by Steve Halter
Do you want to become a great leader? You might say that you are already an excellent leader, but your success could be no more than a mirage. On the other hand, you might say that you are merely a competent leader, or that you are challenged in the area of leadership ability, but in God’s eyes be more successful than you think.
Or you might believe that you are not a leader at all because you are not a manager, CEO, political representative, or in some other recognized position of leadership. But we all can and should be leaders in one way or another. For example, if you are a parent, then you can lead your children in growing morally, emotionally, spiritually, and in many other ways. As a Christian, you can lead people to Jesus. You don’t have to be a pastor or an evangelist to do that. Or you can lead a new believer in spiritual growth through encouragement, praying together, and even in ongoing discipleship.
Yes, we all can and should be leaders in some way, but do you want to become a great leader? How does God look at your leadership now? Will it stand the test of time? Will it endure the judgement of God? No matter how successful you think you are, you may be completely missing the mark. And that is the case when you are not leading with love.
Of course, you need to be leading out of love for God and obedience to Him (Mark 12:30). But that’s only part of the picture of leadership and love. God also requires of us that our leadership be motivated by love for others, and that it be practiced with love. To do otherwise is to violate the second greatest commandment of God. Jesus said that the second greatest commandment is to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31). When we truly love our neighbor as ourselves, then we will lead with love.
The kind of love that God calls for is a selfless concern for the well-being of others. It is a giving love that is focused on helping others. It is often a sacrificial love that requires that we put the needs of others before ourselves. God practiced this kind of love when He gave His Son for us while people were still sinners and enemies of God (John 3:16; Romans 5:8,10). He paid a great price for the benefit of others out of his concern for their well-being.
Likewise, we also must be motivated by love for others. If we lead out of a desire for fame, fortune, or other self-interests, then we are falling far short of successful leadership.
The Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians that love “is not self-seeking” (1 Corinthians 13:5). If we lead in order to meet our own goals, then we are being self-serving instead of being concerned for others. Too often in Christian leadership, leaders are primarily motivated by goals and objectives that devalue people. For example, a pastor may want to fill a church’s sanctuary on Sunday morning, but his concern may be more for meeting his goal of filling the seats than it is for helping and serving the people who are in the seats. This is because Christian leadership has adopted much of the outlook of “successful” secular leadership.
While some management skills and leadership ideas are good and helpful, others aren’t. Often, skills are sought and developed in order to meet goals. People are at times seen as primarily a means to an end. They simply are there to help the leaders meet their goals. The leaders ignore the well-being of people in order to reach these objectives, instead of making God inspired goals for the benefit of people. Tragically, this sometimes happens in Christian leadership, and people suffer because of it. Sadly for those leaders, in God’s eyes they have accomplished nothing. Paul also wrote to the Corinthians:
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body that I may boast, but have not love, I gain nothing (1 Corinthians 13:1-3).
Since even practicing spiritual gifts or doing great deeds without love will not profit you at all, it is clear that even leadership without love will not profit you anything in God’s eyes.
God is pleased when our leadership is motivated by a love for others. But we must also practice our leadership with love. Being motivated by love for others is certainly necessary, but it must be paired with practicing our leadership in love. In other words, we must lead in a loving way. Paul also wrote to the Corinthians, “Let all that you do be done in love” (1 Corinthians 16:14). Thus, our leading must be done in love. When we lead lovingly, the people we lead are encouraged, built up, and strengthened as individuals and as a part of the family of God.
An example of practicing leadership with love is speaking the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15). It’s possible to be motivated out of concern for others when speaking the truth to them, yet speak it in a way that doesn’t help them at all. We can even cause more harm than good because we speak the truth carelessly, without compassion, or harshly. How much better it is to speak the truth compassionately, kindly, and with humility. People are much more receptive to the truth when it is spoken in love. Yet at times some Christian leaders speak harshly or callously and offend people, thereby doing more harm than good. On the other hand, when we are led by the Spirit, and speak the truth with the fruit of the Spirit, then the truth of God can break down barriers and bring positive and powerful changes in people’s lives.
Leaders who love will also listen humbly and sincerely to those they influence for feedback about their leadership. Leaders should not assume that they will hear infallibly from God or that others cannot or should not give respectful but constructive feedback (2 Samuel 7:1-17; 2 Samuel 12:1-15; 2 Samuel 12:24-25; 2 Chronicles 29:25; Acts 21:10-11). On the contrary, love and humility should give leaders attentive ears to the people in their sphere of influence. By doing so, they can learn more about the people’s needs. They will also grow as leaders as they take people’s feedback to the Word and to prayer so God can speak to them concerning the situation.
Another way to explain leadership and love is that, just like a shepherd of sheep, leaders need to keep focused on serving the needs of the people they influence. They should help them to grow spiritually, mentally, emotionally, socially, and in physical health. They should support their holistic health as a child of God.
Do you want to become a great leader in God’s eyes? If so, then make it a real priority to lead with love. Take some practical steps toward becoming a more loving leader. Ask God on a daily basis to help you be motivated by love for others, and to lead in a loving way. Prayerfully read over the following scriptures on love on a regular basis, and meditate on how they apply to your life (1 Corinthians 13; 1 Corinthians 16:14; Romans 12:9-21; Romans 5:8; John 3:16). Then apply to your life what God shows you. Don’t give up. Keep working on it and you will grow as a loving leader.
Leading others with love is crucial to the kingdom of God. It will make the Church a brighter light in this darkened world. Therefore, let us resolve to become more Christlike in our motivations by leading others out of a concern for their well-being, and let us practice our leadership in a loving way. Let us humbly come before God, and ask that by His grace we may walk as Jesus did, humbly and lovingly serving others. As we do these things, we will by God’s grace change the world.