Leadership Lifters: Biblical Principles of Leadership

by Rick Warren

We’re going to begin a new series this month on the Principles of Leadership. For the next few months I am going to be writing about how you can learn to lead like Jesus by looking at examples from His life.

I speak to various groups of leaders throughout the year. These groups include pastors, corporate CEOs, and political leaders. All of these leaders have the same thing in common: they want to know how to be better leaders. Fortunately for us, Jesus has provided the perfect role model.

Leadership is one of the key essentials in helping us become all that God wants us to become. In fact, the Bible tells us in Proverbs 11:14a, Without wise leadership, a nation falls. That’s true of every single area of life. Without wise leadership a family is in trouble. Without wise leadership a business is in trouble. Without wise leadership a community is in trouble. Without wise leadership a church is in trouble. Without wise leadership the world is in trouble. Everything rises or falls on leadership.

We have three big leadership problems in our culture and in our world today.

  • We have lost the difference between a celebrity and a leader. They are not the same. Celebrities are simply famous. Leaders get things done. We’ve got far too many celebrities and not enough leaders. Would you agree with that? We don’t need any more celebrities in our world who are famous just for being famous. We need leaders who get things done.
  • There is a real shortage of godly, good leadership around the world. That’s why in the PEACE plan the E stands for Equip servant leaders. Because it’s one of the five global giants facing our world today. There aren’t enough good leaders in the world.
  • We have the wrong kind of leaders in many areas today. The wrong kind of leaders in the media. The wrong kind of leaders in government. The wrong kind of leaders in sports, in entertainment, in business, in education. In so many areas.

You may realize you are a leader in your area of ministry, but you are also a leader in other areas of your life, whether you realize it or not. Leadership is one word: influence. Any time you influence someone you are a leader. So the question is not whether you are a leader or not. The question is, are you a good and godly leader or are you a poor leader? Every time you interact with anybody, you influence them. The Bible says if you are a believer, God expects you to lead others for good and for God. If you are a follower of Jesus, He wants you to be a leader of others. For good and for God and for His glory.

So we are going to spend the next few months looking at how to improve your leadership skills not only in your ministry, but in your home, with your friends, in your small group, and in your community. God says I want you to lead others for good. I want you to influence them rather than them influencing you.

There are no perfect leaders in the world. I am not a perfect leader. You are not a perfect leader. Nobody is. The only perfect leader is Jesus Christ. But at least you are making the effort and I am making the effort.

This month we will look at the first of seven leadership principles from the life of Jesus Christ.

1.  The first principle of leadership that God wants to build into your life is the principle of identification.  I must know who I am.

That is the foundation of leadership.  I must know who I am.  This is the starting point of leadership.  Warren Bennis the USC professor who’s written a couple dozen books on leadership calls this self-awareness.  All good and great leaders know their strengths and their weaknesses.  They accept their strengths and they admit their weaknesses.  You have some great strengths.  You also have some great weaknesses.  So do I.  We’re all a bundle of both.  Leadership is not ignoring one in favor of the other.  It’s being honest about both.  Good leaders don’t try to be something they are not.  They are self-aware.  They know who they are.

Jesus had no doubt about His identity.  As we look at these Seven Principles of Leadership over the next few months, we are going to take statements directly from the words of Jesus Christ.  Here’s the first thing that Jesus says.  He knew exactly who He was.  He says this in various verses, “I am the light of the world.  I am the Son of God.  I am the way, I am the truth, I am the life.  I am the bread of life.” I just listed a few.  The fact is in the gospels eighteen times Jesus defines Himself He says I am… and then He tells us who He is.  He didn’t let other people define Him.  He defined Himself.  He said, I am this and I am this and I am this.  He knew exactly who He was.

If you are going to be a leader you have to start with this foundational issue of knowing who you are.  Leaders do not look to other people for validation.

Jesus said, “I am one who testifies for myself; my other witness is the Father, who sent me (John 8:18, NIV).” What in the world did He mean by that?  I testify on My own behalf.  He’s saying this: I don’t depend on other people’s opinions to tell Me who I am.  I know who I am.  I know exactly who I am.  I know My own story and I tell it.

If you don’t know what God has made you to be then you are going to fall into three very common traps.

