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  • Tom Marshall

Building Your Church’s Christian Leadership from the Inside Out

Updated: Oct 13, 2022

What is Christian Leadership?

Jesus calls people to follow him, “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people” (Matthew 4:19, NIV)[1]. Likewise, Jesus modelled disciple making by investing in twelve men for three years. He defined what a disciple is in his Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7); he commissioned the disciples to go and seek people of peace (Matthew 10); he described the kingdom through parables (Matthew 13); he explained how a disciple fights for relationship (Matthew 18); and he condemned current religious practice with a warning to keep watch and be ready for Christ’s return by serving the least (Matthew 23-25).

He explains the reality of his coming betrayal and death but points out to his disciples, “’If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me. ‘For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it’” (Matthew 16:24-25, NIV).

Jesus also states, “’Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. ‘Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. ‘And whoever receives one such child in My name receives Me;’” (Matthew 18:3-5, NIV).

Ultimately Christian leadership in Jesus’ words is sacrifice and humility. He vividly illustrates this during the Last Supper when he washes his disciples’ feet. He states, “If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. ‘For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you’” (John 13:14-15, NIV).

Jesus later teaches them, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching . . . My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you” (John 14:23a; 15:12, NIV). Likewise, the Apostle John follows up in 1 John, “If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth . . . If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us . . . Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother or sister is still in the darkness” (1 John 1:6, 8; 2:9, NIV).

After Jesus’ resurrection, he commissioned his disciples, “All authority in has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. ‘Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20, NIV).

I believe the Apostles took Jesus’ teaching to heart and when confronted with the Christian leadership issue about Grecian widows not being helped in the Jerusalem Church they responded, “Therefore, brethren, select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this task. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:3-4, NIV).

Jesus had modelled the importance of the ministry of the word in Capernaum after a successful day and evening healing people. The disciples came to him to go back and minister to the people’s needs, and Jesus responded, “Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come” (Mark 1:38, NIV).

There must be a constant tension within Christian leadership. The verses above are Jesus’ foundation for Christian leadership. It is based upon his own humility (see Philippians 2:1-11). Likewise, Jesus loved people and expects his disciples to love others as well as his words attest in John’s Gospel.

When discussing Christian leadership, it is easy to go to 1 Timothy 3:1-16; Titus 1:5-9; and 1 Peter 5:1-4 and draw out the lists of qualifications and check each one of them off. But is this the best method of developing Christian leaders in your congregation? I don’t think so.

Let me ask a question: Did Jesus consult a list, or did he live with his disciples 24/7?

Peter answers this question for us with his list for an Apostle, “Therefore it is necessary that of the men who have accompanied us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us—beginning with the baptism of John until the day that He was taken up from us—one of these must become a witness with us of His resurrection” (Acts 1:21-22, NIV).

Jesus lived with his disciples. He knew them intimately. A real-life relationship begins with doing life together. You know the strengths and weaknesses of the other person and they know yours. This is how you can honestly access another as a potential leader.

The reason why you see all the passages above about service and humility is because Jesus came to die; he would be betrayed, arrested, beaten, mocked, crucified, killed, and buried. It was the ultimate expression of trust in God but also self-denial. And as Peter preached, “But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him” (Acts 2:24, NIV).

Biblical Christian leadership will understand this about their Lord and Savior, and his call for them to, “take up their cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24, NIV).

In North American churches, not all but quite a few, the role of Christian leaders appears to be about power and control. Often two verses are brandished at congregations by the leadership: 1 Timothy 5:17; Hebrews 13:17. In the right context, where Christian leadership cares about people, these verses reveal the people’s love and respect for their leaders.

The idea of Christian leadership demanding respect is like King Xerxes’ advisers suggesting the King ban Queen Vashti from his presence because she disobeyed his command, and so because of King’s legal banishment of Queen Vashti, “all the women will respect their husbands, from the least to the greatest” (Esther 1:20, NIV).

If you must tell people to respect your leadership then you really are not leading.

