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Leadership Insights from the Apostle Paul

Leadership Insights from the Apostle Paul

The Pauline letters were addressed to small groups of people that he knew by name (Timothy, Titus, and Philemon) as well as large audiences (Romans, Corinthians, Galatians). These letters provide insight into why leaders exist and what knowledge, skills, and abilities are important to leaders today. In each letter Paul attempts to answer questions about the ‘meaning of life’ such as sin (Romans 3:9), faith (Romans 3:22), marriage (Romans 7:2, 1 Corinthians 7), unity (1 Corinthians 1:10), spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 12), and freedom (Galatians 5:17). After carefully dissecting Pauline letters to the Romans, Corinthians, Galatians, Thessalonians, and Philemon I identified a set of characteristics that he viewed as being critical to the development of Christian leaders. Effective leadership traits are as varied and numerous, not to mention subtle, as the human mind and heart themselves. No list will ever be complete, nor will it be the best suited for each individual reader – these 5 characteristics are by no means exhaustive. However, they serve to communicate the power and promise that Paul offers: compassion, self-Awareness, righteousness by faith, commitment, and community. The biblical quotations in this article are from the King James Version of The Holy Bible.

Compassion through Spiritual Unity

Millions of American mailboxes are stuffed daily with letters from non-profit organizations in order to raise funds for the less fortunate. The Jewish Christians near Jerusalem were reportedly on the edge of starvation. Paul referred to them as “the poor saints” which are at Jerusalem. (Romans 15:26). In taking his collection for the poor, Paul mainly appealed to the Christian responsibility to help those in need. He sought to seize the opportunity for Gentile Christians to reach out in compassion and demonstrate spiritual unity. Paul did not engineer a mass mail charity event but he did present a direct appeal for funds (Romans 15:25-26, 1 Corinthians 16:1, 2 Corinthians 8:1 – 9:15). He takes his appeal a bit further in 2 Corinthians 9:6 by illustrating the bonuses of giving – “He which soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he which soweth boutifully shall reap also bountifully.” Paul shows that generosity benefits the giver in that a gift can serve as an act of worship to God and inspire the faith of others.

Compassionate leadership is acting in the interest of your followers, your peers, and your organization. This is the boss for whom the employees are willing to work their hardest. “Loyalty and devotion to task and grow out of trust and the knowledge of protection that comes from the employment relationship.” (Winston, 2002). The employees can feel the support for them and are compelled to give their full support in return. This manager brings out the best in her subordinates by their example.


General awareness, confidence, and especially self-awareness strengthen the Christian leader. “The leader must first make peace in his own life before he can successfully make peace in his organization. A leader in conflict with himself is a house divided.” (Winston, 2002, p. 82). Leaders must be willing to carefully explore their values and how they can move their organization in the direction of a vision that is unwavering. Effective Leaders lead with a purpose rather than “run like a man running aimlessly” (1 Corinthians 9:26-27). From the biblical sense this means that we live for His purpose, not ours. As Christians, we recognize that our need for Christ will bring us beyond our failures so we can grow increasingly effective. As we grow in Christ, we will become aware of our futility and inadequacy as human beings.

In Romans 14:1-2, Paul reminds us that Christians do not have to agree on all matters pertaining to the Christian life and continues by describing the difference between a strong and weak Christian. In an attempt to explain the role of diversity in God’s overall plan of redemption Paul uses faith as a sense of assurance of confidence where the proper understanding of the gospel allows the strong Christian to recognize that his diet has no spiritual significance. (Romans 14:2, Colossian 2:16).

Righteousness by Faith

Paul uses the Greek verb “justified” 27 times, mostly in Romans and Galatians. The term describes what happens when someone believes in Christ as his Savior. Paul emphasizes two distinct points. First, no one lives a perfect life. “For all have sinned, and come short of the Glory of God.” (Romans 3:24). Secondly, even though we are all sinners, God will declare everyone who puts his trust in Jesus not guilty but righteous. The central thought in justification is that, although we deserve to be declared guilty (Romans 3:9-19), because of our faith in Christ God declares us righteous. In Galatians 2:16 Paul uses the verb justified three times, three times this verse tells us that no one is justified by observing the law, and three times it underscores the indispensable requirement of placing our faith in Christ.

Commitment to the Growth

Christian leaders believe that people have an intrinsic value beyond their tangible contributions as workers. As such, leaders are deeply committed to a personal, professional, and spiritual growth of each and every individual within the organization. Every Christian is obligated to be the best he can be for God. Like any other worthwhile activity, if leadership can be improved, we should seek to improve it. In doing so, we prepare ourselves for higher service that may be just around the corner. Romans 12:1 issues an imperative to leaders: “present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.” The verb “present” is followed by 36 verbs that specify what happens when we obey one of which is noteworthy here.

First, exert yourself to lead – “Or he that exhorteth, on exhortation…he that ruleth, with diligence…” (Romans 12:8). This is a summons to dive wholeheartedly into leadership. Exhort others with an uplifting, cheerful call to worthwhile accomplishment.

