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The Foundation of Godly Leadership
Learn to exercise authority over others in a way that makes them rejoice.

A talented basketball team with an uninspired coach is a bad basketball team. A promising company with an inept ceo is treading the path toward obsolescence. A family without engaged guidance is generally aimless—easily mired in bad habits, fruitless pursuits and mediocrity.

Success in any organized endeavor requires good leadership.

The quality of leadership determines the quality of a family, school, business, band, organization or congregation. Skilled leadership turns a bunch of directionless boys into a winning little league club. It transforms a classroom of indifferent youths into a hive of enthusiastic learners. It turns timid recruits into a victorious military unit.

Good leadership is a great blessing in the lives of those who operate under it. It challenges people to break patterns of failure. It points them in the right direction and inspires them to propel themselves forward. It awakens them to possibilities, stirs hope and ignites vision. It steadies the ship when stormy seas arise. It ushers people toward otherwise unattainable excellence. It converts losers into winners, failures into successes. It enables ordinary people to become extraordinary.

Effective leadership gathers individuals together into a cohesive team. It draws people into harmonious effort and unified accomplishment. It marshals the best in each person in order to create synergy—group outcomes where the result is greater than the sum of its parts.

If you have ever had a parent, teacher, coach, instructor, supervisor, boss, captain or commanding officer who did his job well and got the best from you, you know how wonderful such leadership can be.

At the same time, most of us have also lived under authority that was poorly administered, and we suffered from the results.

As Proverbs 29:2 says, “When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice: but when the wicked beareth rule, the people mourn.”

Yes leadership can cause mourning, or it can cause rejoicing. It is an extraordinary power.

And men, you were born to lead.

A Responsibility for Men

At the beginning of human history, God gave human beings dominion—rulership over the rest of the material creation (Genesis 1:26-28). He created men and women for a tremendous purpose and plan that echoes in eternity—and He made Earth our training ground. The animals, plants, soil and other earthly elements provide opportunities to learn responsible, principled, virtuous and wise rulership.

From the beginning, God also made clear a fundamental organizing principle among human beings: that He intends men to be leaders over women. Most people in modern society balk at this, but when it is followed as God intends—when men lead in a godly, loving way, and when women voluntarily fulfill their complementary role—only blessings result.

God intends men to be the leaders in society. He intends men to be the leaders in the Church. He intends husbands to be the leaders in their marriages. He intends fathers to be the leaders of their homes.

You were born to be a leader! God has implanted within your mind and being dynamic qualities that can design, build, create, teach, lead—change lives, mold the future!

How can you unlock those potentialities?

This world cries out for good, solid, principled leaders­hip—leaders who are anchored and grounded, who will not be corrupted. Ambitious leaders are needed in government, business, industry, agriculture, education—every segment of society!

It needs leaders for God—leaders who want to do things God’s way. In fact, the Bible shows that very soon, God plans to put all the leaders of today out of office, and set up a kingdom run by leaders who are willing to follow His just and right laws of leadership. You can learn the way of that World Tomorrow—today.

God wants to give you an awesome position in that future Kingdom. He wants you to become a leader!

And before that, He wants you to have a happy, blessed life—now.

But there is a procedure to receiving such a position. God doesn’t just give it: You must go after it.

Whom to Lead First

What is the first step toward becoming a leader God can use, both now and in the future? Simply this: You begin gaining the skills of leadership by leading yourself.

The biblical book of Titus is a letter written by an older minister to one of the less-experienced ministers in the Church. This older minister gave him one solid nugget of how to help the young men in his congregation. He wrote, “Young men likewise exhort to be sober minded” (Titus 2:6).

The Revised Standard Version translates this verse, “Likewise urge the younger men to control themselves.”

The New International Version: “Similarly, encourage the young men to be self-controlled.”

The Moffatt translation: “Tell the young men also to be masters of themselves at all points.”

And the Living Bible: “Urge the young men to behave carefully, taking life seriously.”

This may sound simple, but it is the first step to becoming a godly leader. So many of those in authority in society have never learned this fundamental character principle, and as a result, they are making an absolute mess of this world!

In the World Tomorrow, all leadership positions will be filled by people who have learned to control themselves first.

When a person lacks self-control, he renders himself unfit to lead in many ways. He caves into peer pressure easily. He is too concerned about what others think of him. He prioritizes appearance over substance, leading to forms of cheating and corner-cutting. He is susceptible to unsound judgment, favoritism, partiality and unpredictability. He wrestles with feelings of depression and inferiority. He gets jealous easily, especially when someone around him succeeds. He can become terribly manipulative and political. He loses his temper. He acts arrogantly—even tyrannically—to mask his insecurities. He does self-destructive things and succumbs to bad influences. He has difficulty controlling his own passions and lusts.

