by Michael Mancha
We all remember the childhood game Follow the Leader. Whatever the leader does, you do. Wherever the leader goes, you go. We all understand leadership from an early age. We experience all kinds of leadership examples in our lives especially in the form of Christian leadership. While there are a number of characteristics vital to Christian leadership, none are more important than character. The character of a Christian leader stands as the basis for their role because character is a reflection of communion with God, it conveys moral authority, and it breeds healthy followers.
Character and Communion
In his book, A Work of Heart, author Reggie McNeal outlines three key biblical leaders whose example of leadership was paramount to what we model today. Specifically, McNeal highlights Moses and the relationship that he has with God. It was the narrative of Moses’ communion with God that set him apart. The Bible reveals in Exodus, “Thus the LORD used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend” (Ex. 33:11). Moses’ unique relationship with God, the communion he shared with God, shaped his heart into one of strong character.
Character is so vital to Christian leadership because character is a reflection of your communion with God. Without communion with God, our hearts are at risk of influence from sources that misaligned with God’s call in our lives. McNeal states, “Devoid of a growing, personal, dynamic relationship with God, spiritual leaders become casualties.”¹ If our relationship with God, our communion, is absent then the true shaping of our heart to how God desires will fall short and no amount of talent or skill can make up for character. At some point the ability of the hands will end but the character of the heart will remain.
The Moral Authority of Character
There are many leaders in our world, but unfortunately, some leaders simply aren’t leaders worth following. They may have good ideas, speaking skills, charisma and charm, but in the end the question remains: are they worth following? This is why character matters. Character conveys moral authority. Andy Stanley writes in his book, Next Generation Leader, “Your position will prompt people in your organization to lend you their hands in a temporary basis. But your moral authority will inspire them to lend you their hearts.”²
As a leader we are more than just the title we bare. Titles give us position and people abide to that authority. But who we are as people, what our character conveys, will establish moral authority. It is this moral authority that people look for when seeking someone they can trust. As Stanley put it, it’s more than the hands, it’s about the heart. Stanley says, “Moral authority is the credibility you earn by walking your talk.”³ To be effective leaders, we must recognize that people first follow character, then ability.
The Christ-Centered Character
Finally, character is vital to Christian leadership because character breeds healthy followers. But not just any character – character that is rooted and centered on Christ. In the book, Dream in Progress, Whaid Rose shares the idea, “If Jesus is not the center place, nothing is in its right place.”4 As Christian leaders, if our character is shaped by anything other than the heart of Jesus, then we betray those who we are called to lead. Paul writes to the church in Colossae and says, “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Col. 3:17).
Our leadership example is paramount and Christ centered leadership will breed healthy followers. When we lead strictly out of our own will we place those who follow us in danger; we are leading them in a manner that does not honor God. The source of our character should always be in check. We should never waiver from anything other than Christ as the center place.
The Starting Point
A good leader will possess many strong and vibrant qualities. But these essential qualities must have a starting point. That starting point is character. Character sets the tone for how the rest of a leader’s talents, skills, and abilities play out. Character establishes moral authority. It is a testament to the leader’s relationship with God and when that relationship is centered on Christ then healthy followers will follow. Who we are sets the bar for what we do and what we become. If we desire to be vibrant Christian leaders for a vibrant kingdom of God, then it must start with you.
¹ Reggie McNeal, A Work of Heart: Understanding How God Shapes Spiritual Leaders. (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2000), 139.
² Andy Stanley, Next Generation Leaders: Five Essentials for Those Who Will Shape the Future. (New York: Multnomah, 2003), 139.
³ Ibid. Stanley, 141.
4 Whaid Guscott Rose, Dream in Progress: The Vision of a Vibrant 21-Century Church of God (Seventh Day). General Conference of the Church of God (Seventh Day), 2011), 4.