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What is essential for true leadership?

| by John B. MacDonald

Our culture spews out books, courses, theories and models that bear little resemblance to biblical, or trueleadership. Often, “Christian” leadership is encrusted with business and CEO models.

What was the original design for leadership? What are the essentials of leadership? 

Let’s see what others are saying. 

Sampling the experts.

As an experiment, I searched Google for “essentials of leadership.” Within seconds, I had 16,700,000 results. 

Then, I scanned the results on the first few pages. The sites did not agree on the number of essentials—they ranged from two through to 12. Even when they agreed on the number, the essentials were different.

One popular article proposed these necessities: confidence, decisiveness, intuition and empathy. Nice, but what about integrity and truth, or a host of other worthy qualities? Why choose those four? 

Leadership without the primary essential is not true or biblical leadership. 

The primary essential

Given my worldview, for something to be valid it must not be inconsistent with Scripture; the person and work of Jesus Christ; and God’s character of love. (See “Leadership re-examined.”) 

From that starting point, I conclude that the primary essential of leadership is the sovereignty of God. He has ultimate authority. He is the One who designed leadership and determines its proper exercise. He is the definitive model for true leadership.

In the context of leadership, culture usually ignores God. By its silence about God and his sovereignty, culture treats him as irrelevant. 

Acknowledging the sovereignty of God as the primary essential of true leadership has at least three implications. 

1. Creator God is the source of all leadership.

In Genesis 1-2, God delegated this leadership to humans for subduing the earth and ruling over its animal life (Genesis 1:26-28). God made humans to be rulers or leaders over the works of His hands (Psalm 8:5-7).

This principle is stated by Paul: “there is no authority except that which God has established” (Romans 13:1-7). 

2. Humans exercise leadership delegated by God.

Whether as parents leading our children; supervisors leading employees; elders leading church communities; or, governors leading cities and nations—it is God’s delegated authority that is being exercised in leading. 

The big question that any true leader should ask is, “How does God want me to lead?” 

3. We are accountable for our leadership.

God will hold every leader responsible for how they use their leadership. 

Many, if not most, leaders functionally dismiss this primary essential of true leadership. The result is leadership that does not recognize God as the source and giver of their authority. These leaders then treat their leadership as a natural endowment or right. 

A leader who is aware of, and responsive to, the sovereignty of God as revealed in Jesus Christ will acknowledge his or her dependence upon God; will exercise leadership in a way that pleases God; and will be able to account for his or her privilege of leadership with joy. 

Photo source: istock 


John B. MacDonald

Dr. John B. MacDonald has served for decades as a lawyer and pastor-teacher. He is an associate with Outreach Canada and focuses on equipping and encouraging others to become more like Jesus Christ and to live all of life with God-honoring competence and joy.



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