It goes without saying that leadership is important, vital even, to the health of any group of people, and the success of any endeavor. What I want to stress here is the idea that the attitude with which we approach the task of leadership is also crucial. If we think of leadership as bossism we will treat those we are seeking to lead in a way that, despite any apparent short-term success, will ultimately prove to be less than effective (even by human standards) and will, more importantly, lack divine approval.

Some time ago I ran across the following quote from an anonymous source that strives to demonstrate the difference between a boss and a leader:

The boss drives his [or her] men [or women]; the leader coaches them. The boss depends upon authority; the leader depends upon good will. The boss inspires fear; the leader inspires confidence. The boss creates resentment; the leader creates enthusiasm. The boss says, “I”; the leaders says, “We.” The boss assigns the task; the leader sets the pace. The boss gives orders; the leader gives assistance. The boss fixes blame; the leader fixes problems. The boss knows how; the leader shows how. The boss pushes people; the leader persuades people. The boss makes work a drudgery; the leader makes work interesting. The boss gets compliance; the leader gets cooperation. The boss says “Get going!” The leader says “Let’s go!” The boss builds machines; the leader builds people.

The fact is that bossism abounds in the world today, even in Christian organizations. The question is: Should it? Is bossism biblical? What kind of leadership is it that God is looking for?

The main metaphor the Bible uses to describe the work of the leader among God’s people is that of shepherd rather than boss or drover (a person whose occupation is the driving of sheep or cattle, especially to and from market).[1] Indeed, in Psalm 78:70-72 we find what I believe is a reference to the kind of leadership God applauds:

He chose David his servant and took him from the sheep pens; [71] from tending the sheep he brought him to be the shepherd of his people Jacob, of Israel his inheritance. [72] And David shepherded them with integrity of heart; with skillful hands he led them. (Psalm 78:70-72)

I’m struck by what this passage implies to be true of effective leadership. On the one hand, it is an art—certain skills are involved. But there’s a moral component as well: we lead out of who we are; character counts; morality matters. I certainly don’t wish to imply that skills aren’t important. It’s just that even bosses can possess some leadership/managerial abilities. This leads me to wonder if one of the biggest differences between a drover and a shepherd, a boss and a leader, isn’t the condition of the person’s heart.

Integrity of heart. If the life of King David is any measure, we’re not talking about moral perfection. Because we’re human, ethical missteps will occur… now and then. What’s at issue isn’t an impeccable track record, but a genuine and enduring commitment to do the right thing over the course of one’s life. As it relates to Christian leadership, an integrous heart manifests itself in a rock solid determination to lead God’s people, day in and day out, in a way that is pleasing to God. To be more precise, I would suggest that to possess a heart of integrity as a Christian leader is to refuse the temptation to compromise one’s core values or ethical principles for the sake of personal aggrandizment, or even the “success” of the organization. To be even more precise, I believe it is incumbent upon Christian leaders to reject the idea that it’s okay to hurt God’s people in order to accomplish God’s mission. Instead, we must recognize that God’s people are the mission. Thus, it’s never okay to “break a few eggs” in order to make the proverbial omelet! 

Over the years I’ve heard many disturbing accounts related by brothers and sisters in Christ who were devastated by the actions of supposedly Christian leaders. If one were to judge by these terribly sad stories, it would be easy to conclude that it’s rare to find a Christian leader who possesses both skillful hands and integrity of heart. Of course, we know this isn’t the case. There are many Christian leaders whose lives are earmarked by both of these crucial leadership attributes. On the other hand, it’s equally true that some leaders of Christian organizations do seem to possess only one or the other of these attributes, and, evidently, a few possess neither! (I say this knowing full well that some of the people I’ve led over the years might include me in one of the negative categories just referred to!)

If it’s true, as some experts suggest, that “leadership is everything,” then there’s nothing more important to a Christian community than good, godly leadership, and nothing worse than mere bossism. At the end of the day, I would suggest that while the body of Christ can live with leaders who aren’t at the genius level when it comes to the skills involved in influencing the members of the organization for the sake of the common good (though this is a shame), it should be considered completely unacceptable for God’s people anywhere to be led by anyone who doesn’t possess a heart of integrity. Perhaps the distinction between boss and leader doesn’t fully capture the kind of abjectly hypocritical leadership I have in mind. That said, it’s my contention that that one of the greatest needs at this time in the history of the Christian church is for to God raise up for his people a multitude of skillful and morally sensitive leaders who will function as shepherds rather than drovers, and to remove from Christian leadership anyone who really doesn’t possess integrity of heart.

By the way, I assume we all know that we should be praying for our leaders. Right?  Hopefully, we now have a better idea of how to do so.   

Something to think about.

[1] “Drover,” The Free Dictionary (January 5, 2011) <>.