A Brief Philosophy of Leadership

Leadership: Definition and Personal Mission

I am a Bible guy.  There is nothing more interesting or important to me than God and his self-revelation in the Scriptures.  As such, when it comes to leadership, the Bible functions as the primary framing device by which I define and gauge my own leadership ideals.  I am continually reshaped and refined by the word of God, particularly as it pertains to a philosophy of leadership.  Due to this reality, my personal leadership definition is gleaned directly from the Scriptures.  Good Christian leadership is that lifestyle of engaging disciples to enjoy Christ by growing into his image.

This definition, broad as it is, encompasses my life, work, mission, and ministry.  Moreover, it is derived principally from the Scriptures.  Second Corinthians 3:18 says, “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.  For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.”  I gather from this verse that the purpose of the Christian life is to behold Christ so that we grow into his image.  Thus, this task should pervade all our life, work, mission, and ministry.  Accordingly, it is the charge of a Christian leader to engage disciples to enjoy Christ (by beholding his glory) so that they grow more and more into his image.

Good Christian leaders show their followers the way into this reality.  If the purpose of the Christian life is to enjoy Jesus and grow into his image, it logically follows that Christian leaders are to engage their followers to participate in this purpose.  Put another way, leadership in Christian arenas should be geared toward nothing other than Christian discipleship and formation.  It is through discipleship and Christian formation that we participate in growing to be like Christ.  Therefore, it is the task of the leader to disciple and help form other Christians to enjoy Jesus.

My personal mission is to enjoy Christ by growing into his image.  Again, this only stems from the logical and necessary connection of the purpose of the Christian life.  It would be unwise, foolish even, to craft any sort of mission that might go contrary to one’s ultimate purpose.  For what is a mission other than a direct route to accomplishing the primary purpose of one’s life?  Consequently, it only makes sense to derive a personal mission from the overarching aim of the Christian life.  In terms of application, participating in Christian discipleship and formation are how I grow more and more into the image of Christ.

Personal Values and Assumptions 

There are various values and assumptions that function to solidify and reinforce this definition of leadership and my own personal mission statement.  First, the glory of God is the ultimate reason for which we were all created.  The tragedy of the Fall of man into oblivion is disheartening in more ways than one, but I think the primary reason for heartbreak should stem from the fact that humanity has rejected the ultimate purpose for which we were made, namely, to joyfully behold the glory of God.  This rejection has plunged us into ruin and misery.  Now we are blind to the glory of God: “In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Cor. 4:4).  For me, this verse serves not only to demonstrate our ultimate purpose (to see the gospel of the glory of Christ), it also functions to reveal the desperate condition in which we find ourselves.  It follows from this that all leadership should point toward helping people see the glory of God, for that is the final end for which we were made.  Because we do not do this by nature, leaders must coax, prod, persuade, push, exhort, walk alongside, and guide us into a practice of continually beholding the glory of God: this is why we were made.

Second, joy in God is the ultimate end toward which Christian lives are pointed.  I am arguing here that beholding the glory of God in this context is the exact same thing as finding our ultimate joy.  It should be noted that this second assumption sounds strikingly familiar to the previous issue; that is, the glory of God is the purpose for which we were created.  This is because they are one and the same.  Moreover, leaders should persuade and exhort followers to behold the glory of God because in doing so, they will find infinite joy.  Again, leadership should always be geared towards helping followers accomplish and attain their ultimate goal; because the final aim of the Christian life is to behold the glory of God, all leadership must be pointed towards this end.  If this is the case, many followers will find that there is an organic connection between leading and following.  That is, those who once were only followers can now find themselves leading others by displaying the glory of God for their joy.

Finally, growing in Christ is how we glorify and enjoy God.  This is the practical aspect of accomplishing our ultimate purpose.  All worship, prayer, and praise should guide us towards humility and reliance on God for every good gift.  Beholding the glory of God necessarily leads to (and, in fact, is an integral part of) our joy in Christ; we are transformed into his image by beholding his glory.  As you can see, this is a kind of circular argument.  That is, 1) to see the glory of God is the purpose for which we were made; 2) beholding this glory brings us infinite joy in him; 3) having infinite joy in him leads us to grow to be more like him; 4) and growing to be more like him is how we can behold even more of his glory.  Accordingly, all Christian leadership must be aimed at this goal.  If we are to lead our people well, we must point them to the glory of God for their joy and transformation.  Nothing else will suffice.  There can be no greater honor bestowed upon a man or woman than to be a Christian leader, for leaders help their followers to fulfill their final and ultimate purposes in life.

