Led by Light

Leading the right way.
Christian Leadership (Dec 2023)

Christmas is full of tradition.

Beyond Santa and decorated trees, even the birth of Christ is learned by children with details sourced beyond the Bible.

Three wise men.

Matthew 2:1 (NIVUK) mentions ‘Magi’
From the Magoi (μάγοι) translated as Maji, kings, wise men, astronomers, scholars, magicians… (Strong’s Greek 3097)

No mention of three, perhaps assumed by the symbolic gifts of Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh, mentioned in v11.

Christmas tradition names the wise men personally. Gaspar (Green cloak), Melchior (Gold cloak) and Baltasar (Purple cloak). I love the detail and diversity. Accuracy and authority unknown. Some traditions include a fourth wise man called Artaban (White cloak). Some traditions have twelve wise men.

I’ll simply go with men of power and education. Wise enough to find Jesus, the ultimate leader. Wise men sought Jesus. They still do.

Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.” (Isaiah 60:3 NIVUK)

What would wise men say to senior church leaders today?

Use microphones, spotlights on self, huge speakers, great sounds and dress to look good.”

Perhaps not. Attention too diverted from the light eternal. What does that advice say about leadership?

Nothing wrong with communication aids that add rather than distract.

Wise men keep their eyes and vision on the star of eternal significance, whilst aware of the senior leader (who is not the star) of their church.

What is leadership? I’ll build up to church leadership later.

Leadership is more than being an engaging entertaining speaker and presenter. Not every leader, leads from the front of the room. Not everyone at the front is a leader.

Great leaders are drawn to the role by a desire to serve with others at scale beyond the capacity of self.

Some people have a false perception of leadership, whist searching for attention and status. cf. Mark 10:35-45

I’ve heard stories and teaching about leadership, and read various ‘Leadership Styles’ descriptors. Some do little more than differentiate leadership from management.

People and teams add signifacant value. Both leadership and management are required for change and improvement at scale. Vision, strategy, direction, persuasion and partnership exemplified. Coherent efficient organisation of tasks and people.

Leaders move ahead into the unknown, demonstrably showing the way. Taking the flack and protecting. Followers are attracted.

Some folk drive from behind with their dogs. I’ll follow the leader.

I’ve been involved in leadership teams pre-accident. BLT (300+ churches), DDE (100+ Schools), CEO (2 Charities). Headteacher, inspector, LA advisor, consultant. CU President during degree. Now TBI (Disabled).

Leadership soundbites:

Experience teaches more than soundbites. Leadership requires more than Intent, Implementation and Impact. Emotional intelligence for others (and self) is key.

Do with people, rather than do to people. Sometimes you may offer an immediate solution. Other times just hold the bucket. Even at crisis point, think slow to act fast. Quality defines possibility. External perspectives should reveal blind spots. To improve, not just approve.

School leadership:

There are national standards of school leadership. NPQs for leadership at various levels. I achieved NPQH (National Professional Qualification for Headship).  

I’ve supported the annual appraisal of headteachers for many years. When working as Local Authority School Advisor, I achieved the required national accreditation as SIP (School Improvement Partner).

I’ve used the Department for Education, “National standards of excellence for headteachers” to support headteacher appraisal.

Church leadership:

The same but different.

Pastors are shepherds.

Shepherd, Greek word poimén (Ποιμήν) is “pastor” in Latin. Someone that Jesus, the good shepherd, raises up to care for the well-being of His flock. (Strong’s 4166)

The word shepherd is in the NIV Bible 116 times. (OT 94 + NT 22) This is not an accident. It’s a spotlight on something import.

Father God was always the shepherd.

The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.” (Psalm 23:1 NIVUK)

The other 93 NIV OT verses describe and confirm this role.

Jesus undertook the role as shepherd -for all.

I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me– just as the Father knows me and I know the Father– and I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.” (John 10:14-16 NIVUK)

Matthew used a word often translated ‘ruler’ to describe Jesus in the Christmas story. The word used would have been understood as governor, supervisor, military leader. People were expecting and wanting a military leader like king David. The word shepherd is in the same verse.

