Episode 253:

Words that Matter – Leader

October 25, 2022

WORDS THAT MATTER- LEADER _ Transforming Mission

Context of Leader and Leadership

Many of the words from the root word for leader are roles or positions, and some of them are even birth rights. Some are political, others are religious, and some are authoritarian.

Context is important. When we look at leadership from a biblical perspective, and that is the context may be patriarchal, it may be a context of the military. The reality is you don’t throw it out because it doesn’t fit our current context.

Look at it in the context and ask, “What’s the truth of the context?” and then ask, “What’s the truth that comes out of this for today?” Yes, in scripture, if want an example of  a leader that is a commander, a male authoritarian, or militaristic,  you can find it. But that’s not the point to the scripture. The point to the context of the scripture is that we’ll also find that we’re followers of the living God that we know in Jesus, and Jesus is the head of the church. So here’s the final question you might ask about context: What’s the truth of that scripture that keeps pointing us in that direction?

Leader – Noun and Verb

There is a noun and a verb form of this word. As a noun in scripture, a leader is a person who rules or guides, or inspires. Often a Christian leader, and we’ll talk more about this in the next episode, is viewed as a shepherd.

A leader of a Christian congregation understood to shepherd over a flock of sheep or a congregation. As a verb, however, to be led or directed is to willingly undergo an action or course of action due to the influence of a moral or spiritual influence, or it could also mean to cause or to undertake a certain action to lead.

Defining Leadership

The definition that we have used for a leader comes from Brene Brown.

“A leader is anyone who takes responsibility for finding the potential in people and processes, and has the courage to develop that potential.”

This definition reflects the influencing part of leadership. It’s not positional, but it’s relational. Also present is the teaching, shepherding, and developmental role of a leader.

Old Testament References to Leader

1. Leader of People

One of the ways that the Old Testament makes reference to leaders is leaders of the people. Before you say, “Well, what else could you lead?” Here are a few examples:

  • On the east side toward the sunrise will be the banner of Judah’s camp with its military units. The chief of the people of Judah is Nahshon, Amminadab’s son. – Numbers 2:3 (CEB)
  • Exod. 22:28 commands, “You shall not curse a leader of your people” and indicates that to do so is parallel with reviling God. 

2. Guiding along the right path

A leader also represents the conducting of one along the right path. The root is sometimes synonymous with “to herd” to a predetermined destination. For example, to lead away captive (Job 12:23) or to herd/lead a flock (Ps 78:53, 72)…there’s your example of what else you can lead. 

3. Lead or Guide Tenderly

A third example of a leader in the Old Testament includes to lead or guide tenderly and sometimes it’s about leading people out of trouble.  Psalm 31 provides a good example:

In you, Lord, I have taken refuge;

    let me never be put to shame;

    deliver me in your righteousness.

Turn your ear to me,

    come quickly to my rescue;

be my rock of refuge,

    a strong fortress to save me.

Since you are my rock and my fortress,

    for the sake of your name lead and guide me.

Keep me free from the trap that is set for me,

    for you are my refuge.

Into your hands I commit my spirit;

    deliver me, Lord, my faithful God.

4. God as Leader

Finally, in the Old Testament, God is often the one who “leads.” So, Abraham’s servant reported God as his guide (Gen 24:27). Or jump to Exodus where God’s guidance is this manifested by the pillars of cloud and fire which preceded (led) Israel (Ex 13:21). 

And in the Psalms, we often read how God led his people along the right path and ask God to do so again. In the Psalms, the request for God’s presence is far more than just guidance.

Summary of Old Testament Usage of Leader

We have examples of leaders in the Old Testament. Being about leading groups of people, about offering guidance or herding.  It’s about leading people out of trouble or leading tenderly. Leaders care for people and help guide them in an appropriate way or out of trouble. Finally,  God’s role as our leader and guide.

The reality about leadership from the Old Testament, the truth comes out of the context. And you take that truth. You don’t focus on the context, you focus on the leading.

That’s, that’s the point.

