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The Distinctives of Christian Maturity and Leadership

Before actually considering the qualities that should characterize mature Christian and Christian leadership, it would be well to consider its uniqueness. It is hoped that in doing so it will focus us on the supernatural element involved and how Christian maturity and leadership is to find its source in a personal relationship with the living Christ through the Holy Spirit and in the light of the special revelation of God, the Holy Bible. The following is a summary of six distinctives.11

(1) Christian maturity and leadership is distinct because of the nature of a leader’s position as a servant, as opposed to the viewpoint of the secular world. Christ spoke emphatically of this on a couple of occasions (see Luke 22:24-27; Mark 10:35-45). Further, regardless of one’s position in the home or the church, the biblical principle is that there is only one who is “number one,” and that is Christ Himself. It is He who is to be preeminent in the life of the church (cf. John 13:13; Col. 1:18 with 3 John 9-11). Submission to Christ’s authority and leadership is one of the hallmarks of leadership.

(2) Christian maturity and leadership is distinct because of the nature of its character requirements. While the secular and corporate world may speak of the need of moral character, it will lack certain qualities of character that are strictly Christian in nature like submission to the Lordship of Christ, complete trust in the tenets of Scripture, and those characteristics listed in 1 Timothy 3:2-7 and Titus 1:7-9.

(3) Christian maturity and leadership is distinctive as to its source. In Scripture, the special ability to be a Christian leader is explicitly declared to be the product of the gift of the Spirit. While all Christians have a responsibility to lead in certain capacities—as parents, Sunday teachers, and as members of society—the Holy Spirit, the giver of spiritual gifts (1 Cor. 12:7), gives a special gift of leadership as described in Romans 12:6-8.

12:6 And we have different gifts, according to the grace given to us. If the gift is prophecy, that individual must use it in proportion to his faith. 12:7 If it is service, he must serve; if it is teaching, he must teach; 12:8 if it is exhortation, he must exhort; if it is contributing, he must do so with sincerity; if it is leadership, he must do so with diligence; if it is showing mercy, he must do so with cheerfulness. (emphasis mine).

Leadership is a gift sovereignly bestowed by the Holy Spirit, as with all spiritual gifts, at the point of salvation when a person is joined to the body of Christ by the baptizing work of the Spirit (1 Cor. 12:12-13). This gifting of the Spirit equips each believer for service in the body. For some, this involves the gift of leadership.

Human beings can neither choose their gifts, take credit for their gifts, nor assume that their gifts make them superior people. “Gifts are shared out among Christians; all do not receive the same gifts but all the gifts come from the Spirit, so that there is no room for rivalry, discontent, or a feeling of superiority.”12 The fact that the Holy Spirit is the source of leadership capacity and that leaders are chosen sovereignly by Him produces freedom from pride and arrogance among those who are responsive to Him.

The gift of leadership is not a matter of a certain personality type. Peter was a leader by virtue of personal strength (Acts 4:8–12), James by virtue of practical wisdom (Acts 15:12–21), Paul by virtue of intellectual capacity (as seen in his sermons and epistles), Timothy by virtue of sacrificial service (Phil 2:19–21), and John by virtue of his heart for God and man (as seen in his writings). All these leaders shared all these virtues, but each of them had a distinct personality strength that uniquely marked him. This demonstrates the fact that leadership is not a matter of human personality but of divine sovereignty. Just as the Spirit’s gifts are not reserved for a few outstanding people13 so the Spirit’s gift of leadership is not reserved for a particular kind of personality.

The gift of leadership is discovered and developed in the same way as other spiritual gifts, that is, through life experience, training, and the maturing process. Even though it is the product of the Spirit’s presence and God’s grace, this gift requires diligence, faithfulness, hard work, and commitment if it is to be exercised effectively.14

(4) Christian maturity and leadership is distinct as to its enablement. The Christian character required to be a godly leader, biblically speaking, has its source in a personal abiding relationship with Jesus Christ. It is to be the product of a Word-filled, Spirit-filled (controlled) life (Col. 3:16; Eph. 5:18) that results in the Christ-exchanged life. Writing to those who were seeking sanctification by law or legalism, Paul wrote,

2:20 I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So the life I now live in the body, I live because of the faithfulness of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 2:21 I do not set aside God’s grace, because if righteousness could come through the law, then Christ died for nothing! (Galatians 2:20-21).

Leadership requires great wisdom and strength and endurance, but the Christian leader can always count on the presence and provision of the Spirit of God along with the abiding presence of the Savior.

Christians who possess this gift may exercise it in secular settings such as business, politics, or education, but non-Christian leaders in those areas cannot claim the Spirit’s power. This truth is one of the most unique elements in Christian leadership. Christian leaders have many things in common with non-Christian leaders: both must provide vision for their followers; both must earn the trust of their followers; both must communicate to their followers; both must use their abilities effectively in providing leadership.15 But only Christian leaders can count on the Holy Spirit to accomplish their purpose of affecting and changing others in the spiritual realm. The Spirit’s power will not make their leadership perfect,16 but it will guide them in a model of growing Christian maturity as well as enable them to have a spiritual impact that cannot be had in any other way or by any other kind of leader.17

(5) Christian maturity and leadership is distinctive as to its ambition and motivation. An ambition is a strong desire to accomplish something or reach a specific goal. The difference between a worldly or godly ambition is the nature of the ambition (fame, power, prestige, position, effective service, God’s glory, etc.) and the motives behind the ambition. In 1 Timothy 3:1, the apostle wrote, “It is a trustworthy statement: if any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine ( kalos, “beautiful, useful, noble, praise worthy, advantageous, etc.) work he desires ( epithumeo, “set one’s heart on, long for, desire”) to do” (emphasis mine). This aspiration (ambition) to be an elder, a position of leadership and responsibility in the church, is a desire for a fine, noble, or godly work. But the apostle defined this as a “fine work.” This takes the focus off the idea of position and places it on the function or responsibility that goes with the job. But as noble as it may be, if one’s motives are wrong (i.e., for prestige, to build up a sagging ego, for power and control over others rather than sacrificial servanthood, etc.), then the ambition becomes tainted and wrong. For a classic illustration of a good ambition that became tainted by selfish motives, compare Mark 10:35-45 and Luke 22:24-30.

