in this 10 minute video, which is below. Hauerwas is the Gilbert T. Rowe Professor of Theological Ethics at Duke Divinity School. Thanks to Scot McKnight for putting it on my radar screen.

Here are some excerpts just to show you how good this interview is:

“Leadership is always persuasion.  It’s persuasion all the way down.  So much of how creative authority works is by being articulate for the community about what needs to be done in a way that defies limits.”

“I think many of the proposals about leadership are quite perverse, exactly because it gives the impress that you know what leadership is abstracted from communities that make leadership possible.”

“You must discuss these matters because leadership is about power. Power is rightly one of the gifts God has given us for the formation of good communities and good people.”

“I think about the book of Acts and how they chose Matthias. I think it is a very interesting to ask—and it’s a leadership questions—‘What kind of community do you need to be that you can choose you leadership by lot?’ Because basically, whether you’ve done it officially by lot, that’s the way it turns out.”

“Don’t lie.  It’s very simple. You may very often not know what the truth is.  Tell me that.”

“For any person that wants to be in leadership, if they try to lead in a way that means they don’t have to deal with people and to tell the truth to people, they automatically defeat community.”

“People called to administrative positions, if they are good, have to undergo a deep ascetical discipline. The ascetical discipline is because you are dealing with people who have possibilities and limits, and the limits will sometimes drive you crazy and you can not take it personally. This is to provide space for the different gifts of the community.”

“Recognize how fragile the power is and that you wouldn’t have it otherwise. Have enough confidence that you don’t have to win all the time. That’s a real ascetic discipline.  There really is a discipline of the ego that is absolutely crucial for being a kind of administrator that will allow the institution to go on once you are not longer there.”

Theology of Ministry

Theology of Ministry

Encouraging and serving pastors is a blast.  I had the privilege recently of teaching the “Theology of Ministry” DMin course at Reformed Theological Seminary. There were 17 pastors in the class with over 100 years of ministry experience and representing churches for thousands of people.

The most lively and conversations we had focused on some wisdom from two of Carl Trueman’s posts.  Here are excerpts that captured our attention most.

“Luther’s Theology of the Cross”

The “theologians of glory,” therefore, are those who build their theology in the light of what they expect God to be like—and, surprise, surprise, they make God to look something like themselves. The “theologians of the cross,” however, are those who build their theology in the light of God’s own revelation of himself in Christ hanging on the cross.

The implications of this position are revolutionary. For a start, Luther is demanding that the entire theological vocabulary be revised in light of the cross. Take for example the word power. When theologians of glory read about divine power in the Bible, or use the term in their own theology, they assume that it is analogous to human power. They suppose that they can arrive at an understanding of divine power by magnifying to an infinite degree the most powerful thing of which they can think. In light of the cross, however, this understanding of divine power is the very opposite of what divine power is all about. Divine power is revealed in the weakness of the cross, for it is in his apparent defeat at the hands of evil powers and corrupt earthly authorities that Jesus shows his divine power in the conquest of death and of all the powers of evil. So when a Christian talks about divine power, or even about church or Christian power, it is to be conceived of in terms of the cross—power hidden in the form of weakness.

For Luther, the same procedure must be applied to other theological terms. For example, God’s wisdom is demonstrated in the foolishness of the cross. Who would have thought up the foolish idea of God taking human flesh in order to die a horrendous death on behalf of sinners who had deliberately defied him, or God making sinners pure by himself becoming sin for them, or God himself raising up a people to newness of life by himself submitting to death? We could go on, looking at such terms as life, blessing, holiness, and righteousness. Every single one must be reconceived in the light of the cross. All are important theological concepts; all are susceptible to human beings casting them in their own image; and all must be recast in the light of the cross.

