“This means the church’s leaders are first and foremost obligated to God. The church is not their playground or personal possession.”
In his book Leadership Is an Art, Max DePree defined a leader as someone who owes something to the organization they serve. Leaders owe many things, he said, not only to the institutions themselves but especially to the people who are part of them.
The apostle Paul would agree. The apostle saw himself as a “servant” (literally a “steward”) of the church (Col. 1:25). This Christian view of leadership is radically different from the secular ideal, which tends to focus on power and control. Paul uses this same word to describe elders or overseers in the church. In Titus 1:7, the overseer is called “God’s steward” or manager. This means the church’s leaders are first and foremost obligated to God. The church is not their playground or personal possession. Those who are part of the church, both leaders and members, have been redeemed by Christ and belong to God (Eph. 1:13–14).
Church leaders are entrusted with the gospel’s message and with equipping God’s people for works of service (Eph. 4:12). While they may be tempted to focus on growing ministries and programs, their primary task is to build people. Instead of recruiting reluctant volunteers to fill slots in congregational programs, the leader’s task is to provide instruction and encouragement to enable the church members to bear witness to Christ at home, in the neighborhood, and the workplace.
Since this training is rooted in the Scriptures, leaders are responsible to the word of God. A leader must be someone who “correctly handles the word of truth” and is not ashamed of its message (2 Tim. 2:15). Consequently, leaders must also be students. They study the Bible to understand what it says and study the congregation to know what it needs to hear.
What does it mean to be a leader? According to Paul, it means to act as a shepherd (v. 28). Paul’s awareness of future threats moved him to warn the leaders of the church in Ephesus to be on their guard (Acts 20:17–31). Leaders not only needed to watch over the church but also keep a close watch on themselves.
For Further Study
To learn more, read Servant of All: Reframing Greatness and Leadership Through the Teaching of Jesus by Ralph Enlow (Lexham).