But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will be the shepherd of my people Israel.” Matthew 2v6 (NIVUK)

Matthew made it clear Jesus was a different type of leader. A king who is a shepherd. A shepherd, like David, when he was chosen to be king.

King David was born in Bethlehem too. Significant relationally. Bethlehem from words Bet (house) and Hem (bread) for the birthplace of the bread of life. Crucified in Jerusalem, Jeru (city) and shalom (peace). A peace for eternity, a battleground repeatedly. A different kind of leader for a different kind of peace. We live in a snapshot of eternity.

Jesus gave Peter the role after resurrection

The third time he said to him, Simon son of John, do you love me? Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, Do you love me? He said, Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you. Jesus said, Feed my sheep.” (John 21: 17 NIVUK)

We are now all called to be shepherds out of love for God and our neighbours.

Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers– not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve;” (1 Peter 5:2 NIVUK)

Father God, Jesus, Spirit, His followers.
Distributed leadership, interconectivity and teamwork in action throughout scripture.

We all lead at times -with or without the label. We are all potential shepherds and even Apostles. Greek apostolos (ἀπόστολος) meaning, “one sent on a mission.” (Strong’s 652)

Church needs leadership for change, not just controlled management of holding your ground and stagnation. God’s love and creative relationship is eternal, and never outdated or boring.

Church is often not a good sell for His offer of restored relationship, love and new life. Spirit + Scripture > Tradition.

I’m encouraged that despite face-face training, repeated clear instructions, and lived out exemplification, the disciples were imperfect and often missed the point. Like I do.

Despite this, Jesus engaged them in leadership. Was this to exemplify supportive strategic risk taking? We should lead whilst being led by the Spirit of God. With his strength, despite our weaknesses.

In the gospel of Luke, low status Shepherd’s were the first to hear about a “Saviour”, “he is the Messiah, the Lord.” (Luke 2:8-15)

The work of a shepherd meant they were often unable to keep up with the rules the religious leaders required. Nonetheless, they were valued by God.

Religious leaders beware. “If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains.” (John 9:41 NIVUK)

Do we only seek the good bits of leading like Jesus?

Despite repeated warning, the disciples thought it appropriate to avoid the cross and seemed surprised when the foretold resurrection occurred.

His leadership was frequently unpopular.

Then Jesus said to his disciples, If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24 NIVUK)

How would the wise men describe,

I’ve repurposed the national standards of excellence for headteachers to support wise men in their appraisal of church leaders.

I’ve included biblical verses that may add contextual value to each description. Some descriptions could be supported by various biblical texts. The events recorded in Acts 15 relate to numerous descriptors.

In many locations, the most valuable attributes are often unmeasurable.

Below I’ve assembled four domains ‘complete with seven‘ edited descriptors detailing standards of excellence for church leaders.

Excellent church leaders.

  1. Gaspar (Green): qualities and knowledge
  2. Melchior (Gold): disciples and staff
  3. Baltasar (Purple): systems and process
  4. Artaban (White): spirit-led church system.


Excellent church leaders: qualities and knowledge

  1. Articulate Christ centered values clearly and with purpose -focused on providing world-class discipleship and mission for the communities they serve. 1 Timothy 4:8
  2. Demonstrate and celebrate love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Gal 5:22-23
  3. Exemplify prayerful humility, empathetic personal behaviour, positive relationships and attitudes towards the congregation and staff, and towards representatives of the local community. Philippians 2:3
  4. Lead by example with integrity, creativity, resilience, and clarity – drawing on their own spirituality, scholarship and skills, and that of those around them -so that the presence of God is welcomed and worshipped. 1 Timothy 4:12
  5. Sustain wide, theological knowledge and understanding of the Church of God, and church systems locally, nationally and globally, whist pursuing continuous personal and professional development during an unfinished journey of faith. Colossians 3:12-13
  6. Work with political and financial astuteness, within a clear set of principles centred on the church vision, ably translating biblical theology into the local context. Galatians 6:9
  7. Communicate the church vision compellingly and drive the strategic leadership, empowering all the congregation and staff to excel in their discipleship. Psalm 37:30-31