This principle of faith then allows the believer to understand how he or she is to behave. United to Christ, the great king and priest, the believer too is both a king and a priest. But these offices are not excuses for lording it over others. In fact, kingship and priesthood are to be enacted in the believer as they are in Christ—through suffering and self-sacrifice in the service of others. The believer is king of everything by being a servant of everyone; the believer is completely free by being subject to all. As Christ demonstrated his kingship and power by death on the cross, so the believer does so by giving himself or herself unconditionally to the aid of others. We are to be, as Luther puts it, little Christs to our neighbors, for in so doing we find our true identity as children of God.

This argument is explosive, giving a whole new understanding of Christian authority. Elders, for example, are not to be those renowned for throwing their weight around, for badgering others, and for using their position or wealth or credentials to enforce their own opinions. No, the truly Christian elder is the one who devotes his whole life to the painful, inconvenient, and humiliating service of others, for in so doing he demonstrates Christlike authority, the kind of authority that Christ himself demonstrated throughout his incarnate life and supremely on the cross at Calvary.


“The Forgotten Insight”

It is often hard to discern where these theologians of the cross are to be found. Yes, many talk about the cross, but the cultural norms of many churches seem no different to the cultural norms of — well, the culture. They often indicate an attitude to power and influence that sees these things as directly related to size, market share, consumerist packaging, aesthetics, youth culture, media appearances, swagger and the all-round noise and pyrotechnics we associate with modern cinema rather than New Testament Christianity. These are surely more akin to what Luther would have regarded as symptomatic of the presence and influence of theologians of glory rather than the cross. An abstract theology of the cross can quite easily be packaged and marketed by a theologian of glory. And this is not to point the finger at `them’: in fact, if we are honest, most if not all of us feel the attraction of being theologians of glory. Not surprising, given that being a theologian of glory is the default position for fallen human nature.

The way to move from being a theologian of glory to a theologian of the cross is not an easy one, not simply a question of mastering techniques, reading books or learning a new vocabulary. It is repentance.




9 Types of Leaders in Scripture

9 Types of Leaders in Scripture

Though it does not focus on leadership development methods or offer lists of strategies for being a great leader, the Bible is filled with numerous examples of leaders, both good and bad. There is a lot to be learned simply by examining the various leaders in Scripture.

1. The Prototype

Moses stands as the prototype of a leader in the Old Testament. He served the people of Israel as a prophet, a judge, a king, and a priest. He brought the word of the Lord both to Israel and to Pharaoh (Exod. 3–11), he heard Israel’s complaints (Num. 27:1–4), he led the nation out of Egypt (Exod. 12:31–15:21) and ran military campaigns (Exod. 17:8–16), and he officiated the first Passover (Exod. 12).

Moses can easily be viewed as an example of good leadership. In fact, the stark contrast between a good and a bad leader is clear in the difference between Moses and his brother, Aaron, who gives in to the people’s demands for a golden calf (Exod. 32:4) and shifts the blame to the people and away from himself (Exod. 32:22).

Yet even Moses, the prototypical leader, experienced failure. When Israel complained to him concerning their lack of water in the wilderness, Moses went before the Lord, who told him to speak to a rock from which God would pour forth a stream of water (Num. 20:1–8). However, Moses, in his frustration, struck the rock and was prohibited from entering the promised land because of his disobedience (Num. 20:9–12).

2. Prophets

Prophets functioned in Scripture as God’s mouthpiece: they spoke judgment (Ezek. 13), encouragement (Mic. 4:1–5), exhortation (Mal. 2:1–9), and hope of restoration (Isa. 40–66). God’s word was spoken with integrity by prophets such as Huldah (2 Kings 22:14) and Jeremiah (Jer. 36). In the New Testament, John the Baptizer functioned as a prophet, leading Israel to repentance and telling Israel of deliverance in the person of Jesus (cf. Matt. 3:1–12; Mark 1:1–8).

