Leadership and conviction:

Recovering the vision History reveals the role of leadership for great good, and for great evil, but there is no way to remove leaders from the center of the action.


The secular world thinks of leadership as a sociological necessity. Given human nature and the complexity of human society, we need leaders in order to organize human effort into productive channels. History reveals the role of leadership for great good, and for great evil, but there is no way to remove leaders from the center of the action.

In more recent years, leadership has become a secular preoccupation. An entire industry has grown up around leadership, with literally thousands of book titles, countless seminars and personal leadership coaches for hire. Colleges and universities offer leadership degrees and just about every major corporation offers leadership training.

As is often the case, the church has been deeply influenced by this secular conversation. Leadership has become a major focus of evangelical concern, even as it seems that many evangelicals are uncertain about how Christians should think about leadership 01 2 ESSENTIAL READING ON LEADERSHIP as a calling and as an art.

Throughout the last century and more, American Christianity has been deeply influenced by the business culture. Early in the 20th century, this was reflected in the emergence of a concern for “efficiency” in ministry, adopting the term that was then at the center of business concern. Later, churches adopted models of organization and management that seemed, oddly enough, to make many churches look like American corporations in terms of structure, culture and even vocabulary.

More recently, the concern about leadership has been linked to the large business culture, along with its pragmatism. In too many cases, Christians have just imported models and concepts of leadership from the secular world. Much of the supposedly “Christian” literature about leadership is just secular thought with a few Bible verses printed alongside.

This can lead to the importing of unbiblical models of leadership into the church, and it has produced an evangelical culture of pragmatism that is subversive of both the gospel and of the church itself. Thankfully, the coming generation of young pastors has generally rejected that model of ministry and leadership. They want nothing to do with the doctrinal minimalism and pragmatism of the secular models and their evangelical counterparts.

They have rejected the absence of theology and the marginalization of biblical ecclesiology that has marked so much of the mainstream church culture in the United States. And yet, as much as I am encouraged by this rising generation’s diagnosis of the problem they see, they still have to lead.

If the secular world knows that leadership is necessary because of sociological realities, the Christian knows that leadership is necessary because of biblical categories. We are taught in Scripture that God’s people require leadership — and urgently so. In the Old Testament, we read honest accounts of the patriarchs, judges, kings, and prophets who led Israel. In the New Testament, we find the church led by apostles and teachers, who both served and led as the church followed Christ.

The tasks of ministry today require leadership skills that would humble a Fortune 500 CEO. But, even as some of the skills and competencies of leadership are common to all contexts of leadership, the minister of the gospel is called to a very specific form of visible leadership — leadership by conviction. Conviction — the knowledge of truth that transforms — is the bedrock of Christian leadership.

The Christian leader is driven by gospel convictions and a passionate love for the church of the Lord Jesus Christ. The art and science of biblical leadership flow out of the minister’s first and foremost arena of leading — and that is the role of teaching.

The minister leads, most importantly, by the faithful teaching and preaching of the Word of God. The New Testament reveals a model of ministerial leadership that is based on biblical convictions and driven by a passion to see Christ’s people follow in faithful obedience. Thus, authentic Christian leadership is deeply doctrinal, inescapably theological, unrelentingly biblical and, by virtue of the Bible’s authority, unavoidably practical.

The Christian pastor does not lead by title, or by his own inherent authority. He leads by the preaching and teaching of God’s Word. His leadership credibility is established by his exposition of the Bible and by his presentation of biblical truth. He is able to move believers to action, not because he holds an office, but because he fulfills that teaching office with both skill and deep conviction.

Authentic Christian leadership becomes evident when God’s people are led to know and to obey deep truths from God’s Word when their intuitions and patterns of thought are brought into conformity with the truth, and when believers then go out into the world in faithful obedience to Christ. And we must never forget that true Christian discipleship is always practical but never merely pragmatic.

Thus, the Christian pastor must learn the skills and competencies of effective leadership LEADERSHIP AND CONVICTION ESSENTIAL READING ON LEADERSHIP as an extension of his pulpit ministry, not as a substitute. The biblical formula is simple to understand and impossible to refute. We live and operate out of our genuine convictions. We do live as we believe. Christians are faithful only when our convictions lead to the right actions, and leadership that rises up from authentic biblical convictions will produce a church that will be taught to live out those convictions in every dimension of life.

In other words, if the church is under led, it is because the church is underfed. Leadership by conviction is the only model of leadership that is worthy of the Christian ministry, and what the church desperately needs in this age is a generation of preachers who are driven by the conviction to lead.

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