Joy in Christ as Leadership Theory: A Brief History      

There is a longstanding history of this line of thought in the Christian church.  Furthermore, it is not as though this is an obscure leadership theory.  Some of the giants of the Christian faith have championed this idea, each in their own way, of course.  This leads me to two conclusions: first, this leadership theory is correct; second, not only is it correct, but it is highly pragmatic and transformational.  Other than Paul (as seen in 2 Corinthians), three major Christian figures across the ages have been proponents of this idea.

Augustine, that great Christian theologian of the patristic age, had this to say regarding the glory of God and the joy of man: “The happy life is joy based on the truth.  This is joy grounded in you, O God, who are the truth, ‘my illumination, the salvation of my face, my God’ (Ps. 26:1; 41:12).”[1]  For Augustine, there is an intimate relationship between joy in God and the illumination of God.  Ultimately, then, as demonstrated, Christians should seek to find their joy in God.  This is our utmost purpose in all of life.  As such, Christian leaders must lead in a way that demonstrates the glory of God for the joy of their followers.

Let us turn now to the Reformation and find the same line of thought in Calvin.  Michael Horton, as the subtitle of his excellent book on Calvin, notes that the Christian life is about glorifying and enjoying God forever.[2]  This demonstrates that the primary goal for all Christians everywhere is to enjoy God as the merciful giver of all good gifts, in turn glorifying him by growing into his image.  Christian leaders, then, must always point their followers to this God so that they may enjoy him and glorify him.  On an eternal scale, if a leader does not point people to Christ, she is not leading her followers into the path of full and infinite joy in God.  And if she does not do this, she is failing her followers in the most ultimate sense of the word.

John Piper is a third person who has contributed to this leadership position.  His most famous book is probably Desiring God, in which he writes, “The overriding concern of this book is that in all of life God be glorified the way He Himself has appointed.  To that end this book aims to persuade you that the chief end of man is to glorify God by enjoying Him forever.”[3]  Here is one of the major leaders in the modern Christian church, claiming that the entire purpose of the Christian life is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.  In so doing, he is persuading his followers that they should behold the glory of God and thus enjoy him for all eternity.  Ultimately, I believe this is the end toward which all Christian leadership must point.  Augustine, Calvin, and Piper, three colossal leadership figures in the Christian church, all seemingly agree.

A Model of Christian Leadership  

John Piper is the model for this leadership philosophy.  His own mission statement is: “God is most glorified in you when you are most satisfied in Him.”  His entire ministry, specifically Christian Hedonism en se, is aimed at and geared towards helping engage disciples to enjoy Christ by growing in his image.  He was previously the teaching pastor at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, MN before retiring after 30 years in the pulpit.  He is a best-selling author of a tremendous volume of literature, and he has been immensely influential in my own life regarding my leadership views.  Best of all, his longevity and perseverance clearly demonstrate that he is a genuine believer whose ideals actually stand up over time.  If you watch him preach, you can tell he really does enjoy God; he has grown into the image of Christ by beholding his glory; the veil has been lifted from his eyes, if you will, by the Spirit of God so that he may see the glory of God, enjoy him, and continue to grow in his image.  For more than a quarter of a century, he led his flock to engage in the same practice of beholding the glory of Christ.  For this reason, Piper can be considered among the most influential leaders ever.

Conclusion

Christian leadership is that lifestyle of engaging disciples to enjoy Christ by growing into his image.  The glory of God is the end for which we were created, and it is the task of the Christian leader to point his followers to the path of fulfillment.  Our joy is closely related to God’s glory, and leaders must point their followers to this reality.  Augustine, Calvin, and Piper all hold an enormous influence in the Christian church today precisely because of this view of leadership.  It is one that stands over time.  Therefore, Christian leaders must continually seek to engage their followers to behold the glory of Christ, enjoy him forever, and grow to be more like him.  Anything other than this should not be considered effective Christian leadership.


[1] Augustine and Henry Chadwick, Confessions (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991), 199.

[2] Michael Horton, Calvin on the Christian Life: Glorifying and Enjoying God Forever (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2014).

[3] John Piper, Desiring God (Colorado Springs, CO: Multnomah Books, 2011), 18, his emphasis.


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