Leadership in God's Image: Leader Qualifications


We are all familiar with the positive traits of a good and effective leader. But what does the Bible say about the qualities of a good leader?

Read 1 Timothy 3:1-12

Paul told Timothy to closely examine those who aspired to leadership. He required that such candidates pass the test of character. Before stepping into a leadership role ourselves, or elevating others to leadership positions, we need to do some testing to see how well we or others measure up to the qualifications God has for leaders. While the traits identified by Paul refer specifically to leaders in the church, any leader who possesses them would have the kind of leadership character of which God approves.

Leader Qualifications and Who God Is

Who in Scripture best displays the qualities of true leadership? We might look to people such as Moses, David, Nehemiah or Paul and overlook the greatest Leader of all—God Himself. From a biblical point of view, true leadership and authority are derived from the hand of God. Read Isaiah 40:10-26 to reflect on God as the Sovereign Ruler of all creation.

Read Isaiah 40:10-26

Verses 10-26 demonstrate the Lord’s authority over nature and nations and stress that God is incomparable and has no needs.

He is intimately acquainted with His created order and sustains it in ways we cannot imagine. God requires no counselor, and He is in complete control, even over those in a position of authority (v. 23).

As Daniel observed, wisdom and power belong to God (Daniel 2:20-21). After a lengthy lesson, the Babylonian ruler Nebuchadnezzar discovered the same thing: that His dominion is an eternal dominion, and His kingdom is everlasting. (4:34-35).

Notice how verses 10-11 of the Isaiah passage beautifully combine God’s sovereign power with His compassionate concern for His people. God is not a divine despot but a gracious and merciful Father who nourishes, guides and protects His people as a good shepherd would care for His flock. Because of His greatness and goodness, we do well to trust Him and willingly surrender the control of our lives to him.

Leader Qualifications and Who I Am

Who are the people God raises up to be leaders? Scripture shows us that these are not always the same people that our world system would elevate to positions of leadership. So what qualities does the Lord desire in a leader? We will look at 1 Samuel 16:1-7 to consider leader qualifications from God’s point of view.

Read 1 Samuel 16:1-7

Even the prophet Samuel was fooled. When he looked at Jesse’s oldest son Eliab, he naturally assumed that God must have chosen this noble and sturdy young man to be the Lord’s anointed leader. But the Lord  makes it clear in this passage that the people he chooses to do great things for him are called on the basis of inward character, not on the basis of outward impressiveness.

Verses 8-11 tell us that Jesse, David’s father, didn’t even include David in the line-up of his sons. He was an afterthought to Jesse. But qualification for leadership is not measured by inches or pounds or degrees or background. What does God look for?

Why is it that when Jesse and Samuel were looking at Eliab, God was looking at David? God’s qualifications for leadership are evident in verse 7; read that verse again. For elaboration on

what a leader’s heart should look like, flip over to 1 Kings 3:6 and 1 Kings 11:4 and 1 Kings 11:6. Whatever else qualifies people for leadership, no one is qualified for greatness—by God’s standard—until his or her heart is ready.

The leader’s prayer and focus of effort must center here. Skills, intelligence and hard work are all a part of the package. But God reminds us that, in the final analysis, one thing makes the difference. God looks at the leader’s heart.

Leader Qualifications and How I Think

How many good deeds does it take to convince us that we (or others) are qualified for leadership? Peter would say, “That’s the wrong question to ask.” So what’s the right question? Peter tells us in 1 Peter 2:1-2.

Read 1 Peter 2:1-2

Here Peter provides a standard for leadership qualification. In verse 1 he lists things to weed out of our lives. That’s an essential list. When evaluating a leader, we need to be aware of what things should scare us—what we don’t want. But we also  need to identify what we do want. What are the qualifications we examine when we hire or educate or evaluate leaders?

Peter didn’t give us that list. Instead, he provided a standard and a process. Peter said to get rid of the negative things (v. 1). Stop practicing malice, deceit and the like. On the other hand, like a baby craves his or her mother’s milk, so you must crave pure spiritual milk. More than following a laundry list of good deeds or qualities, the leader must be passionate about his or her spiritual health.

The leader qualifies on the positive side of the equation by showing a passion for spiritual goodness. He or she isn’t identified so much by a checklist of good deeds as by a quality of goodness. Peter also emphasized the need for growth (v. 2). Leaders aren’t qualified merely because they practice good deeds (although they must do that). They’re qualified by possessing a passion and a craving for high spiritual qualities and exhibiting a consistent pattern of growth in those qualities.

Leader Qualifications and What I Do

Leaders need to cultivate both skills and qualities. Look at Galatians 5:22-23 to understand the difference between the two and why we should never neglect the development of personal character.

Read Galatians 5:22-23

As you read the list of nine “fruits” God’s Spirit produces in a life, draw a line down the center of a page. List “skills” on one side and “qualities” on the other. Then turn to 1 Timothy 3:1-12 where Paul listed the qualifications for leaders, and add them to  your lists. Did you see that the “do” list is very short and the“be” list is very long in comparison?

Leaders, under God’s good hand, must never stop cultivating leadership qualities. In fact, regardless of how well a person masters any skill, the choice of whether to use that skill appropriately is a character issue more than a skill issue. I may, for instance, develop great listening skills because I know listening is important to effective leadership. But unless I address my impatience and arrogance, I won’t listen. In this case I have the qualifying skill, but I don’t use it because I don’t have the more important character qualification.

Paul, when listing what Timothy should look for in leaders, said a leader is qualified by character more than by skill. Leaders, in their personal development and in leadership education, need to develop skills. But they cannot, under any circumstances, neglect the more important focus on life qualities (1 Timothy 3) or the essential relationship with God’s Spirit that is the wellspring of those qualities (Galatians 5).*

*Sid Buzzell, Leadership and Management Course Syllabus, Denver Seminary, 1996.

Taken from Ken Boa’s Handbook to Spiritual Growth


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