Seven Characteristics of Great Leaders

July 1 Day 182

Seven Characteristics of Great Leaders

An online survey listed all the qualities that people expect from ‘perfect’ pastors:  

They preach for exactly twelve minutes.

They are twenty-eight years of age, but have been preaching for thirty years.

They work from 8 am until midnight every day, but are also the caretaker.

They frequently condemn sin, but never upset anyone.

They wear good clothes, buy good books, drive a good car, give generously to the poor and have a low salary.

They make fifteen daily calls to parish families, visit the housebound and the hospitalised, spend all their time evangelising the un-churched and are always in the office when they are needed.

They are also very good-looking!

Of course, we all know that there is no such thing as a ‘perfect pastor’. Nevertheless, daunted by the high expectations that people have of their church leaders, on 1 July 2004 (when I had been asked to take on the role of Vicar at HTB in London), I felt both excited and a little overwhelmed by the responsibility. That day, I wrote my prayer in the margin of my Bible in One Year: that I, like David, would shepherd the people with integrity of heart and lead them with skilful hands (Psalm 78:72). This is still my prayer today.

In yesterday’s passage we saw how Paul said to the Ephesian elders, ‘Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood’ (Acts 20:28). Pope Francis urged the spiritual leaders of the church to ‘be shepherds living with the smell of sheep’.

The task of an overseer is to pastor God’s flock, following the example of Jesus who said, ‘I am the good shepherd’ (John 10:11). In the passages for today we see seven characteristics of good shepherds which are seen in all great Christian leaders.

Integrity and skill

Psalm 78:56-72

Great leadership is rare. As we look around the world today, there are not many countries that are led well.

As the psalmist looks back at Hebrew history, there wasn’t much good leadership around. It was a story of rebellion against God: ‘traitors – crooked as a corkscrew’ (v.57, MSG).

God was looking for a man after his own heart. God led the people like a shepherd: ‘Then he led his people out like sheep, took his flock safely through the wilderness. He took good care of them; they had nothing to fear’ (vv.52–53, MSG).

Eventually he found David, a rare example in the Old Testament of great (though not perfect) leadership: ‘He chose David his servant… to be the shepherd of his people Jacob, of Israel his inheritance. And David shepherded them with integrity of heart; with skilful hands he led them’ (vv.70–72).

David had the experience of being a shepherd in the literal sense. God ‘took him from the sheep pens; from tending the sheep’ (v.70). He used these skills to be a shepherd also in the metaphorical sense of the leader and pastor of God’s people:

  1. Integrity of heart

‘Integrity’ is the opposite of ‘hypocrisy’. The word integrity comes from the Latin integer meaning ‘whole’. It describes an undivided life, a ‘wholeness’ that comes from qualities such as honesty and consistency of character. It means acting according to the values, beliefs and principles we claim to hold.

The pastoral care of God’s people must be done with integrity of heart. This is the most important characteristic. People said of Jesus, ‘we know you are a man of integrity’ (Mark 12:14). Many leaders have reflected on the importance of integrity in their role:

Former US President Eisenhower, Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Western Europe during World War II said, ‘The supreme quality for leadership is unquestionably integrity. Without it, no real success is possible, no matter whether it is… on a football field, in an army, or in an office.’

  1. Skilful hands

David was a skilful shepherd. He had learnt to protect the flock with his sling. He went on to lead the people of Israel with great skill. There are leadership skills to be learnt.

We learn these skills through watching and following good examples, listening to the wisdom of others, asking questions of those we admire, learning together with our peers and, above all, through practice.

Lord, help us to be good shepherds in every area of our lives, leading well in our churches, businesses, community and culture. Help us to pastor with integrity of heart and lead with skilful hands.

Love, service and sensitivity

Acts 21:1-26

I love it when leaders, from over 100 countries around the world where Alpha is run, come together at Alpha Global Week for teaching, ministry and encouragement. When each leader reports ‘in detail what God has done… through [their] ministry’ (21:19) I am reminded of this passage.

We read here how ‘Paul told the story, detail by detail, of what God had done among the non-Jewish people through his ministry. They listened with delight and gave God the glory. They had a story to tell, too: “And just look at what’s been happening here – thousands upon thousands of God-fearing Jews have become believers in Jesus!”’ (vv.19–20, MSG).

We saw yesterday that Paul said to the Ephesian elders, ‘Be shepherds of the church of God’ and ‘keep watch over… the flock’ (20:28). Today, we see examples of all this in action:

  1. Love

Love and leadership go hand in hand. If you love people you will get close enough to them so that, in the words of Pope Francis, you smell of the sheep. Paul was an example of a good shepherd. Everywhere he went he met up with the disciples (21:4,7). He prayed with them (v.5), he loved them so much that when it was time to leave he had to tear himself away from them (v.1).

In his love for them Paul had warned about savage wolves (20:29). Yet Paul also loves them through encouraging them and building up their faith. He ‘reported in detail what God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry’ (21:19).

  1. Service

The prophet Agabus warned Paul of what awaited him in Jerusalem. They pleaded with Paul not to go to Jerusalem, but Paul answered, ‘Why are you weeping and breaking my heart? I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus’ (v.13).

Jesus set the model of servant leadership (see for example Mark 10:45). Paul was willing to follow Jesus, ‘The good shepherd [who] lays down his life for the sheep’ (John 10:11). As Oswald Sanders wrote, ‘True leadership is achieved not by reducing people to one’s service, but in giving oneself in selfless service to them.’

  1. Sensitivity

We often think of Paul’s pioneering drive and bold approach; however, he also showed sensitivity to the culture of Jerusalem. He purified himself and his companions, in accordance with the ceremonial laws, in order that nothing would distract from what God was doing (Acts 21:24–26).

Lord, help us to have that same love and care for your people. Help us to protect them from the wolves. Give us the courage to be willing to make sacrifices on their behalf.

Compassion and prayer

2 Kings 3:1-4:37

We see in this passage why the image of the shepherd was such a popular one in the Bible – there were lots of sheep around. ‘Mesha king of Moab raised sheep, and he had to supply the king of Israel with a hundred thousand lambs and with the wool of a hundred thousand rams’ (3:4).

The events we read of took place in the ninth century BC. Joram reigned from 852 to 841 BC. Alongside the wars there were clearly domestic problems and injustices within Israel. We see an example in the way the widow and her sons were about to be taken as slaves (4:1).

Into this situation, Elisha comes to the rescue. Like a good shepherd, he loves and cares for the people. He says, ‘How can I help you?’ (v.2). He rescues this widow from the terrible curse of excessive debt and the potential slavery that was about to result from it.

  1. Compassion

Next, Elisha, this ‘holy man of God’ (v.9) has compassion for the Shunammite woman who had been unable to conceive. She discovered that God honours those who provide hospitality. He speaks the word of the Lord to her and as a result, she conceives (vv.15–17).

  1. Prayer

When her son dies, he prays to the Lord (v.33). He gives him a form of supernatural mouth-to-mouth resuscitation and he revives and sneezes seven times (vv.34–35).

Lord, give us that same compassion for your people – especially for the marginalised, the poor and the suffering. Help us to bring your love and your healing. Help us to be more like Jesus, ‘the good shepherd’ (John 10:11), who loves his flock and is willing to lay down his life for them.

Pippa Adds

 2 Kings 4:32–35‚Äč

God answers a heartfelt, desperate cry.

Verse of the Day

‘The Lord’s will be done’ (Acts 21:14).


Jonathan Lamb, Integrity (IVP, 2006).

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.