3. Priests

Priests, also serving as leaders, were responsible for teaching the law (cf. Ezra in Neh. 8–9; 2 Chron. 17:8, 9). They led in sacrifice (Lev. 1–7), atonement (Lev. 16:29–34), cleansing (Lev. 13), and feasts (Lev. 23). However, priests often failed by setting up idols (Jer. 2:8), leading people astray (Ezek. 7:26), loving money (Jer. 6:13), and embracing corruption (Jer. 18:18). Jesus goes so far as to tell a parable against the priests (Matt. 21:33–46), and Paul says that the wrath of God came upon the Jewish leadership because they killed Jesus (1 Thess. 2:14–16).

4. Kings

Understandably, the kings in Israel’s history were leaders, for better or for worse. In fact, if anything becomes clear in the narrative of Israel’s history, it is that the kings were dispensable and fleeting: they can be conquered (2 Kings 25:7), become mentally ill (Dan. 4:33), randomly get shot by an arrow (2 Chron. 18:33), or be silently assassinated (1 Kings 16:16). As Proverbs 21:1 puts it, “The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord; he directs it like a watercourse wherever he pleases.” God appoints leaders when and where he will, and their destinies are in his hands.

5. Judges

God raised up judges (better translated as “leaders” or “governors”) in Israel’s midst when things had become disorganized and needed fixing. As Judges 3:9 says, “When the people of Israel cried out to the Lord, the Lord raised up a deliverer for the people of Israel, who saved them.” This deliverer was a judge, a leader. What is interesting about the judges is that quite frequently they have no previous experience and were looked upon by outsiders as unfit for the job (such as Samson).

6. The Wise Man

The wise man is another type of leader in Scripture, and Solomon is a good example. He asks God for the ability to govern and lead his people wisely, and God grants his request, as seen in Solomon’s discernment in judging wisely between the two women who contended for a child (1 Kings 3:16–28).

7. Apostles

Within the church, God has ordained several different categories of leaders who are to guide and lead his church in the way of truth. Apostles are those who spent time with Jesus (Mark 3:14; 1 Cor. 9:1) and witnessed his resurrection (Acts 1:22; 2:32; 3:15; 13:31) so that they could pass on their knowledge and lead the church in its initial development. Apostles were directly commissioned by Jesus (Mark 3:14; Acts 10:39–42; John 20:21–23), assisted by the Holy Spirit (John 14:25–26; 15:26; 16:13), wrote about their own and others’ letters (2 Thess. 2:15; 2 Pet. 3:15–16), wrote as continuation of their preaching (Luke 1:1–4), and intended that their letters be read in church (Col. 4:16). For a teaching to be an apostolic, one in the early church meant that it could be traced directly back to Jesus’s own teaching and carried by those who learned from him.

8. Elders

While an “elder” in general terms is an aged person with enough life experiences to lead a group of people wisely (cf. the body of elders in Deut. 19:12, 21:2, and 22:15 and the “elders of Israel” in 1 Sam. 8:4; Exod. 3:16), elders in Scripture are the specially equipped leaders of the church. The disciples called themselves elders (1 Pet. 5:1; 2 John 1; 3 John 1), and their primary responsibility was to pass on the teaching they received to others (1 Cor. 11:21; 15:1, 3; 2 Thess. 2:15; 3:6; 2 Tim. 2:2). Elders in the church are expected to teach (1 Tim. 5:17; Titus 1:9) and act as judges (Acts 15:2, 6, 22–29); leading not politically, but pastorally (Acts 20:17, 28; 1 Tim. 5:17; James 5:14; 1 Pet. 5:1–4; Eph. 4:11).

Elders are required to have wisdom in leading the church well, for they are responsible for determining sound from false doctrine. To determine whether they are capable of leadership, elders have a special set of guidelines by which their abilities are to be judged. The office of elder is a noble one (1 Tim. 3:1), and the one who aspires to it must be “above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? He must not be a recent convert . . . he must be well thought of by outsiders” (1 Tim. 3:2–7). Leadership in the church requires that one be a good example.