  • You will allow other people to manipulate you with their expectations.  In other words, you will allow other people to mold you into the image they want you to be instead of what God meant for you to be. If you don’t decide who you are, other people will.  God has a plan for your life but so does everybody else.  Have you figured that out?  If you don’t decide yourself other people will decide it for you.  Your boss will decide it for you.  Your parents will decide it for you.  Your spouse, your boyfriend, your girlfriend, some teacher.  Other people will try to pressure you into a mold of their expectations.
  • You will live a phony life.  When you don’t know who you are you act one way at home and another way at church. You don’t really know who you are.  As a result you end up living a lie.
  • Your stress level will rise.  Stress happens when you don’t know what you were made to be. When you are trying to please everyone else, your energy is drained from going so many directions at once.  There are many good things you could do. The key is choosing and doing the best.

There are two more things that will limit your leadership and will weaken your identity:

Comparing.  God says over and over again in scripture there’s nobody else like you in the world.  God didn’t make you to be anybody else.  When you get to heaven God isn’t going to say, “Why weren’t you more like so and so?”  No.  He’s going to say, “Why weren’t you more like you?  I made you to be you and you weren’t meant to be anybody else.  Why we are you comparing?  You’re not one in a million.  You’re one in six billion.  There’s never been anybody before, after, or right now just like you.”  Even twins are different.  Don’t ever compare yourself.  Don’t compare your salary.  Don’t compare your appearance, or cars, or clothes, or kids.  Don’t compare your husbands or your wives.  Don’t compare your degrees.  God wants you to be you.

Whenever you start comparing yourself to anybody else two things happen.  One is you’ll always find somebody who is doing a better job than you and you get discouraged.  Two, you’ll always find somebody that you’re doing better job than and you get full of pride and ego.

Either way you’re dead in the water.  It pulls you out of the game.  You’re benched.  You’re sidelined.  Pride and discouragement keep you from being what God meant for you to be.  So you have to start by saying, “I’m not going to compare.  I’m going to figure out my identity and know who God made me to be.”

Copying. God does not want clones.  If you don’t be you the world gets hurt because nobody else can be you.  God says I don’t want copies and I don’t want clones.  We all start off as originals but a lot of us end up as carbon copies of other people.  We do this even in our spiritual life.  You become a believer and you’re talking to God and all of a sudden you hear somebody pray one day and you go, “I really like that phrase that they use in their prayer.  I’m going to add that to my repertoire.” The best way to pray is the way you pray.  If you’re not an eloquent person, God doesn’t expect your prayers to be eloquent.  It may be “Hi, God.  It’s me.”  That’s good enough for God.  God does not care about fancy words.  God cares about your heart.

If you’re going to be a leader that influences others, and God wants you to be that, you must first become comfortable with who you are.  Don’t try to be anybody else.  Don’t copy or compare.  Accept your unique strengths. And you admit your weaknesses, which are also unique to you.

That is the first principle of leading like Jesus. Join me next month as I continue to look at these biblical Principles of Leadership.

Rick Warren is the founding pastor of Saddleback Church and the author of many best-selling books, including The Purpose Driven Life and The Purpose Driven Church.

3 Responses to Leadership Lifters: Biblical Principles of Leadership

  1. Judy Ttimber says:

    This is a very interesting topic with a lot of wisdom… I will be asking my 17yr.old daughter to read this as well, as she has been required to write an essay for NHS about leadership.
    Not only will this teaching help her understand what leadership means but also help her to become a better leader herself.
    Thank you Pastor Rick, we look forward to learning more of your teachings.

  2. Helen says:

    The last few years I’ve been so disappointed w/ the Willow Creek Leadership Summitt sharing half the spotlight and stage with CELEBRITIES /CEO’s of the WORLD who don’t mention Christ and may not even know Him personally.

    Praise God your Leadership Teaching will use Christ and His Word!! So we can be influenced and influence others in God’s perfect way and in His perfect will! I’m tickled pink!
    Serving w/ Joy!

  3. Ann Harris says:

    Thank you for this message. I am an instructor at a technical college and it gets to be a real challenge to maintain my identity. This article gives me the strength and encouragement to keep going.

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