Ministry is often glamorized from the outside looking in, and with good reason. Ministry is amazing on many fronts.
So it’s a natural temptation as a young person attending seminary, learning about so many wonderful principles, to imagine how your future ministry will thrive. How easy it is when you have a secular job to think “ministry” would be so less frustrating and difficult than your current place of employment. You just wish you could be serving people all day, having people come to you for help, helping them with the love of Christ, and being warmly loved in return for your hard work? Ministry would be amazing!
While I am not here to bash a vision like this or shame anyone with ideas like this, I think it’s also safe to say those who have been in any type of Christian ministry for an extended period of time know things are not so sterile and orderly. There’s so much pain and pleasure mixed together in real ministry.
Of course there are victories, amazing relationships that are formed, grateful people, and all kinds of fulfilling stories any minister should be able to share. But the fact remains, there are just as many hard stories too with endings not fit for a storybook.
Pastors will do all they can to love a certain church member, and yet so often that very person leaves the church, spreading rumors about the pastor on the way out. So many times a Christian leader will go out of her way to gently and graciously correct someone she sees is walking into sin, and that person grows offended rather than showing gratitude.
To be a great Christian leader, you will need to possess qualities often not thought of when considering the marks of a true Christian leader? There are many places to look when thinking about what makes up the heart of a great spiritual leader. Luke 6:26-49, however, is a sobering place to start.
So here are eight marks of true Christian leader found in Luke 6:26-49.
1. A true Christian leader will be marked by a desire to please God over people.
26Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets.
If you never offend anyone, it probably means you are shying away from the full truth as expressed in the Bible. If you offend everyone, it probably means the truth in the Bible has not taken hold of your heart but you only know it intellectually.
2. A true Christian leader is marked by real grace.
27“But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.29 To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either.30 Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. 31 And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them. 32 “If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same.34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount.
Grace is a gift someone does not deserve. Your enemy deserves your retaliation. Someone who curses, strikes, or steals from you deserves your punishment. According to Jesus, however, Christians, especially true Christian leaders, will be marked by giving people what they don’t deserve – a grace.
3. A true Christian leader is marked by unconditional love.
35 But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. 36 Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.
Loving people so they will tithe, loving people so they will love you back, or loving people so you will be seen as a true spiritual leader is not a mark of a true Christian leader. The hard truth about ministry is that often love given is not reciprocated.
To love like God, we must love “expecting nothing in return.” Those who love like that have the mark of true Christian leader. I believe most of us get into ministry because we are hoping to get much in return in the way of earthly praise and relationships. But what we will get in return is not what we often start out seeking; if we stick with Jesus long enough, we will see our real reward for Christian ministry is so much better.
The real reward for ministry is not ministry success but glory to God and pleasure in him. Rejection, pain, and struggle will become common place. But in the process your love for Jesus and dependence upon him will deepen like never before. Then your true maturity as a Christian leader expressed in your ability to love the unlovable will grow.
4. A true Christian leader is marked by acceptance.
37 “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; 38 give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.”
There’s never any room for a true Christian leader to judge people’s motives. There’s never room for true Christian leaders to judge those outside the church. But there will be times to judge observable behavior of those you are leading in your Christian ministry. This is the loving type of judgement. (For more on what the Bible says about judgement, click here.)
But in each of the situations like this, a true Christian leader will be marked by acceptance. I don’t mean that you will be okay with the sin and dysfunction in people’s lives. Jesus was not okay with godlessness. But Jesus did not heap shame on those already condemned. He sought to draw people to his Father by meeting them wherever they were at, coming for the sick of heart, and spending time with those who didn’t already have it all together.
Jesus accepted people (while not approving of sin) so he could be an agent of change in the lives of those he came to save.
5. A true Christian leader will be marked by training and Christ-likeness.
39 He also told them a parable: “Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall into a pit? 40 A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher.
Elders, for example, must not be recent converts less they become prideful. They must be able to teach, lead their families well, and have a level of spiritual maturity the church can seek to emulate (1 Timothy 3). As Paul said, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1).
If a Christian leader is not marked by maturity and training, those he leads will suffer as they become like him or her. For every student becomes like their teacher, for good or bad.
6. A true Christian leader will be marked by self-examination and authenticity.
41 Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? 42 How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother’s eye.
Being a great leader is not synonymous with being a great finger pointer. A lot of people can see the problems in others, but only a few have the ability and spiritual gifting to offer helpful solutions rooted in Christ.
The person best equipped for helping others with sin are those who have dealt with their own sins first. A true Christian leader will be marked by self-reflection, self-care, quick forgiveness when offended by others, quick apologies when they commit offenses against others, and ongoing repentance of personal sin.
7. A true Christian leader will be marked by good fruit.
43 For no good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit, 44 for each tree is known by its own fruit. For figs are not gathered from thornbushes, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush. 45 The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.
Being a great communicator, visionary, planner, writer, philosopher, or fundraiser is not the same thing as being a great Christian leader. A true spiritual leader will have good works produced in their lives as an overflow of their relationship with God. If there are no visible good works, this is not the mark of true Christian leader.
8. A true Christian leader will be marked by faithful commitment to the word of God.
46 Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you? 47 Everyone who comes to me and hears my words and does them, I will show you what he is like: 48 he is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock. And when a flood arose, the stream broke against that house and could not shake it, because it had been well built. 49 But the one who hears and does not do them is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. When the stream broke against it, immediately it fell, and the ruin of that house was great.”
Those who actually do what God says are those who will last. New ministry ideas, techniques, and gimmicks come and go – along with the leaders who use such tactics. But the mark of a true Christian leader is perseverance rooted in a commitment to building his or her ministry on what God has said in his word and on what Jesus has accomplished through the gospel.