What Makes a Good Leader?
Thoughts on what the Bible says about stewardship.
This is the first of a 5-part devotional series called Stewardship: A Biblical Model For Leadership
What makes a good leader?
This is a question that many of us will begin to consider as the 2022 election season approaches and we begin to examine the various political candidates who hope to represent us. For those of us who are currently working in D.C., it is also a question we face regularly in our jobs: how can we be good leaders in our offices? How can we stand out as someone who is dependable so we might advance our careers? How can we be leaders, not simply followers?
As Americans, we tend to value dynamic and inspirational leaders. Former Apple CEO, Steve Jobs, once famously said that "Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.” That sentiment perfectly captures what our culture values in its leaders. We want leaders who are visionaries and who promise to bring about innovative changes which will offer us a better life. We want leaders who are commanding and dynamic, charismatic and polished, creative and ambitious. We want leaders we can believe in.
The Bible, however, holds out a pattern for leadership that is based on the concept of stewardship. In the ancient world, a steward was a servant who was put in charge of all or most of his master's possessions. For example, this was the position that Joseph held in Potiphar’s house in Genesis 39:4. A steward was a servant entrusted with the responsibility of managing his master's household and affairs.
The concept of stewardship is also used in the Bible to describe the relationship between God and humanity. For example, in Genesis 1:28, God entrusted Adam and Eve with having “dominion” over the earth and its creatures, putting them in charge of managing what in truth belongs only to Him (Psalm 24:1; Colossians 1:16). Adam and Eve were not given ownership over the earth, but they were given the responsibility of managing it (Genesis 2:15). They were called to be stewards over God’s creation.
The stewardship God entrusted Adam and Eve with establishes a biblical pattern for how all of humanity is to think about the resources and responsibilities that God has entrusted to each of us. We are to be wise and faithful stewards of the work God has given us to do, the people God has given us to lead and to care for, and the resources God has given us. The New Testament calls us to be “good stewards” of the gifts God has given us (1 Peter 4:10), using those gifts for the common good of others (1 Corinthians 12:7). In everything that we do, we are to see ourselves as stewards working on behalf of our Master.
But this stewardship pattern in the Bible also radically redefines what it means to be a good leader. In contrast to what our culture values in a leader, Scripture teaches us that a good leader will, first and foremost, see themselves as a servant. A good leader, as God’s steward, uses his or her authority not to gain power or accolades for themselves, but to wisely care for the people, tasks, and resources God has entrusted them with. A good leader, as God’s steward, does not work ultimately for their own glory, but for God’s. This is the kind of leadership that Christ modeled for us (Mark 10:45).
A good leader is also a wise manager and caretaker. Just as Adam and Eve were called to steward God’s creation, so good Christian leaders are called to cultivate healthy workplaces and to help professionally develop those whom they manage. Good leaders do not exploit, consume, or overload the people who are under them. Rather, they have a responsibility to nurture them and help them to flourish.
Fundamentally, good leadership–according to the Bible–consists of seeing all the responsibilities that God has entrusted us with as opportunities to serve and glorify Him. We are called to be God’s stewards on this earth; servant leaders working on behalf of God and for God’s glory. Good leadership, therefore, is marked by godliness, faithfulness, humility, and service to God and to others.
Adam Smith is a Ministry Associate in Washington, D.C.