Building Community

Christian leaders are aware that the shift from local communities to large institutions as the primary shaper of human lives has changed our perceptions and caused a sort of loss. 1 Corinthians 1: 10-13 begins the theme of being united in mind and purpose. “Divisions within the community betray the purpose for which Christ was crucified: to unite everyone in one body, the body of Christ.” (Matera, 2001, p.10). Leaders should seek to identify a means for building community among those who work within a given institution. I believe that Paul was conveying one body working together – emphasizing unity – but I also believe that he illustrates the lessons to be learned from the community. “If I were a single member, were would the body be…The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you’…” (I Corinthians 12:19 – 21). Can we get along in life without hands? Yes, but we would have to make adjustments…learn to use prosthetic limbs or find alternative methods to picking up objects. Though the body remains incomplete, it survives. However, the strongest hands are worthless without the body. The hands need the signals generated by the brain and the nourishment provided by the blood.

The bottom line is that a body without hands can manage, but a hand without a body is inconceivable. Diverse churches such as Corinth are aware of the differences among its membership, which is why Paul’s letter stressed unity issues that still plague churches today. The solution is to respect each other and take direction from Jesus Christ, the head.


How do leaders address the people side of change without jeopardizing the business side of change? How can a leader make the tough decisions without losing sight of the emotions and concerns of his followers? Leading change is largely about making sense of competing views. “Change cannot be managed, it emerges. Managers are part of the system, not outside the system.” (Cameron, 2004, p. 123). It is about developing a style that builds trust through authenticity and careful balance. Of course, given the tensions that are continually in play, there will be circumstances that require more emphasis on one of the competing competencies than on the other. It’s not possible to be perfectly in balance all the time. But it’s an ideal worth striving for. “When leaders focus on establishing trust, they are better able to deal with both the structural and the human elements of change. Instead of taking a one-sided approach, leaders find they can be both tough and empathetic, committed to the plan and understanding of the pain. They become agile and resilient, and able to do what it takes to lead through change and transition.” (Bunker and Wakefield, 2006, p. 3).


In his letter to the Galatians, Paul reveals the equality of Christian life very optimistically. Paul does not describe the sins that that took place in Corinth. But rather he observes other dangers in the Galatians’ thinking: “I marvel that you are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another Gospel.” (Galatians 1:6). By some unnecessarily stressing their Jewish heritage, the sacrifice of Christ would begin to diminish -faith in Christ would become one of the many steps in salvation and not the only one. Paul feared that subtle differences between Christians would begin to have priority as observed in Galatians 2:12 when Peter spurned the Gentiles because he feared the Judaizers.

Paul also stresses that those baptized in Christ are “…neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female…” (Galatians 3:28). Jesus came to tear down walls between people – the unity in Christ transcends ethnic, social and sexual distinctions. (Romans 10:12, 1 Corinthians 12:13, Ephesians 2:15-16). We are called to faithfulness in our relationships – supporting and encouraging each other, accepting one another recognizing there are no second-class Christians. Faith in Christ and not anyone’s set of laws opens the door to acceptance by God. (Galatians 2:16).


In a time when the church is threatened by interest groups and ideologies, and when parishes are in danger of being divided by the same, the Pauline letters summons contemporary congregations to find their unity in the crucified Christ. Christians in Paul’s day debated such issues as vegetarianism, eating meat sacrificed to idols, and celebrating pagan festival days. Even today we continue to quarrel over issues such as smoking, urban music, and hip-hop clothing. The advice Paul gives in Romans 14:1-4 to both weak and strong Christians of his day applies to people in all cultures who debate questionable issues – do not judge another.

Strategy formation (thinking, planning, and implementation) is a characteristic that enables Christian leaders to understand lessons from the past, the realities of the present, and the likely consequence of a decision in the future. It is deeply rooted in the intuitive mind. Strategy formation involves the leader’s ability to visualize the end result of the policies and methods he advocates. The leader looks to understand how the policies will affect future generations. “[Strategy formation] is a clear picture of what the leader sees his or her group being or doing” (Maxwell, 1993, p. 149).

Paul Among Jews, Gentiles, and Modern-day Christians

The issue of whether to engage in the Gentile mission and the question of how to receive the Gentiles caused serious tensions during the early Christian Church. Paul’s struggle was to defend the gospel of which the fundamental principle is to accept others as they are. In Paul’s case this consisted of the Gentiles. For the contemporary church the basis of acceptance revolves around such issues as race, gender, ethnicity, and social status. The Pauline letters play an important role in the New Testament and in the modern-day congregation. Of the 27 writings that make-up the New Testament, nearly half are attributed to Paul. “Paul’s unfolding theology of inclusivity still has much to contribute to our effort to remain faithful as Christians and at the same time become good citizens of the global village – citizens who are willing and able to see essential authenticity in others, as Paul saw a glimpse of it long ago.” (Park, 2003, p. 80).


Bunker, K. A. and Wakefield, M. (May, 2006). Leading in Times of Change. Boston, MA: Harvard Management Update Article Volume 11, No. 5.

Cameron, Esther. (2004). Making Sense of Change Management: A Complete Guide to the Models, Tools and Techniques of Organizational Change. London, GBR: Kogan Page, Limited.

Holy Bible. (1997). King James Version. Grand Raids, MI: Zondervan Publishing.

Matera, Frank J. (2001). Strategies for Preaching Paul. Collegeville, MN. The Liturgical Press.

Maxwell, John C. (1993). Developing the Leader within You. Nashville, TN. Thomas Nelson, Inc.

Park, Eung C. (2003). Either Jew of Gentile: Paul’s Unfolding Theology of Inclusivity. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press.

Winston, Bruce (2002). Be a Leader for God’s Sake. Regent University, School of Leadership Studies. Virginia Beach, Virginia.