9. Deacons

So that elders can devote their time and energy to shepherding and leading God’s people, God instituted another category of leader: the office of deacon. The word deacon means “servant,” and while the whole church is supposed to be servants of God, there are certain qualifications for the technical office of deacon (Rom. 12:7; 1 Pet. 4:11). Deacons are to be dignified, not double-tongued, not addicted to wine, not greedy, faithful (both to the gospel and their spouses), not slanderers, sober-minded, and tested (1 Tim. 3:8–11). Originally, deacons were appointed by the 12 disciples to distribute food to the widows in need (Acts 6), and they now serve the church in leading others as servants in a variety of tasks.

Leaders Depend on Grace

God used and continues to use a diverse group of people to lead his own people. However, the successful leaders in Scripture depended on God, while those who failed tried to stand on their own. If one thread holds together the theology of leadership throughout the pages of Scripture, it is the fact that even good leaders fail and stand in need of God’s grace.

Tribes: We Need You To Lead Us (Book Highlights)

Tribes: We Need You To Lead Us (Book Highlights)

How do successful leaders turn a group of people into a tribe and movement?

Tribes BookTribes: We Need You to Lead Us

by Seth Godin

New York: Portfolio, 2008.



A tribe is a group of people connected to one another, connected to a leader, and connected to an idea. For millions of years, human beings have been part of one tribe or another. A group needs only two things to be a tribe: a shared interest and a way to communicate.

–Seth Godin
Tribes, p. 2

In recent years the concept of tribes has been rising to prominence as a way of understanding the way people associate with one another, follow leaders, and rally around ideas. This idea has been popularized by the entrepreneur and author Seth Godin in his book Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us (2008).

In Tribes, Godin offers an explanation for the human desire to belong to something greater:

Human beings can’t help it: we need to belong. One of the most powerful of our survival mechanisms is to be part of a tribe, to contribute to (and take from) a group of like-minded people. We are drawn to leaders and to their ideas, and we can’t resist the rush of belonging and the thrill of the new. (p. 3)

The desire to belong to a tribe is part of human nature.

The New Internet Style

As Godin argues, tribal associations used to be limited more by geography: people connected with those in their own village or city. But now globalization and the Internet have allowed tribes to spring up and flourish without regard to geography. The result:

This means that existing tribes are bigger, but more important, it means that there are now more tribes, smaller tribes, influential tribes, horizontal and vertical tribes, and tribes that could never have existed before. Tribes you work with, tribes you travel with, tribes you buy with. Tribes that vote, that discuss, that fight. Tribes where everyone knows your name. The professionals at the CIA are a tribe and so are the volunteers at the ACLU. (p. 4–5)

Rather than creating a new phenomenon, the Internet simply empowers and amplifies the natural human urge to connect: “Before the Internet, coordinating and leading a tribe was difficult. It was difficult to get the word out, difficult to coordinate action, difficult to grow quickly. . . . Twitter and blogs and online videos and countless other techniques contribute to an entirely new dimension of what it means to be part of a tribe. The new technologies are well designed to connect tribes and to amplify their work” (p. 6).

Get ’em Together

The main idea of Tribes is that because it is now easier than ever to form, coordinate, and lead a tribe, anyone can become a leader. “Every one of these tribes is yearning for leadership and connection. This is an opportunity for you—an opportunity to find or assemble a tribe and lead it. The question isn’t, Is it possible for me to do that? Now, the question, is, Will I choose to do it?” (p. 8).

Leaders need to focus their message.

The most successful leaders, according to Godin, are those who turn their tribe into a movement by challenging the status quo: “Heretics are the new leaders. The ones who challenge the status quo, who get out in front of their tribes, who create movements. The marketplace now rewards (and embraces) the heretic. It’s clearly more fun to make the rules than to follow them, and for the first time, it’s also profitable, powerful, and productive to do just that” (p. 11).