Likewise, if there is a power struggle within your congregation then there is confusion about what it is you should be doing as a church. God’s desire is for His people to be, “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:6, NIV). The Apostle Peter echoes this in 1 Peter 2:5, “You also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (NIV).

God expects the Church to be a living example of Jesus. Even the religious leaders within the Sanhedrin recognized this about Peter and John, “When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13, NIV). They modelled Jesus in their actions and the preaching of the Gospel message. They had been discipled by Jesus and reflected his teaching.

Also consider Stephen and Philip who were selected along with five other men to care for the Grecian widows (Acts 6:5-6). Luke states, “The word of God kept on spreading; and the number of the disciples continued to increase greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were becoming obedient to the faith” (Acts 6:7, NIV).

Luke reveals the impact of Stephen’s work and martyrdom in Acts 6:8-7:60 because he was, “full of grace and power, was performing great wonders and signs among the people” (Acts 6:8, NIV). Philip, on the other hand, preached in Samaria and to an Ethiopian Eunuch in Acts 8. Both men were respected within the Jerusalem church because they were, “of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this task” (Acts 6:3, NIV). Both men proclaimed the Gospel to others because they imitated the Apostles who imitated Christ.

Paul writes about this type of imitation in 1 Thessalonians 1:6-7, “You also became imitators of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much tribulation with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia” (NIV). Obviously, Paul instructed disciples to imitate him as he imitated Christ (1 Corinthians 4:16 and 11:1).

Richard Bauckham in his book, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, speaks of living testimony undergirding the early church. Believers could point to an “eyewitness” as the source back to Jesus. Papias, the bishop of Hierapolis, knew one of Philip the evangelist’s daughters who was a prophetess (Acts 21:8-9). He could trace his connection to Jesus like this: the Apostles (1st generation) -> Philip one of the Seven and his daughters (2nd generation) -> then Papias (3rd generation).[2]

Build a Unified Christian Leadership Team from Within

1. Begin with a Christ-like foundation.

Christian leadership begins by studying Jesus. Read and re-read the Gospel accounts. Deliberate over the passages mentioned above. Imitate Jesus’ humility and sense of service. Jesus did not pursue power but gave it up for a cross. He also sought out Israel as his target audience. Proclaiming the Good News trumped his miracles and healings. Ask yourself what type of leadership are you portraying? Do you see yourself as a servant or the boss?

2. Have One Message.

Does your congregation have one clear message? Or are there competing messages?

Jesus declared, “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10, NIV). Likewise, Jesus expects His Church to do the same.

3. Disciple Making Grows Future Christian Leaders.

Selecting Christian leadership based upon a list of qualifications from a couple Bible passages is not disciple making. Future leaders begin as lost souls in need of Christ. They are introduced to the Gospel and nurtured by Christian leaders who model Christ-like behavior. They do real life together and are a part of a family and not a social club. This can only happen when we are a part of each other’s lives. We walk alongside infant Christians and help them to grow into spiritually mature adults, and it is from this pool that we draw out Christian leaders.

4. Build a Team Right from the Start

Never do anything alone. Always have someone with you while you serve so they can learn. Barnabas and Paul took John Mark as a helper (Acts13:4). Later, Barnabas took Mark with him to Cyprus while Paul took Silas with him through Galatia and into Macedonia (Acts 15:39-40). Check out the co-workers of Paul: Romans 16:21; 1 Corinthians 16:19-20; Ephesians 6:21; Colossians 4:12, 14; Titus 3:12-13; Philemon 23-24.

5. Continue to Learn.

When somebody does not know something then how do they know they don’t know? Take the first step by enrolling in MCC’s Disciple Making Church Leadership Certificate. World class disciple makers have put together their experience into courses geared toward preachers, elders, and other lay leaders. Their desire is to pass along what they have learned in practice in order to make a difference for Christ.

On a church leadership team? Consider having all the elders in your church take P111 Introduction to Healthy Leadership. It is an excellent way for Christian leadership to align themselves with Jesus’ mission to seek and save the lost.

Begin your journey by logging onto:


[1] Scriptures taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™ [2] Bauckham, Richard. Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony, 13. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2017.

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