The more power and authority such a person has, the more damage he can do to more people!

“He that hath no rule over his own spirit is like a city that is broken down, and without walls” (Proverbs 25:28). Here is where rulership must start: ruling your own spirit. You must be able to govern and control yourself, or else you easily become prey to many destructive influences.

Modern society seems to think a person can be a wonderful leader despite having weak personal character. God vehemently disagrees. In His eyes, weak character disqualifies someone for high office. If a man cannot rule himself, how can he rule others? As Jesus said, “[I]f the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch” (Matthew 15:14).

When a man wins victories in the arena of self-rule, he becomes better equipped for greater challenges. “He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty; and he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city” (Proverbs 16:32).

A New Type of Leader

In the crypts of Westminster Abbey in London is a tomb inscription that reads, “When I was young and free and my imagination had no limits, I dreamed of changing the world. As I grew older and wiser, I realized the world would not change. And I decided to shorten my sights somewhat and change only my country. But it too seemed immovable. As I entered my twilight years, in one last desperate attempt, I sought to change only my family, those closest to me, but alas, they would have none of it.

“And now here I lie on my deathbed and realize (perhaps for the first time) that if only I’d changed myself first, then by example I may have influenced my family, and with their encouragement and support I may have bettered my country, and who knows—I may have changed the world.”

That is the path to principled leadership: Change yourself first. Learn to govern yourself first. If you can rule yourself—even in the little areas of your life—God knows you will be able to rule others. If you are faithful in the small things, then God can entrust you with greater responsibility (Luke 16:10-12).

That is why prioritizing self-rule will start unlocking the potential for leadership and genuine success in your life.

Notice this proverb about godly leadership: “Mercy and truth preserve the king, and by lovingkindness he upholds his throne” (Proverbs 20:28, New King James Version). The word lovingkindness can mean good deeds or kindnesses. Truth refers to trustworthiness. The Living Bible renders this verse, “If a king is kind, honest and fair, his kingdom stands secure.”

If you asked 100 world leaders the most important qualities contributing to the longevity of a kingdom, how many would answer honesty and lovingkindness?

The fact is, God is training people for a different type of government—a perfect government. To build His Kingdom, God isn’t calling the governors and presidents and kings of this world, who, for all their expertise and experience, cannot solve this world’s problems. He will build a new civilization from the ground up. To do that, He is raising up a new type of world leader.

What qualities are tomorrow’s leaders expected to develop?

Look at the scriptural instruction on finding leaders within the Church. There are two main passages on the subject: 1 Timothy 3:1-13 and Titus 1:5-9. These provide excellent insight into what God considers foundational to sound leadership.

A godly leader is a man of top character. He is vigilant, sober, not given to wine, not greedy for money or covetous. He is patient, even-tempered and level-headed, not a man to pick fights. He is blameless—meaning unaccused, or irreproachable. His credibility isn’t shot because of his glaring faults.

A godly leader is “a lover of hospitality, a lover of good men.” He isn’t a socially backward recluse or hermit. He has good people skills and loves having people around and extending kindnesses. He loves being hospitable. He enjoys and loves people!

He is also a “family man,” placing great importance on family relationships. The best leaders are also the best sons, brothers, husbands and fathers. There is a powerful reason for this: God’s master plan is a family plan! God is expanding His spiritual Family. Physical family today is a marvelous tool that He intends to preparing us for leadership in His Kingdom. It will do so if we are living it His way, according to His laws.

The Apostle Paul goes so far as to say that a man must “ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity”—and explains: “For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?” That is a direct statement of how much God wants to use our families as a means of developing our leadership. We will get into this subject much deeper in later sections of this book. But ask yourself: What is your family life like? God says it should be orderly, happy, uplifting and positive. It should be a good example of teamwork. Whatever the case, the state of a family is a reflection of the quality of its leadership.

The Key to Great Leadership

A man should start practicing self-government from his youth. He should be building those aspects of solid, reliable character that God is looking for. As he does, he prepares himself for leadership long before he starts receiving authority over others.

Another crucial step in learning godly leadership can and should also begin as early in life as possible. It is a mind-set that requires no position of authority to develop, yet the more it is developed, the better equipped a man is to wisely exercise authority once he begins to possess it.

That mindset is one of service. Putting the needs of others ahead of your own.

Naturally, men tend to view a position of leadership as something that exalts a man over other people and makes him superior. Many see authority as a means of extracting what they want from other people. God, in stark contrast, views a position of leadership as a tool for being a bigger help to more people. That is the reason God gives any authority: to provide better opportunities to serve. The more authority you have, the greater opportunity you have to help more people more effectively. Thus, a service mind-set is what God seeks to develop in us most in order to increase our usefulness as leaders.

