Leadership is a popular topic that I’ve often been asked to teach on, but I’ve been reluctant to do so. That may sound strange coming from someone who is seen as a leader, so let me explain. In my eyes, being a godly leader is all about following the Lord and cultivating a strong relationship with Him, which is what my heart is. It’s what I’ve invested in the most. So, even though I am a leader, I’ve never pursued leadership roles or mentors in that area because I believe the closer I am to God, the better leader I am. Until two years ago, I had never even attended a leadership conference.
Despite that, I now lead a global team of 1,100 employees and oversee numerous schools and worldwide broadcasts in multiple languages. My books have been translated into nearly fifty languages and distributed worldwide, with over 2.5 million copies in circulation. So, I have found myself in a leadership position without actively pursuing it. As I sought the Lord about why that is, He showed me that because my pursuit has been focused on Him; He has guided me and shown me what steps to take. When you choose to follow the Lord, you automatically become a good leader.
You know, I’ve had multiple people come and help me in the ministry, and there was one person who did a lot of good things, but he was like a steamroller, and he hurt a lot of people in the process of trying to do what he thought best. That is not godly leadership, so I had to let him go. There are a lot of people who learn their leadership principles from the world, but I tell you, Jesus said, “he that is greatest among you shall be your servant” (Matt. 23:11), and He demonstrated this by the way He served us and gave His life for us.
I made a list of what I consider to be the top ten essentials of godly leadership. I’ve arranged them in a particular order because I believe the sequence is significant. By going through these essentials step by step, you’ll gain a more comprehensive understanding of what it means to be a godly leader.
Relationship with the Lord
The number one essential quality is relationship with the Lord. I believe that close relationship with God produces godly leadership. We should only expect people to follow us as we follow Jesus Christ. Paul said:
He was basically saying the same thing I’m trying to say, which is that the best leaders are also good followers. And if you’re not a good follower—if you don’t have a close relationship with God, and you’re not being led by God—you’ll be a bad leader or lead people in the wrong direction.
So, for me, it all comes down to this one thing: if you have a good relationship with the Lord and listen to Him, He will tell you everything you need to do. He will tell you where you need to go, when you need to turn, who you need to appoint, and everything else. So, basically, everything comes from your relationship with the Lord. That’s the first step.
The second attribute that’s essential to godly leadership is humility, which also comes out of intimacy with the Lord. Humbling yourself in true relationship with God means you aren’t running your life. It means you’ve surrendered your life over to the Lord as a living sacrifice (Rom. 12:1).
I was born again at eight years old and genuinely saved, but I became like a religious Pharisee. My church taught that the degree to which God moved in your life was directly related to how well you lived. So, I lived a strict life. But on March 23, 1968, I had a life-changing encounter with God. And the moment when He showed me His holiness and my comparative unworthiness, all the wind was knocked out of my sails. That experience with the Lord produced genuine humility in me.
Certainly, none of us have obtained unto perfection in this, but God took my attention off of myself very quickly. In Isaiah, God said about the Son:
God is not going to give his glory to anybody but Jesus. So, if you are in ministry to magnify yourself, you are actually going to wind up with God fighting against you, and it won’t work.
But when you put God and other people ahead of yourself, you won’t get stressed out or burned out. If you are really spending time in the presence of the Lord, I guarantee it’ll stop you from operating in pride, which is Satan’s biggest inroad into your life. I know that’s a big statement, but I honestly believe that depression, worry, care, fear—they’re all just a manifestation of you taking control and doing things on your own instead of casting your care over on the Lord.
Character and Integrity
The third essential quality of godly leadership is character and integrity. If you have truly put God first in your life, it will produce character and integrity in you. If I were presented with an opportunity to lie, cheat, steal, or do anything else that goes against God, I would never think, Well, Lord, am I going to do this? There’s no question because I already decided decades ago that I’m not going in that direction. I see it as a simple way to eliminate all the worst-case scenarios.
When you put God first in your life, there won’t be any struggle over things like this—because He’s the one running your life. That automatically produces character and integrity. It’s not something you have to seek out; it’s just a byproduct of relationship with God. Satan can’t tempt you with the things of this world because you don’t care. That’s the way I live my life; I just haven’t pursued anything except God.
If the Lord is number one in your life and you aren’t exalting yourself, I guarantee that God will speak to you and guide you to where you need to go. And God’s plans are big. God wants to reach people. God’s the one that put the call on each person’s life. He has a purpose for your life, and He will make your life better than you could ever dream of on your own. But it all comes out of relationship with the Lord.
The best thing you can do is not to run your own life but to be a living sacrifice instead.