The Character of Leadership

Leadership is fragile business. It always has been, even during ancient biblical times. But while the Bible records the accomplishments of great people of faith (for instance, Moses leading the Israelites toward the Promised Land or Paul leading Gentiles toward the Savior) the Scriptures also show the humanness of such leaders by illustrating their faults and failures. For such biblical figures, their leadership expresses more than a memorized menu of social graces, personality traits and organizational techniques. Instead, despite their human weakness, biblical leaders demonstrate virtues and gifts that express the character of God.

The Bible does not ignore the weakness of godly leaders, but narrates how God expresses his perfect, divine nature through flawed people. The character of a biblical leader is greater than the mere sum of moral virtues. Indeed, if we are to think biblically about character in relation to God, we will exclude no part of our persons, but will include every aspect of our humanness.

So as Christian leaders of InterVarsity, we want to yield our whole selves to God, knowing that as we yield daily to God’s will and direction, the Spirit of God creates in us character for leadership. The Apostle Paul understood this principle well when he urged the churches in Rome to “present your bodies (Gk. soma, whole person) as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds” (Romans 12:1b-2a).

Expressing Servant Leadership

While the world may place great emphasis on cultural sophistication, academic degrees, and social background, God often selects people for leadership who are vulnerable and marginalized. When God called Moses to lead the Israelites out of Egypt, he was no longer residing in an Egyptian palace but was living as a humble shepherd in a foreign land. Feeling inadequate, Moses says to God in the burning bush, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?”(Exodus 3:11).

“I will be with you,”replies God. He worked through Moses to bring Israel out of Egypt. And Moses served the people best when he was most yielded to God. So it is for student leaders within InterVarsity. We best serve people when we yield to God, trusting him to be with us in every New Student Outreach, Bible study, and mission program.

Matie was a first-year student at a school in California. God was with her, maturing her character and preparing her for a position of leadership as she yielded her life to God. Though a Christian, she was hesitant to share her faith. Then one evening at an InterVarsity fellowship meeting, she heard a talk about the Good Samaritan and loving your neighbors. Matie thought of Sarah and her roommate, who were non-Christians living next-door to her in the dorm.

Sarah and her roommate were frequently arguing and did not want to live together. Matie had a single room to herself. With each passing day, Matie believed that God was calling her to trade rooms with either Sarah or her roommate. She shared her idea with a Christian friend, and he challenged Matie to not only give up her dorm room but to tell those two women the reason for her decision.

Apprehensive, but trusting that God would be with her, Matie traded rooms with Sarah’s roommate and then shared with both women the story of her faith in Jesus. Her decision to trade rooms provided natural opportunities for Matie to share the gospel with Sarah. And when other women in the dorm asked Matie why she had traded rooms, Matie again yielded to the Lord and shared her faith with growing confidence. Over the next few months, Matie felt called to lead several GIGs (Groups Investigating God) for the women in her dorm, and she invited Sarah to an InterVarsity retreat at Campus by the Sea on Catalina Island.

At the retreat, Sarah could not deny God’s pursuit of her, and on Saturday evening she stood up during the invitation to accept Jesus as her Savior. That night when Sarah committed her life to Jesus, Matie said, “This is the best thing that’s ever happened to me.” Because Matie yielded her heart to God and trusted God’s leading in her life, she matured in Christ-like character and was enabled to lead other people to Christ.

Growing in Christ-like Character

For Matie and for us, Christian character expresses our relatedness to God. And the type of godly character needed for being a faithful InterVarsity student leader does not originate in our own giftedness, but flows from the very character of God’s Spirit living within us, transforming us daily, using us regularly to do God’s mission in this world.

From a biblical viewpoint, we are not qualified to lead God’s people based on our own character. Leadership of God’s people is a calling and an undeserved gift. Leadership of InterVarsity witnessing communities is a response of worship to the God who first loved us.

InterVarsity chapters need faithful and godly leaders who are growing in the character of Christ and expressing his servant leadership on their campuses, as they yield their hearts daily to God’s leading in their lives.

While the world may offer us many ways to learn about leadership, we remember that Christian leadership is based in character-- the trustworthy character of God.

--Jonathan Rice is an editor and writer with InterVarsity.

(article from Student Leadership Journal)

Jonathan’s novel The Narrow Gate is a story of Peter Addison, an Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Wisconsin, whose personal and professional dreams are complicated when he is diagnosed with leukemia. Peter questions his religious beliefs, his relationships, and discovers a humbling reality about himself.