Successful movement leaders inspire people rather than dominate them. These leaders “don’t care very much for organizational structure or the official blessing of whatever factory they work for. They use passion and ideas to lead people, as opposed to using threats and bureaucracy to manage them. . . . Great leaders create movements by empowering the tribe to communicate. They establish the foundation for people to make connections, as opposed to commanding people to follow them” (p. 22–23).

L’il Communication

There are two things that are required to turn a group of people into a tribe: 1) a shared interest and 2) a way to communicate. Communication can be between the leader and the tribe, between tribe members, and between tribe members and outsiders. A leader can help make a tribe and its members more effective by:

  • Transforming the shared interest into a passionate goal and desire for change
  • Providing tools to allow members to tighten their communications
  • Leveraging the tribe to allow it to grow and gain new members (p. 25)

Great leaders create movements, and a movement has three key features:

  1. A narrative that tells a story about who we are and the future we’re trying to build
  2. A connection between and among the leader and the tribe
  3. Something to do—the fewer limits, the better (p. 27)

Hey Leaders

Godin argues that leaders need to focus their message on what will motivate their own tribe. “Great leaders don’t try to please everyone. Great leaders don’t water down their message in order to make the tribe a bit bigger. Instead, they realize that a motivated, connected tribe in the midst of a movement is far more powerful than a larger group could ever be” (p. 67).

The vision of leadership laid out in Tribes is about attracting, connecting, communicating with, and motivating followers of a tribe. As Godin summarizes, “Leaders challenge the status quo. Leaders create a culture around their goal and involve others in that culture. Leaders have an extraordinary amount of curiosity about the world they’re trying to change. Leaders use charisma (in a variety of forms) to attract and motivate followers. Leaders communicate their vision of the future. Leaders commit to a vision and make decisions based upon that commitment. Leaders connect their followers to one another” (p. 126).

The Habits and Characters of Leaders

The Habits and Characters of Leaders

Leadership books come in and go out of style as quickly as the latest fashion or technological gadget.

Usually these bestselling books are guides for “how to” be a successful leader, manuals for identifying leaders, or stories about famous leaders worthy of emulation throughout the course of history.

What is interesting about the Bible, as compared to most leadership literature, is that it focuses very little on leadership development methods. It is not focused on offering strategies for being a good leader, nor does it explicitly describe the values that make leaders successful. In fact, Scripture might actually have more examples of bad leaders than it does good leaders.

But there’s a reason for the differences, because Scripture focuses more on character than it does on methods, more on faithfulness than it does on fruitfulness, and more on making disciples of Christ than it does on developing leaders. The Bible is not the least bit shy about pointing out the failures of even the best leaders.

The failure of leaders in Scripture points to the fact that it is only God who truly and faithfully guides and leads his people. In his covenants with his people, God is characterized by steadfast love and kindness, and his faithfulness to deliver his people is a common theme.

Leaders in today’s world have much they can learn—both positively and negatively—from the leaders in Scripture, but ultimately the point of the biblical texts is that those seeking to be great leaders would turn their eyes to Jesus, the only leader who is truly reliable.

The Habits of Leaders

The best leaders depend on God.

Rather than teaching leadership tips and methods for maximizing results, the Bible emphasizes character, faithfulness, and dependence on God when it portrays God-honoring leadership.

Leaders in Scripture represent a given people or nation. A priest who sins, for example, brings judgment upon the entire nation (Lev. 4:3). In a different way, Moses intercedes on behalf of Israel asking that God not execute his judgment upon them (Exod. 32).

Leaders witness to the gospel (Luke 24:48; Acts 1:8) and are called servants (John 13:16; Acts 4:29). They are administrators (1 Cor. 12:28), shepherds (John 21:15–16; Acts 20:28–29), and builders (1 Cor. 3:10). Leaders are athletes competing in a race for God’s sake (2 Tim. 2:5), and they are considered fools (1 Cor. 4:10) and rubbish (v. 13) in the face of the world.

