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Leadership, like marriage, is one of those things Culture is messing up.

Marriage has certain biblical essentials. It was designed by God as a life-long covenant between one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others. 

These essentials have been eroding for some time: divorce, adultery, and now ‘same sex’. We probably need to add a distinctive word like ‘true’ or ‘real’ or ‘biblical’ to ‘marriage’ to distinguish it from what our culture is now foisting on us as ‘marriage’.

The same can be said of leadership, leading, and leaders. What are the biblical essentials of leading or being a leader? 

Our culture spews out books, courses, theories, and models that bear little resemblance to biblical, or true, leadership.

What was the original design for leadership? What are the essentials of leadership? 

Before I disclose the one primary essential of leadership, let's hear what others are saying. 

Sampling the experts

As an experiment I searched Google for “essentials of leadership.” Within 0.50 seconds I had 16,700,000 hits. 

I then scanned the results on the first few pages. The sites did not agree on the number of essentials – they ranged from two through to twelve. Even when they agreed on the number, the essentials were different.

Let’s examine one of these popular Google results to get a sense of what passes for leadership essentials. 

This particular article proposed four necessities: confidence, decisiveness, intuition, and empathy. Nice, but what about integrity and truth, or a host of other worthy qualities? Why choose these four? 

One could argue that Adolf Hitler had confidence, decisiveness, and intuition – perhaps even empathy. The author described empathy in terms of “understanding the staff and knowing how to motivate them.” Well, der Führer probably had that quality as well. 

The possibility that Adolf Hitler is a model for leadership makes my point. Leadership without the primary essential is not true leadership. 

The primary essential

Given my declared orientation, for something to be valid it must not be inconsistent with Scripture; the person and work of Jesus Christ; and, God’s character of love (See “Starting over on leadership”).  

From that starting point, I conclude that the primary essential of leadership is the sovereignty of God. He has ultimate authority. He is the One who designed leadership and determines its proper exercise. He is the definitive model for true leadership.

In the context of leadership, Culture ignores God. By its silence about God and his sovereignty, Culture treats him as irrelevant. 

Acknowledging the sovereignty of God as the primary essential of true leadership has at least three implications

Three implications

First, as Creator, God is the source of all leadership.

In Genesis 1-2, God delegates this leadership to humans for subduing the earth and ruling over its animal life (Genesis 1:26-28). To humans, he delegated his authority over his Creation. God made humans to be rulers or leaders over the works of His hands (Psalm 8:5-7).

This principle is stated by Paul: “there is no authority except that which God has established” (Romans 13:1-7). 

Second, humans exercise leadership delegated by God.

Whether as parents leading our children; supervisors leading employees; elders leading church communities; or, governors leading cities and nations – it is God’s delegated authority that is being exercised in leading. 

The big question that any true leader should ask is: “How does God want me to lead?” 

Third, we are accountable for our leadership.

God will hold every leader responsible for how they use their leadership. 

Many, if not most, leaders dismiss this primary essential of true leadership. The result is leadership that does not recognize God as the source and giver of their authority. These leaders then treat their leadership as a natural endowment or right. 

A leader who is aware of, and responsive to, the sovereignty of God will acknowledge his or her dependence upon God; will exercise leadership in a way that pleases God; and, will be able to account for his or her privilege of leadership with joy. 

The next post will examine what this kind of leadership looks like.

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Photo credit: The hands from The Creation of Adam by Michelangelo (c. 1511-12). 

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