Five Characteristics of a Christian Leader (1 Corinthians 4:17)


Search through’s offering on books using the word leadership, and you’ll find 60,530 results. Perform the same search using the word followership, and you’ll find 149 results. Even the more common word follower only nets you 2,099 results. Though most of us follow, or precisely because most of us follow, we crave better leaders and seek guidance to find them or become them ourselves.

There is a crisis of leadership in our country. Church leaders overlook child sexual abuse among their peers. Political leaders write laws they fail to follow themselves. Business leaders make a buck even as they drive their companies into the ground. In each case, a leader uses his authority in pursuit of his own interests.

In 1 Corinthians 4:17, Paul pens a sentence that, without necessarily intending to do so, outlines five characteristics of a Christian leader:

For this reason I am sending to you Timothy, my son whom I love, who is faithful in the Lord. He will remind you of my way of life in Christ Jesus, which agrees with what I teach everywhere in every church.

First, a leader influences. Paul desired to move the Corinthians toward cross-centered belief and Christ-like behavior. That was the “reason” he was sending Timothy to the Corinthians, as well as the reason he would soon join them himself (verses 18-19). Paul’s influence was directed toward the benefit of others, even at self-expense (verses 10-13), unlike contemporary leaders whose use their influence for self-aggrandizement.

Second, a leader loves. Paul describes Timothy as “my son whom I love.” It’s hard to imagine a politician or a business leader saying that about his followers. These days, it’s even rare to hear a pastor say that about his parishioners. But Paul said it about Timothy and the Corinthians (verse 14). A leader who doesn’t love his followers, who isn’t concerned about their wellbeing, isn’t a Christ-like leader.

Third, a leader is faithful to Christ. This is how Paul describes Timothy, but it is a true description of himself too. Only a cause greater than himself could inspire Paul to do what he did under such difficult circumstances. Leaders need to be led by a cause greater than themselves.

Fourth, a leader is imitable. Paul speaks of “my way of life in Christ Jesus” as something that is worth imitating (verse 16). Leaders should always live imitable lives.

And fifth, a leader has integrity. How Paul lived agreed with what Paul taught. He adds the phrase, “everywhere and in every church,” to emphasize the point. Paul did not teach or live one way with his peers and another way with his followers. He was the same person no matter whom the audience or what the venue. Leadership is who you are when no one’s looking. It’s also who you are when everyone’s looking.

Imagine our nation if our pastors, politicians, and business leaders took Paul’s leadership characteristics to heart and put them into practice!

Imagine if you and I did too!


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