Leaders are to remain steadfast.

Joshua, who is another of Scripture’s model leaders, meditated on Scripture (Josh. 1:8). Leaders study God’s law (Ezra 7:10), flee from impurity (Isa. 52:11), do not have fear (Jer. 1:8), and are honest (Mal. 2:6). Leaders are humble (Matt. 23:8–12), have integrity (2 Cor. 4:2), are pure (1 Tim. 6:11), and have pure motives (1 Thess. 2:3).

Christian leaders in particular are to teach the Bible soundly (2 Tim. 1:13), remain focused on the gospel (2 Tim. 2:1–23), and exercise their spiritual gifts (1 Pet. 4:10). In fact, leaders of the church are the group of leaders to whom God gives the most stringent guidelines, almost all of which deal with character traits.

The Character of Leaders

Leaders throughout Scripture are characterized by a variety of positive traits. Integrity is especially valued. David asks God to judge his integrity (Ps. 7:8), and he was said to have shepherded Israel with a heart full of integrity (Ps. 78:72). God tells Solomon to maintain his integrity and guarantees the preservation of his reign if he continues in integrity (1 Kings 9:4–5). Leaders with integrity are guarded, but those who lack it are overthrown (Prov. 13:6).

Leadership entails great responsibility for others, especially including those who are considered followers. Leaders, according to Proverbs, are supposed to protect the innocent (Prov. 18:5), fight for justice, and punish the oppressors of the poor and orphans (Prov. 72:4; 23:10).

God often chooses people who would appear as unfit leaders.

Leaders are to remain steadfast in the face of opposition. Ezekiel, for example, was publicly criticized, but he maintained his convictions. Similarly, Paul boldly stood up to Peter at Antioch, confronting Peter about his hypocrisy (Gal. 2:11–21).

Attempting to implement worldly models of leadership has undesirable results (Exod. 17:1–7; 1 Sam. 8:7–8) because the leadership modeled in Scripture differs significantly from that of the world (1 Cor. 1:20). For example, God often chooses people who would appear to human eyes as unfit leaders: Moses was not eloquent (Exod. 3:9–4:16), Gideon was a coward (Judg. 6:11–12), and Simon Peter was uneducated (Luke 5:1–11). This makes it clear that leadership in Scripture is a gift from God, which negates any possibility for human boasting (1 Cor. 1:26–31). Kings were anointed before God in the Old Testament (Exod. 28:41), and leaders were appointed by the laying on of hands in the New Testament (Acts 6:5–6).

The Triune God: The True and Better Leader

The best leaders depend on God. They recognize that human leadership is patterned after the leadership of God, who is the ultimate leader, and all things fit within the frame of his sovereign leadership (Eph. 1:20–21; Phil. 2:9–10). God chooses the leaders for his own people (Deut. 17:14–15), and he appoints those who rule over the secular realm (Rom. 13:1). Human leadership in no way undermines God’s supremacy as the ultimate leader, but he desires that human leaders govern according to his will (Gen. 1:28), and he says that they are accountable to him (Luke 12:48). God uses prophets (Hag. 2:20–23), the leaders of foreign nations (Isa. 45:1), and natural disasters (Exod. 7:4) to impose his will upon leaders not submitting to his authority. God is depicted as the ultimate king in Scripture (Ps. 48:2; Jer. 10:10). He sits on his throne (Ps. 47:8) and rules with his scepter (Ps. 45:6).

The best leaders revel in God’s grace and show grace to others.

Jesus Christ is depicted in Scripture as the one who brings the failures of previous leaders to an abrupt end. As a leader, Jesus attracted both small and large crowds (Matt. 4:18–25) and set an example for his disciples to follow (John 13:15). He is the true prophet, priest, and king. As true prophet, Jesus revealed the Father (Matt. 11:27) and spoke the Father’s words (John 8:28). As priest, he mediates between God and his people (Heb. 4:14–16; 10:11–22) and offered the perfect sacrifice of his life. And as the true Davidic king whose kingship will never end (2 Pet. 1:11), Jesus rules at the right hand of the Father of his church. Christ, the true and better leader, intercedes for his people.

