Seven Characteristics of a Good Leader
Seven Characteristics of a Good Leader
‘Leadership is influence,’ writes John C. Maxwell, whose organisations have trained more than 1 million leaders worldwide. He points out that, according to sociologists, even the most isolated individual will influence 10,000 other people during his or her lifetime!
In one sense there is only one leader. In our New Testament reading today, Jesus says, ‘There is only one Life-Leader for you... Christ’ (Matthew 23:10, MSG). On the other hand, every Christian is called to be a leader in the sense that other people will look to you as an example. You have influence over others in different ways. To be called by God to influence others is an enormous privilege, but it comes with great responsibility.
David was a leader who had confidence. However, it was not self-confidence but confidence in God: ‘With your help I can advance against a troop; with my God I can scale a wall’ (v.29). David recognised that he needed God for:
‘He is a shield for all who take refuge in him’ (v.30b). ‘You protect me with salvation-armour’ (v.35, MSG).
‘It is God who arms me with strength and makes my way perfect. He makes my feet like the feet of a deer; he enables me to stand on the heights’ (vv.32–33).
‘He trains my hands for battle’ (v.34a). It was as I was reading this verse back in 1992, that I realised the need to train our small group hosts and helpers before each Alpha began.
‘You, O Lord, keep my lamp burning; my God turns my darkness into light’ (v.28). ‘As for God, his way is perfect: the word of the Lord is flawless’ (v.30).
Lord, I need your help. I pray for your protection, strength and guidance. Lead me in your perfect way.
Jesus attacks the religious leaders of his day with strong language: ‘You snakes! You brood of vipers!’ (v.33). This language would have come as a complete shock. They were highly regarded, respectable people.
The scribes were lawyers. They preserved and interpreted the law. They were authorised to act as judges. They had been ordained after a course of study. They were experts in the Scriptures. They were teachers who gathered pupils around them.
The Pharisees were laypeople. They tended to come from the middle classes (unlike the Sadducees who were more aristocratic). They were much respected for their piety. They prayed and fasted often. They attended the services. They gave regularly. They led ‘upright, moral lives’. They had a big influence in society. They were much admired by ordinary people.
Yet, Jesus criticises them for being hypocrites: ‘They talk a good line, but they don’t live it. They don’t take it into their hearts and live it out in their behaviour. It’s all spit-and-polish veneer’ (v.3, MSG).
Jesus’ ‘Seven Woes’ challenge me to aspire to seven characteristics of a good leader:
Jesus attacks the hypocrisy of the religious leaders (vv.3–4). He says, ‘They do not practise what they preach. They tie up heavy loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them’ (vv.3b–4). Integrity is the opposite of this, it means practising what you preach and making sure that your words lift people up, rather than weighing them down with guilt or other burdens.
Jesus attacks their superficiality (vv.5–7). He says to them, ‘Everything they do is done for others to see’ (v.5a). But what matters is who you are when nobody is looking. Jesus speaks about your ‘secret’ life with God. Seek to develop an authentic private life with God.
Jesus warns against loving titles and recognition (vv.8–11). Be on your guard so that you are not enticed by ‘prominent positions’, ‘public flattery’, and being given titles of one sort or another (vv.6–7, MSG). Jesus warns, ‘Don’t let people do that to you, put you on a pedestal like that’ (v.8, MSG). This is such a temptation but Jesus says, ‘For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted’ (v.12). Always seek to exalt Jesus, rather than yourself.
Jesus attacks the religious leaders for putting stumbling blocks in the way of others (vv.13–15). He says, ‘You shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to’ (v.13). Leaders need to have the opposite spirit – one that is open and welcoming to everyone.
Jesus himself sets an example of compassion. He says, ‘O Jerusalem, Jerusalem… how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings’ (v.37).
Leaders should have big vision. Jesus attacks the small-mindedness and pettiness of the religious leaders (vv.16–22). The ‘ridiculous hairsplitting!’ (v.19, MSG). They could not see the wood for the trees. Concentrate on the important issues, pray for God’s vision, and don’t be sidetracked. Ask God to give you a vision that is so big that without him it is impossible.