Excellent church leaders: disciples and staff

  1. Demand ambitious standards for all people, overcoming disadvantage and advancing equality, instilling a strong sense of accountability in staff for the impact of their work on the development and growth of the kingdom of God -love of God and of neighbour. Romans 14:12
  2. Secure excellent prayerful teaching and preaching through a scriptural understanding of discipleship and of the core features of successful church practice and coherent system design leading to rich spirit-led periods of worship and praise of God, as part of His family. 2 Timothy 4:2 Romans 10:15
  3. Establish a church culture of ‘openness’ as a basis for sharing best practice within and between different churches, drawing on and conducting relevant research and robust data analysis. Romans 12:5
  4. Create a relational ethos so that staff, and all those congregating, are motivated and supported to develop their own faith, discipleship and relationship with God -to support each other and their community. Ephesians 4:29
  5. Identify those with emerging gifts, coaching current and aspiring leaders in a climate where excellence is the standard, leading to clear succession planning with breadth, depth, mindful awareness, and diversity. Luke 9
  6. Hold all staff to account for their professional and personal conduct, and faithful devotion to serve sacrificially by pruning -and by removing branches unwilling to bear fruit. John 15
  7. Actively support and value diversity of engagement and involvement, including essential contributions from the less obvious, different, and those with disability or health challenges. Luke 22:26


Excellent church leaders -systems and process

  1. Ensure that church systems, organisation and processes are well considered, efficient and fit for purpose, upholding the principles of transparency, integrity, probity, and faithfulness. Acts 10:35
  2. Clarify practices collaboratively and formally when systems and structures are updated, whilst actively relying on the Holy Spirit and scripture to resolve church disputes and repurpose unhelpful traditions. Acts 15
  3. Provide safe, calm and well-ordered environments for all visitors, members, and staff -focused on safeguarding people and developing exemplary behaviour in church and the wider society. Proverbs 18:10
  4. Establish rigorous, fair and transparent systems and measures for managing the performance of all, whilst supporting staff to improve and valuing excellent practice. Philippians 2:3-5
  5. Welcome strong governance and actively support trustees and directors, helping all to understand their role and deliver their functions effectively – in particular governance to set church strategy and hold the senior leader to account for application of vision, theology and financial performance. Romans 13:1-7
  6. Exercise strategic, spirit-led financial planning to ensure the equitable deployment of budgets and all God-gifted resources, in the best interests of missional achievements, discipleship, sustainability, growth and service. Proverbs 21:5
  7. Distribute leadership throughout the organisation, forging teams of colleagues who have distinct roles and responsibilities and faithfully hold each other to account for their decision making. Philippians 2:3

Artaban –

Excellent church leaders: spirit-led church system.

  1. Create outward-facing churches that work with the family of other churches and Christian organisations – in a climate of mutual challenge – to champion best practice and secure strong meaningful relationships with unity of purpose. Hebrews 10:24
  2. Develop effective relationships with fellow disciples and colleagues in other public services to faithfully improve social provision and wellbeing outcomes for all people. 1 Corinthians 1:10
  3. Challenge theological orthodoxy and ethos positions in the best interests of achieving excellence with humility, harnessing the findings of well evidenced research and scripture to frame spirit-led improvement of churches. Proverbs 11:14
  4. Shape the current context and future quality of church leadership through high quality training and sustained personal development of paid staff, and discipleship for all. Proverbs 22:6
  5. Model creative and innovative approaches to church improvement, leadership and governance, confident in the vital contribution of internal and external accountability. Romans 12:6
  6. Inspire and influence others – within and beyond church settings- to faithfully believe in the fundamental eternal importance of the gospel of Christ for all. 1 Thessalonians 5:11
  7. Prioritise the Holy spirit as leader, rather than the tradition of church and those with loud voices. Acts 15

When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.
(John 8:12 NIVUK)

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