Jesus was the ultimate wise leader. He says of himself in Matthew 12:42 that one “greater than Solomon is here.” Those who follow Jesus’s leadership are called children of wisdom (Luke 7:31–35).

The Holy Spirit also functions as a leader. In the Old Testament, the Spirit enabled the judges of Israel (Othniel in Judges 3:9–10, Gideon in Judges 6:34, Jephthah in Judges 11:29, and Samson in Judges 14:6 and 15:14–15). The Holy Spirit leads believers in the ways of God (Gal. 5:18, Rom. 8:14), teaches them wisdom (Acts 6:3; Eph. 1:17), and guides them in truth (John 16:13). The Spirit instructs in doctrine (1 Cor. 7:40), leads people physically (2 Kings 2:16; Ezek. 2:2; 3:12; Luke 2:27; Acts 8:39), sends people out (Acts 10:20), and leads the sons of God (Rom. 8:14).

Leaders Trust God

Scripture has much to offer in terms of a theology of leadership. The most important message, however, is that all leaders, even the greatest, will experience failure and must rely on God’s grace. The best leaders depend on God, revel in his grace, and show grace to others—they understand that grace motivates. Looking to the God of grace as the ultimate leader is the surest way to find resources for humble, faithful, and fruitful Christian leadership.

The Prince Who Came to Serve

The Prince Who Came to Serve

Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him.

John 13:3–5

When Jesus washed his disciples’ feet, he exploded our normal ideas about what a god does. Creating, judging, and rewarding are things that sounds like divine activities—not washing feet, eating dinner with prostitutes, going to parties with tax collectors, and hugging lepers.

Jesus’ lowly service is a practical picture of how Jesus inverts our normal view of authority, dignity, and power. Jesus’ unselfconscious act of service was a picture of God’s upside-down approach to our world and to us. The ultimate picture of this is Jesus’ humbling himself to endure the death of the cross and bring us cleansing through his substitution in our place.

Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoyevsky gives us a picture of this upside-down approach in his novel The Idiot. It’s about a young prince, Prince Myshkin of Russia, who returns home to society after a long stay abroad. Prince Myshkin finds himself surrounded by people who are rage-filled, backbiting, power-hungry, and envious. They struggle for accolades and live like beasts.

Jesus Christ is the prince who came penniless and powerless to serve.

As Prince Myshkin is dropped into the middle of this depravity and forced to struggle with the reality of people’s sin, his interaction with this corrupt and immoral group is astounding! Prince Myshkin is frail and simple. He speaks clearly and without lies. He loves anyone he comes into contact with, especially the peasants and the servants. He is not self-aggrandizing, and he embodies grace and peace. And for all of his love and kindness, his meekness and his tenderness, the world around him dismisses him as an idiot.

Jesus Christ is like Prince Myshkin. Our world—in all its “wisdom”—finds him and his cross foolish. He is the prince who came penniless and powerless to serve: “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:28; Mark 10:45). In coming as a humble servant, full of grace and truth, Jesus reveals our sovereign God’s paradoxical approach to the world.


How Grace Motivates

How Grace Motivates

Many leaders have it all wrong. Rather than trying to motivate the people they lead, they just need to stop demotivating them.

This is crucial for leaders to learn, or else they will hurt people, discourage them, and lead less effective teams. The truth is that demands, threats, and promises of reward don’t motivate people to work harder or better—in fact, they demotivate people.

Instead, Scripture shows—and psychological and sociological research confirms—a surprising and counter-intuitive truth: grace motivates.


God’s grace is overflowing and abundant.1 It is also powerful: grace motivates changed lives, as Paul writes: “The love of Christ compels us!” (2 Cor. 5:14).