Leadership in the New Testament

Interestingly enough, the most common direct references to leadership are negative in the New Testament. It’s in response to a description of people doing things that lead others astray.

Matthew 24

Jesus left the temple and was walking away when his disciples came up to him to call his attention to its buildings. 2 “Do you see all these things?” he asked. “Truly I tell you, not one stone here will be left on another; everyone will be thrown down.”

3 As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately. “Tell us,” they said, “when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?”

4 Jesus answered: “Watch out that no one deceives you. 5 For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah,’ and will deceive many. 6 You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. 

Jesus as Leader

There are positive examples of leaders in the New Testament. No surprise, Jesus is at the center of these examples.

  • God has exalted Jesus to his right side as leader and savior so that he could enable Israel to change its heart and life and to find forgiveness for sins. 32 We are witnesses of such things, as is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.” – Acts 5:31-32

Note: The same Greek word translated “leader” in that verse (archēgon) is also used in Heb. 2:10; 12:2 (nrsv: “pioneer”)

  • It was appropriate for God, for whom and through whom everything exists, to use experiences of suffering to make perfect the pioneer of salvation. This salvation belongs to many sons and daughters whom he’s leading to glory. – Hebrews 2:10 (CEB)

Elsewhere, the Greek word archōn is used to refer to someone who is called “a leader of the Pharisees” (Luke 14:1) or “a leader of the Jews” (John 3:1).

  • Luke 14:1 (CEB): 14 One Sabbath, when Jesus went to share a meal in the home of one of the leaders of the Pharisees, they were watching him closely.
  • John 3:1 (CEB): 3 There was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a Jewish leader.

Again, in each of the examples in scripture, the role of the leader is in relationship to a group of people. Sometimes geographic, religious, and ethnic dimensions of all of these leaders are intertwined.

Consistency Between the Old and New Testaments

There are many names given to leaders in the Bible. The three things that are consistent across the Old and New Testaments are this:

  1. The leader is focused on people
  2. There are positive and negative examples of leadership in Scripture.
  3. God and Jesus are not only called leaders but are called on to lead and to guide.

Final Reminders about Leadership and Scripture

If a leader is focused on people, there must be relationships somewhere. The way we talk about leadership is to take a biblical concept as the foundation for leadership.  That is needed, not only in the church but maybe in every aspect of life.

We have a God who leads us. We can follow that leading through Jesus. Which then is not taking us down the wrong path, but puts us on the right path. And that can only be done through relationships.

What Words Are Translated Leader?

Here’s your laundry list of words that have “leader” as their root.

  • commanders(78×)
  • heads(57×)
  • officials(51×)
  • princes(47×)
  • commander(41×)
  • leader(25×)
  • leaders(24×)
  • chiefs(23×)
  • prince(22×)
  • lords(17×
  • head(7×)
  • nobles(6×)
  • rulers(6×)
  • mighty(4×)
  • officer(3×)
  • prefects(3×)
  • great(2×)
  • leadership(2×)
  • noble(2×)
  • noblemen(2×)
  • officers(2×)
  • official(2×)
  • ruler(2×)
  • second order(2×)
  • advisors(1×)
  • captains(1×)
  • chief officers(1×)
  • counsel(1×)
  • crown prince(1×)
  • each one(1×)
  • eighth(1×)
  • fifth(1×)
  • fourth(1×)
  • governors of regions(1×)
  • great ones(1×)
  • healthy ones(1×)
  • high officials(1×)
  • higher(1×)
  • honored(1×)
  • men(1×)
  • ninth(1×)
  • nobility(1×)
  • noble people(1×)
  • nobleman(1×)
  • overseer(1×)
  • quartermaster(1×)
  • second(1×)
  • seventh(1×)
  • sixth(1×)
  • son of man(1×)
  • strong lions(1×)
  • those who plan(1×)
  • who exercised authority over the people(1×)

Other Episodes in this Series

Episode 248 – Words that Matter – Believe

Episode 249 – Words that Matter – Evangelism

Episode 250 – Words that Matter – Disciple

Episode 251 – Words that Matter – Hope

Episode 252 – Words that Matter – Love