In Matthew 20 is an account showing the typical approach to leadership. The mother of two of Jesus’s disciples, James and John, approached Jesus asking if He would give her sons high offices in the Kingdom of God (verses 20-21). It is not unusual for people humanly to seek positions of authority and greatness. In fact, when the other 10 disciples heard what was going on, they became indignant (verse 24). Why should they get special positions in the kingdom? What about us? Many people want to be great. Everybody wants privilege and honor. Here were Christ’s own disciples acting like a bunch of squabbling politicians!

Christ recognized this as an opportunity to teach a lesson in godly leadership. He called His disciples together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you …” (verses 25-26, Revised Standard Version). In this world, those who want to be great go about it the wrong way. God’s approach to leadership is radically different from the world’s.

Christ continued: “… but whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave; even as the Son of man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (verses 26-28, rsv). The Living Bible renders verse 27, “[I]f you want to be right at the top, you must serve like a slave.”

In God’s thinking, the leader is the servant. That is how to be great God’s way.

And as Christ said, He set the supreme example. He made Himself a servant to all those with whom He came into contact (read John 13:14-15 and Philippians 2:4-8).

Godly leadership is built on serving those you lead. You must learn to prioritize their needs above yours.

Again, that is a habit and a mentality that every man needs to begin developing as early in life as possible, and continue growing in throughout his life.

Now, in practical terms, that service will be different for the young man who is helping with household chores than for the father who is helping his teenage daughter through a disappointment, or the manager who is helping his team complete a big project under budget. Being a servant of others does not simply mean doing routine or menial jobs for them. As authority increases, the specific tasks change as well. But what remains constant is the need to recognize and prioritize the needs of others. There is a never-ending need to be attentive and alert to others, to assess what is in their best interest, and to seek the best way to attain that outcome. Always keep that uppermost in your mind. As long as you do, then the more authority you possess, and the more experience and wisdom you gain as a leader, the more good you will bring into the lives of those you lead.

This Is the Foundation

In a real sense, leading is at the heart of biblical manhood. And growing as a godly leader must start with laying a solid foundation of godly character.

As you grow as a man of God, you fortify the building blocks of character required of a strong leader. As you eliminate personal sins and weaknesses, you develop habits and patterns of success and victory, and you invite more of God’s presence and power in your life. As you submit to God’s authority over you, you follow His direction toward success, and you establish the humility that protects you and those you lead from abusing your own authority. As you embrace challenges, you stretch your capacity and build the strength and godly confidence to stand tall in even tougher trials. As you keep your word in small matters, you forge the reliability that enables others to put their trust in you. As you accept the burdens of responsibility, you eliminate childish patterns of dependency, inaction and blame-shifting, and build habits and skills of healthy self-reliance. As you exercise your power of decision, you grow more practiced in how to reason with God, to have firm conviction once decided, to be resolute and single-minded, and to be confident in a positive outcome. As you mature in recognizing and fulfilling others’ needs, you build compassion and love, you grow in social skills and ability to relate to others, and you learn how to help and to serve people in ways they truly appreciate.

All these are qualities that substantially, even dramatically amplify your capacity as a leader!

Efforts to assume or to exercise authority apart from this rock-solid foundation can result in serious mistakes, doing serious damage to those you would lead.

But if this is the foundation on which you are establishing your leadership, your future is filled with as much promise as the bright dawn of the first day of spring. You are well on your way to fulfilling your God-given destiny as a leader.

Building on this foundation and truly fulfilling your God-given potential as a skilled, effective leader is a challenging, exhilarating, lifelong process. There is always more to learn. Leadership comes with experience. Each new experience—whether success, failure or a combination of the two—brings new lessons and, if you learn from them, expands your capacity all the more.

The time to start growing as a leader is right now. You learn by doing, and the time to start doing is now.

Ask God to open doors for you to act. Then, be alert. Look for opportunities to lead others, however small. It may be in your home, with your family, among your friends or your peers, in a classroom, in a group project, on your sports team, in a new social situation, at your office or job site, at a business meeting, or at a Church service. There will be times when a conversation is going in a bad direction, a project is stagnant for lack of applied effort, a person shows promise and potential but needs guidance. There are many times when someone in authority needs strong team members to get something accomplished, and you can show leadership from within the team by throwing your support behind that leader.

The needs for quality leadership are everywhere. Obviously you must exercise wisdom in knowing when and how to fill those needs. But the more you are building on that godly foundation, the more of that wisdom you’ll have. Whatever doors God opens for you, don’t shy away from them. Charge through with confidence.

God has big plans for you. He has a lot to accomplish through you. Keep a prod on yourself to become the kind of leader who could rally whole groups of people to take action for God!

You are not yet the leader you will be—but never forget: You were born to lead! Don’t shy away from that—it is your destiny.