Go Forth & Die: Biblical Leadership – Part 2

In order for leaders to relate to their work and those under their authority in ways that create shalom [peace], there must be a humility exemplified by other-centeredness. This other-centeredness is expressed in a willingness to recognize the giftedness of subordinates.

As noted in “Biblical Leadership – Part 1,” the word “leadership” means “go forth, die.” This second part of the series looks at how bosses encourage the development and use of the God-given gifts of their employees.

Teaming and Gift Cultivation

Though a leader be quite gifted, subordinates have something valuable to bring to the table.

Author Amy Edmondson says, “It can be hard for people to muster both the humility and the genuine curiosity that is needed to really learn from others.”[13] Particularly when it means learning from subordinates.

Does the leader see himself as the pinnacle of skill, character, and smarts? Does he think because he is paid more or has more degrees he is smarter than the peons? Vulnerability will be beyond his skill set!

However, those who are not narcissists will be able to see their failings and holes in their abilities and gifts, and be vulnerable to their subordinates. They will seek their wisdom and willingly hear their criticism. Lencioni says, “The most important action that a leader must take to encourage the building of trust on a ‘team’ is to demonstrate vulnerability first.”[14]

Vulnerability is evidence of humility and it is within the context of vulnerability that creative and productive work takes place. Dr. Robert Burns expounds upon the importance of vulnerability, saying, “Vulnerability in safe relationships makes learning possible.”[15] 

Being vulnerable does not happen unless there is safety in sharing personal failing.

However, according to Lencioni, most “successful people” have been trained either by example or by teaching to pursue career advancement through competiveness.[16] If the leader is most interested in being the “big man,” of winning at all costs, he will make it clear to his subordinates that failure is not an option.

And he will create an environment where open dialogue is impossible.

According to Ortberg, being vulnerable allows your people to see your human side – hearing you say,

“‘I’m sorry’ or ‘I was wrong’ – will take you off the pedestal…and put you down on the ground with them, where they will say, ‘If she can do it, I can do it’ or ‘If he can make it work, I can, too.‘”[17]

Oren Harari, author of The Leadership Secrets of Colin Powell, suggests “open doors, an unfettered clash of ideas, an unfiltered dialogue, all aimed at solving problems” is part of the good practice of leadership.[18] 

There are many cultures when this openness is believed to invite disrespect by those under the authority of the boss. However, biblical respect has never meant unquestioned authoritarianism. [see Paul’s instruction in 1 Timothy 5:17-20 or the Apostles’ response to Jewish authorities in Acts 4:19-22]

“Seeking feedback” and allowing mistakes from subordinates – giving opportunity to learn as a team – is for the purpose of creating better products and providing better services for the glory of God.

Going Against the Grain of Hierarchy

However, “Hierarchy, by its very nature, dramatically reduces speaking up by those lower in the pecking order.[19] It is only by concerted effort of the boss to seek out feedback and humbly receive it that this tendency can be minimized and real learning and productivity take place.[20]

Frank Barrett, author of Yes to the Mess: Surprising Leadership Lessons from Jazz, agrees and draws on his experience as a jazz artist. He describes the process of improvising in the jazz genre. He says, jazz musicians “must develop…a mutual orientation to one another’s unfolding.” Barrett argues this building on the talents of others takes a large “degree of empathic competence.” [21]

Leaders must communicate that they respect employees, in particular by acknowledging the expertise and skills the employees bring,” according to Edmondson.[22]

The leader that works to create an environment for “cultivating” employees’ giftedness is simply following the biblical mandate as Ortberg notes.[23] Ortberg says, Jesus trained his followers for three years for the eventuality he would give away his power to them.

The Apostle Paul admonished the leadership of the Ephesian church “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.”[24] Though the leaders of the church have authority, it is to be used to build the members’ own giftedness. The plurality of leadership in the church is one of building a team that uses their gifts for developing the ministry of the entire church.

Barrett tells the story of a new employee of the IBM corporation. The president, Bill Gore, met the new MBA graduate and told him, “Look around and find something you’d like to do.[25] Rather than the common view that leaders make all the decisions, Barrett challenges those in authority to give leadership away in order to build partnership and provide creative solutions in decision-making.[26]

Just as Jesus sent the disciples out two-by-two early in their ministry where they saw God at work and learned difficult lessons from failure, so should the Christian leader. [Luke 9 and 10]

This is strikingly similar to the model of the “priesthood of all believers” as described in Ephesians and 1 Peter.[27] In these passages, the Apostles Paul and Peter describe the egalitarian structure of ministry. The ministry of a Christian leader is a “joint ownership” with others those under their authority.[28]

Christian leadership should be characterized by genuine humility and the development of subordinates’ God-given gifts.


[13] Edmondson, Teaming, Chapter 1 (locations 845–847), Kindle.

[14] Lencioni, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, 201.

[15] Burns, Resilient Ministry, Chapter 4 (location 511), Kindle.

[16] Lencioni, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, 201.

[17] Maxwell, Christian Reflections on The Leadership Challenge, 90.

[18] Oren Harari, The Leadership Secrets of Colin Powell (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2002), 50.

[19] Edmondson, Teaming, Chapter 8 (locations 5043–5044), Kindle.

[20] Ibid., 1226–29.

[21] Frank J. Barrett, Yes to the Mess: Surprising Leadership Lessons from Jazz (Boston: Harvard Business Review Press, 2012), 42, Kindle.

[22] Edmondson, Teaming, Chapter 4 (locations 2487–88), Kindle.

[23] Maxwell, Christian Reflections on The Leadership Challenge, 88.

[24] 1 Timothy 1:5; Ephesians 4:11-12.

[25] Barrett, Yes to the Mess, 151–52, Kindle.

[26] Ibid., 138.

[27] Ephesians 4:12; 1 Peter 2:9.

[28] Frank E. Gaebelein et al., The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Hebrews through Revelation (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1982), 12:231.

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