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You might wonder why I linked these three gift activities. 

My main reason is that they appear to relate to people in a particular way. Leading, administering, and showing mercy share the function of directing and equipping God’s people to move in the right direction. If you find this a bit of stretch, don’t worry—this post still serves to provide us with practical insights into these three gifting activities.

Let’s begin by examining the gift of leading.


The topics of leadership and leading get a lot of attention in our modern media. Yet, despite this cultural hunger, there appears to be an embarrassing lack of good and ethical leadership in the world. Leadership for nations, commerce, and society in general is often some combination of corrupt, incompetent, and controlling. Even when it comes to leadership in churches, we often seem to be walking in lockstep with cultural norms. 

In Romans 12:8 (NASB), we read about the gift of leading:

he who leads, [do it] with diligence

The Greek word for “leads” or “leading” is proistēmi, which has the literal sense of “to stand before.” It is a participle, meaning that it is an action rather than a noun such as the position of “leader” or the status of “leadership.” It is also in the middle voice, indicating cooperation with, and care for, those being led—it is neither self-serving nor controlling.

The one who leads is to do so “with diligence.” This word diligence translates spoudē, defined by BDAG as “earnest commitment in [the] discharge of an obligation or experience of a relationship, eagerness, earnestness, diligence, willingness, zeal.” Three verses later (Romans 12:11), the same word appears in contrast with “laziness,” “slothfulness,” or “lacking in zeal.” Leading requires total commitment.

For me, the definitive statement on leading is Mark 10:42-45:

Jesus called [his disciples] together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

In this short text, Jesus gives at least four crucial elements of God-like leading.

First, Jesus identifies the world’s methods of leadership which rule over and exercise authority over. By implication, the subjects are under. This concept controls and oppresses to get the desired result—subservience. The Lord says to His followers, “Not so with you.” In other words, that is not the way we are to lead.

Second, Christ-like leading takes the relational position of a “slave of all.” The word for “slave” is doulos, which refers to a person “in a permanent relation of servitude to another.” This requires a deep-seated attitude in the heart of a genuine leader.

Third, following the previous point, Jesus models leading as an activity of serving others. 

Fourth, leading is not only serving others but also sacrificing for others.

This gifted activity of leading is modeled by Jesus Christ (see also “8 Qualities of Shepherd-Leaders”).  


How do you understand the function of administration or “administrating” (ESV)? 

The Oxford Dictionary defines it as “the process or activity of running a business, organization, etc.” and “the management of public affairs.” However, this gift goes beyond that.

The Greek word translated for “administration” is kubernēsis (1 Corinthians 12:28). This word is linked with kubernētēs in Acts 27:11, where it refers to the pilot, navigator, or helmsman of a ship (also Revelation 18:17) in contrast to the captain or owner.

A pilot or navigator knows the right course to get from one port to another. That person knows or gathers all the relevant information—the best winds and currents to use; the reefs, coastlines, and other hazards to avoid. The navigator plots and steers the course so that the community reaches the desired destination. 

Showing Mercy 

Immediately following the gift of leading in Romans 12:8, we find this gift:

If it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully

If we are to understand the activities of this gift, we need to know what mercy is.

One Greek-English Dictionary (BDAG) defines this word as “to be greatly concerned about someone in need.” I suggest that there is more to this gift’s activities. 

Mercy is a quality of God (Romans 9:16):

It does not, therefore, depend on man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy.

In Matthew, mercy is asked for by those in dire situations (9:27; 15:22; 17:15; 20:30-31), whether that be sight for the blind, or liberty for the oppressed. Mercy (eleeō) is that quality of God that supplies a person’s need where that person is beyond human resources.

Another example of God showing mercy is in the case of a deathly ill co-worker, Epaphroditus. Paul writes (Philippians 2:27),

Indeed he was ill, and almost died. But God had mercy on him, and not on him only but also on me, to spare me sorrow upon sorrow.

So, what is the gift of showing mercy?

It is God’s bestowal of grace (charismata), the Spirit’s presence and power (pneumatika), providing what is needed in the life of another to be what God intends them to be—it provides that ‘something’ to the other person that is beyond our human resources

The activity of God through a person with this gift touches the lives of others in amazing ways—and they do it cheerfully.

Summing Up

This trio appears to focus on those gifted activities that magnify the Spirit’s guidance and empowerment of His people to move in the direction that pleases God and blesses His people. Working together:

  • leading is the tangible activity of standing out in front pointing out the destination that honors God and gives growth and well-being to the community;
  • administering, or more graphically piloting or navigating, maps the best course of action to reach that destination or goal; and
  • showing mercy enables others to move toward that destination, providing what is lacking for those others to carry on in ways that please God and bless His people.

Click here to let me know your thoughts and questions prompted by this post. 

FORWARD TO the next post in this series

BACK TO Insights into Giving, Serving, and Helping

Image credit:  John B. MacDonald © 2022 

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