The law threatens and demands, but does not motivate. This is not to discount the value of the law. The law of God is “perfect, true, and righteous altogether” (Ps. 19:7–9) and “holy, just, and good” (Rom. 7:12), but it does nothing to produce the life it requires. As Paul Zahl writes, “The Bible declares the law to be good and right (Ps. 119, 1 Tim. 1:8Rom. 3:31Rom. 7:12–16) but then with one great insight deprives the law of any lasting capacity to do us any good (Rom. 7:24–25).”

The law does not enable people to do what it demands. The Ten Commandments are the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth—but not the means with which to obey them. The Apostle Paul writes, “If a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law” (Gal. 3:21). The law cannot generate what it commands. Law does not deliver what it mandates—but grace does.

The Bible says this in a variety of ways:

  • Matthew 10:8: “You received without paying; give without pay.”
  • Romans 2:4: “God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance.”
  • Romans 6:14: “Sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.”
  • Titus 2:11–12: “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives.”


The shocking and life-giving truth that grace motivates is not just for the pulpit and counseling sessions. It has massive implications for leadership in all realms. Grace is practical.

In his TED Talk on “the surprising science of motivation,” business writer and speaker Daniel Pink shows how social science confirms this ironic reality. Research shows that traditional incentives, or “extrinsic motivators” (rewards and punishments, carrots and sticks) actually don’t work to motivate people. In fact, they decrease performance and results. What actually motivates people are “intrinsic motivators,” inward desires that drive our behavior. Pink singles out three primary intrinsic motivators that, if cultivated, lead to better performance and more personal satisfaction:

  • Autonomy: The urge to direct our lives.
  • Mastery: The desire to excel at something that matters.
  • Purpose: The yearning for our actions to serve something greater than ourselves.

So in leadership and business, rewards and punishments demotivate people. People are instead motivated by freedom, the desire for excellence, and the desire for their actions to have meaning.

What this means is the carrot and the stick produce the opposite of what they intend—the more you try to incentivize people, the poorer their performance becomes. Once people’s basic financial needs are met, motivation is driven most by a desire to connect to something larger than themselves, rather than the desire to get more material rewards.

Those who lead by grace set the tone for entire teams and organizations. Grace expressed as love, acceptance, and understanding increases performance in the workplace. Peter Bregman explains:

An organization performs best when the people in the organization know they can trust and depend on each other. Then they break out of silos. They take accountability for their own mistakes instead of blaming each other. They surface problems before they become major obstacles. But if people spend their energy hiding their feelings, that energy will leak out in negative and insidious ways, sabotaging your efforts and theirs.

A 2010 Gallup study analyzed 32,000 businesses and found that happier, more engaged employees significantly increased productivity and profitability for their organizations:

After talking with thousands of workers, Gallup identified 12 issues that best predict employee performance, and none included pay raises or bonuses. For many decades, researchers have known that such incentives don’t provide lasting motivation, said Michael Cole, who teaches leadership at Texas Christian University’s Neeley School. “The good feeling wears off, and everything resets,” he said. So what lasts? Cole said three things energize a workplace for the long run: When employees feel as if they have control over their work, are contributing to a larger purpose and have a chance to learn and grow.


For pastors and ministry leaders, the principle that grace motivates ought to permeate our lives, work, and leadership. This means when you want to see better performance from your staff, don’t threaten demotions or probation; instead, provide security, offer freedom for self-direction, and help them see the larger significance of their work. If you want your children to be more obedient (not just compliant), don’t give them threats, but talk about Jesus’ obedience on their behalf and dazzle them with grace. And when you want to see more faithfulness in your congregation, don’t just hammer them with the demands of the law; rather, tell them about Jesus’ faithfulness on our behalf, even and especially when we are faithless (2 Tim. 2:13). You will be amazed at the fruit the Holy Spirit produces when you focus on grace, rather than threats and incentives. Grace motivates.