Nothing could be uglier than the attitudes found here. But nothing could be more surprising than Christ’s response to these attitudes; He did not attack them for being ambitious, nor did He reject them for having drive and desire. Instead He redefined ambition and turned it into service for others without taking away any of its drive for achievement. Ambition is transformed into a humility directed toward serving others rather than a proud serving of self. Ambition is redefined from self-service to self-sacrifice (Mark 10:43–45), and included in this is instruction in how to be first. It is accomplished through the holy ambition of slavery in accord with the model of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. He demonstrated ambition at its best as the One who willingly sacrificed Himself for the sake of others.18

Selfish motives (for dominance, personal agendas, control, praise, prestige), that do not truly spring from Spirit-produced love, lead to some of the most destructive behaviors in the body of Christ. Thus, a true mark of maturity that is needed in Christian leaders is purity of motives as is modeled for us in the life and ministry of Paul and his associates (see 1 Thess. 2:1ff).

(6) Christian maturity and leadership is distinctive as to its authority. A Christian leader’s authority comes from Christ, but in his responsibility as a leader, he is a servant in a two-fold way. (a) He is a servant of Christ and operates under the authority and leadership of Christ. Christ is the head of the church, the Chief Shepherd, and the One who is always to be preeminent and in charge. Christian leaders have no authority in themselves. (b) The Christian leader is to function as a servant to those he leads. This is beautifully expressed by Paul in 2 Corinthians 4:5 “For we do not proclaim ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your slaves [ doulos, “bond servants”] for Jesus’ sake.”

In the context of the nature of Christian maturity and the distinctiveness of Christian leadership, certain qualities have been briefly touched on like the leader as a model, the source of enablement, and the servant concept. Now a more detailed discussion will follow concerning the marks of spiritual maturity which are naturally also the marks or characteristics of Christian leadership.


11 For a full treatment of each of these disctinctives, see the article by William D. Lawrence in Bibliotheca Sacra, Vol. 144:575, July 1987, pp. 318f. Lawrence lists seven, but I have combined two of these because they are related so closely to each other. Also, where his focus is just on Christian leadership, I have included the concept of maturity in these distinctives.

12 Lawrence, quoting Warren Bennis and Burt Nanus, Leaders (New York: Harper & Row, 1985), p. 5.

13 Lawrence, taken from Leon Morris, The First Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians, Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1958, p. 170.

14 William D. Lawrence, Bibliotheca Sacra, Vol. 144:575, July 1987, pp. 320-321.

15 Lawrence, for a secular discussion of these elements see Bennis and Nanus, Leaders, pp. 19–86; for such thinking from a Christian perspective see Fred Smith, Learning to Lead (Waco, TX: Word Books, 1986), pp. 32–44.

16 Lawrence, taken from Sanders, Paul the Leader, p. 41.

17 Lawrence, pp. 321-322.

18 Lawrence, pp. 323-24.


Appendix: Discussion Questions for Marks of Maturity

MEN 7/52 is a men's ministry of bible.org.  Our desire is to see all men become true followers of Jesus Christ 7 days a week/52 weeks a year.

These studies were developed in a team training environment where men were being trained for their role as church leaders, as fathers, and as effective members of a society that desperately needs to see what authentic, biblical Christianity looks like. So, exactly what does a mature Christian look like? A mature Christian is a believer whose life begins to take on the character of Christ-likeness. But what exactly is that? What are the specific qualities that mark out a person as Christ-like? This is the focus and point of this study.

The qualities that should characterize Christian leaders are also the marks of spiritual maturity as described in the Bible. While all of the qualities that will be discussed in this series are not unique to Christianity and are often promoted and taught in the secular world, many of them are, by their very nature, distinctive to the Bible or biblical Christianity. Thus, the characteristics that should mark out a Christian leader are also the marks of biblical maturity which are in essence the product of true spirituality. In fact, biblical spirituality can be described by the term maturity since Christian maturity is the result of growth produced by the ministry of the Spirit in the light of the Word over time. It is this biblical/spiritual element, at least in part, that makes the marks of Christian leadership distinctively Christian.

Session 1

Introduction (pg. 1 – 3)

1. What three elements are necessary to achieve spiritual maturity?

2. What was one of Paul’s primary personal goals?

3. How is the goal of evangelism described?

4. What are the five agents God uses for growth?

5. Describe the three defining marks of maturity.

6. In Philippians 3:12-16, Paul describes his constant pursuit of growth toward spiritual perfection. Please describe your pursuit of growth toward spiritual perfection and share with the group your successes and failures.

The Nature of Maturity as the Product of Spirituality (pg. 4 – 5)

1. List the four factors involved in biblical spirituality and describe them in your own words.

2. Which of these factors is strongest in your spiritual growth? Which is weakest?

3. How has each of these factors impacted your spirituality growth?

The Distinctives of Christian Maturity and Leadership

1. List the six distinctives of Christian maturity and leadership and describe them in your own words.

2. Describe how your motivation and ambition impacts your role as a leader in your family, church, and community. What are some of the changes you need to make in your heart? Please share with the group.

Related Topics: Spiritual Life, Issues in Church Leadership/Ministry, Leadership