This post is based on two Bible passages that list valuable leadership qualities. I believe these principles apply to all communities, whether religious or secular. So even if the Biblical references aren’t your thing, please read on – there’s a lot to learn here!
For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined.Titus 1:7–8 (ESV)
Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church?1 Timothy 3:2–5 (ESV)
There’s no question that Paul, the writer of those words, took leadership very seriously. That’s quite a list of attributes that he mandates for church overseers and yet, when you read them, they seem obvious – who wouldn’t want a leader who is self-controlled, hospitable, respectable, and gentle? Shouldn’t all leaders be characterised like that?
Indeed, even though Paul is speaking directly to Titus and Timothy about appointing leaders in local churches, these principles can be applied to leaders in any community.
Let’s have a closer look…
“as God’s steward”
I’m sure most secular communities wouldn’t describe their mission as divinely ordained in any way, but most would ascribe themselves some sort of higher purpose that informs how and why they congregate:
- A product support community could have a higher purpose of helping people use the product more effectively.
- A creator community could have a higher purpose of furthering the usage of their chosen medium.
- An open-source community could have a higher purpose of enabling more people to use free software.
What leaders need to figure out, and what Paul is exhorting Timothy and Titus to recognise, is just what the higher purpose is for their community – who/what are they stewarding? This may be obvious from the start, or it may take some deep introspection about what the community is about and what their mission is. Whatever path is taken, understanding what it is that the leader and the community are stewarding is paramount to their success.
Reflect: What is the purpose of your community?
This is an interesting requirement that Paul gives – not only because it is the first character trait listed in both passages and essentially sums up the rest of the list that follows, but also because it can easily be misinterpreted to mean a sort of pathological commitment to perfection. That is far from the truth of course since it is made clear throughout the Bible that no human is anywhere close to being perfect.
Being “above reproach” has never been a call to a perfect life – it has always meant acting in such a way that people are unable to clearly ascribe any blame to your actions – that you are not open to criticism. Of course, anyone can find a way to criticise your actions if they really want to do so, but if you’re going out of your way to remain as blameless as possible then you’re on the right track.
By way of example, if a leader frequently lashes out on social media in violent and angry ways then they are failing at this first requirement that Paul lays down. Conversely, if they make a point of keeping their responses measured and logical, especially in light of strong opposition, then they’re well on their way to being considered above reproach.
“not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome”
To be honest, I don’t think I really need to explain why not being quarrelsome is a good quality in a community leader – if you’re seeking after leaders that are intentionally starting fights and arguments then I’d say you’re barking up the wrong tree from the start.
That being said, as with all of these qualities that Paul mentions, it’s not just about adhering to them, but about being intentional when doing so. Other places in the Bible refer to this as being a “peacemaker” (Matthew 5:9 amongst others), which is a wonderful goal toward which we should all strive. So what does it look like to be an intentionally gentle peacemaker in today’s context?
The social media example above is actually a good one to return to here – with the amount of news and information we’re exposed to online, it’s common for people to want to post the next big “hot take” on something – giving them a brief signal boost as they find their online popularity temporarily heightened. Of course, what better way to receive that signal boost than to post something controversial or inflammatory – it’s no secret that the most engagement comes from people who strongly disagree with you. A leader who is actively deciding to be gentle and not quarrelsome would hold back from those kinds of posts and instead engage with people in a more meaningful and respectful way, even if they have strong feelings of disagreement. It may not obtain you more followers online, but it will make you someone worth following, which is altogether more valuable.
This flows nicely from the previous point and serves to emphasise the importance of being a peacemaker. I’m sure we’ve all been in a situation where what started out as an underlying frustration starts bubbling up into something more. We get angry, feel heated, and feel like we have to push back at whatever may be the cause. We may even be justifiably angry – something has happened that is a genuine injustice and we want to see it made right. It quickly becomes a slippery slope and acting on that frustration and anger is exactly what Paul is warning against here. In fact, this is an incredibly human issue that the Bible highlights with startling frequency:
Whoever is slow to anger has great understanding,Proverbs 14:29 (ESV)
but he who has a hasty temper exalts folly.
A leader who is clear-headed (“sober-minded”) and is able to display self-control, even when extreme anger rears its ugly head, is a treasure. Not only does it show great maturity as a leader, but it is the only way to see clearly and find a deeper understanding of your community.
“not a lover of money”
Paul is echoing the words of Jesus here:
No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.Matthew 6:24 (ESV)
The passage is not a command to strive for poverty or to forsake the idea of money – no, rather Paul is highlighting that a leader cannot in good conscience hoard wealth while faithfully serving their community. He understood that a love of money is so all-consuming that if your focus is to grow your material possessions, you will not have the ability to lead your community well.
While it’s true that this may not be an issue for a number of community leaders today (not all communities are driven by financial incentives after all) a relevant parallel that can be a trap for many is that of fame. If you’re seeking fame and an inflated ego over the good of your community then you’re eventually going to fall. A leader who can place their community above themselves is sure to be successful in their endeavours.
Reflect: What are your motivations for building community?
“must manage his own household well”
The last quality that I want to look at here is certainly an interesting one – it’s not so much about the intrinsic character of the leader, but rather how well that set an example in areas of their life outside of the community itself.
If a leader has a reputation for being short-tempered in their personal dealings, it’s going to be difficult for them to lead a community with credibility. Failing to display leadership qualities in one area of your life will inevitably affect other areas of your life even if you keep them separate from each other. In the context of community leadership, you can replace “managing your household” with any other contextual reference – how you treat your partner, how you interact on social media, how you respond to a driver who cuts you off on the road – being a respected leader is as much about your personal life as it is about how you interact with those you are leading.
There’s a lot more listed in the passages from Timothy and Titus, but these are the ones I thought worth highlighting in this context. These lists of leadership qualities have largely defined the selection of leaders throughout church history and, as I hope you can see from this post, for good reason. These character traits are highly sought after in any community leader and translate well into any context, religious or otherwise.