[Photo Credit: Getty Images]

General Conference

Rethink your leadership

Discover Three Essential Characteristics for Christian Leaders

Brazil | Wellington Barbosa, editor, Ministry Magazine (Brazil)

Some time ago, while reading a book on leadership, a subtitle caught my eye: "What Makes a Leader a Leader." After reading the section, I was led to reflect on what makes us leaders in God's Church. Considering the author's considerations, I began to think of the great men of the sacred account and, in an exercise of reflection, I stopped to extract from the history of the greatest leader of the apostolic church some lessons that can serve to help us rethink our ecclesiastical leadership.

A brief review of the life and ministry of the apostle Paul points to three basic qualities that identify a leader in the cause of God. His experience illustrates these qualities and helps us to assess whether we are, in fact, fit to be at the forefront of the community of faith that wants to prepare to dwell in Heaven.

First, the leader needs to identify the call of God . For Paul, this was a remarkable experience, which involved a personal encounter with the risen Christ on the road to Damascus. In commissioning Ananias to the task of restoring His new apostle's sight, Jesus declared that Paul was, for Him, “a chosen instrument” to fulfill the mission.

We are servants in the Lord's service, chosen to proclaim His name, even though it involves suffering. For this reason, the apostle of grace suffered in various ways and yet he was able to say, “I will gladly wear myself out, and yet let myself be spent for your soul” (2 Corinthians 12:15). As leaders, are we prepared to repeat that statement based on the certainty of our calling?

Question of Character

The second quality found in a Christian leader is the manifestation of Christlike character. Paul boldly exhorted Christians when he said, “Be ye imitators of mine, even as I am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1). Far from being a pretentious statement, it is a challenge for believers to perfect their character in such a way that they become practitioners of the self-denial and love that Jesus demonstrated in His ministry.

As leaders, we cannot shirk the responsibility to be examples "in word, in deed, in love, in faith and in purity." Matthew Henry rightly said that "a preacher can urge his admonitions boldly and authoritatively” when he can back them up by his own example." Do we have the authority to exhort church members to be imitators of us, as we have been of Christ?

Steady Growth

The last point that characterizes a Christian leader is the functional aptitude that enables him to lead. Paul's curriculum commended him to the highest levels of Pharisaism of his day. When he became a Christian, he applied all of his knowledge so that the gospel could be preached to as many people as possible. Even in prison, the learned apostle was concerned with continuing to grow intellectually (2 Timothy 4:13).

He urged Timothy to handle the “word of truth” well and to deepen in the knowledge of the “holy letters” that make us wise for salvation. Reflecting this view, Ellen White wrote that a pastor, and thus, a leader, “should never feel that he has learned enough, so that he can 'slacken his efforts.' His education must continue throughout his life” ( Pastoral Ministry , p. 45). Are we as leaders growing in aptitude to better serve the church?

Perhaps, when evaluating these three characteristics, someone has realized that they are lacking in relation to one of them. There may be those who are no longer as sure of their calling as they were when they began their journey in Christian leadership. Another may conclude that his character is far from resembling the loving character of Christ, or that he falls short of the skills required of a Christian leader at the head of the flock.

If anyone feels this way when reading this text, remember Paul's words to the discouraged Timothy: “For this reason, therefore, I admonish you that you revive the gift of God which is in you” (2 Timothy 1:6). Let us not be discouraged by what may be a challenge in our leadership. It is always a good time to rethink it and decide to make it better.

This article was originally published on the South American Division’s Portuguese news site.