Focus on what really matters (vv.23–24). Avoid getting caught up with minor details and becoming legalistic. Jesus says, ‘You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel’ (v.24). Rather focus on, ‘The more important matters… justice, mercy and faithfulness’ (v.23). Fight against injustice, champion the poor, and demonstrate ‘faithfulness’ in your relationships with your family and others.
This is the opposite of the greed and self-indulgence, which Jesus decries (vv.25–28). Their inner life is so different from the outer life. Jesus calls you to be yourself – for the inside to be like the outside (vv.27–28).
These are extremely high standards and very hard to attain. Jesus’ words here, as the ‘woes’ come to a climax (vv.29–36), are some of the strongest to come from his mouth. It is important to note that they were not addressed to ordinary people. Jesus was criticising powerful leaders who were seeking to ‘exalt themselves’ (v.12), and who ‘shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces’ (v.13).
Don’t use the words of Jesus as an excuse to berate ordinary people, or even leaders who are genuinely seeking to point people to Jesus. I need to direct them at myself. These are challenging words – but the challenge should not be directed at the wrong people!
What is so amazing about Jesus’ words is that humanly speaking he was in a position of great weakness, and yet he was not afraid to take on the powers of his day.
Lord, forgive me for the times when I have failed in these areas. Help me to lead a life of integrity, authenticity, humility, compassion, vision, focus and generosity. Help me to have the same concern for my city as Jesus had for his.
As Rick Warren has pointed out, ‘Criticism is the cost of influence. As long as you don’t influence anybody, nobody is going to say a peep about you. But the greater your influence... the more critics you are going to have.’
Poor Job, who was in a prominent position of leadership (see chapter 1), has to put up with a constant tirade of abuse from his so-called ‘friends’. Criticism is always hardest when it comes from those who should be our friends. It is sad when unjustified criticism of Christian leaders comes from within the church itself – from the so-called ‘friends’.
It must have been extremely galling for Job to have to listen to Elihu, who was much younger and yet convinced of his own experience, arrogantly saying to Job, ‘I will teach you wisdom’ (33:33) and ‘Job speaks without knowledge; his words lack insight’ (34:35). And to suggest that, because he disagreed with his critics, ‘To his sin he adds rebellion [against God]’ (v.37).
Elihu, like so many critics, claims to be ‘carefully thought out’ and to ‘have no ulterior motives’ (33:2–3, MSG). He claims that others agree with him: ‘All right-thinking people say – and the wise who have listened to me concur – “Job is an ignoramus. He talks utter nonsense”’ (34:34–35, MSG).
I too can easily fall into the trap of judging God’s people on a superficial basis, just as Elihu does. Beware of the dangers of criticising others.
Although it has been pointed out that no one ever built a monument to a critic, it does not stop us all wanting to be critics. Be very careful of what you say about other people. And if you are on the receiving end of criticism, don’t be surprised.
Lord, help me to avoid passing superficial judgments on other people. Give me wisdom and sensitivity towards those who are struggling with life. Help me to fix my eyes on the one true leader, Jesus, to come under his Lordship and follow his example.
As I don’t have much physical strength, I love all these verses: ‘With my God I can scale a wall’ (Psalm 18:29); ‘It is God who arms me with strength’ (v.32); ‘He enables me to stand on the heights’ (v.33b); ‘He trains my hands for battle’ (v.34); he gives us his saving help which is my ‘shield’ (v.35a); his ‘right hand sustains me’ (v.35b). All these verses in Psalm 18 help me when I am feeling weary and physically not on top of things. These words are really encouraging.
Verse of the Day
‘It is God who arms me with strength’ (Psalm 18:32a).
John C. Maxwell, Developing the Leader Within You, (Thomas Nelson; 1 edition, 2005)
Rick Warren, in conversation with Mark Driscoll, cited in Jeff Schapiro, The Christian Post, ‘Warren to Driscoll: Not All Megachurches Are Alike’, 27 August 2012. Accessed via: http://www.christianpost.com/news/warren-to-driscoll-not-all-megachurches-are-alike-80667/ [last accessed January 2016]
Unless otherwise stated, Scripture quotations taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version Anglicised, Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 Biblica, formerly International Bible Society. Used by permission of Hodder & Stoughton Publishers, an Hachette UK company. All rights reserved. ‘NIV’ is a registered trademark of Biblica. UK trademark number 1448790.
Scripture marked (MSG) taken from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.