Author Wednesday: An Excerpt from Calling Christian Leaders by John Stott

Posted: May 16, 2012 in Author Wednesday
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This is an excerpt from Calling Christian Leaders, one of John Stott’s last published books before his “homecoming” with our Lord


A leader, according to its simplest definition, is someone who commands a following. To lead is to go ahead, to show the way and to inspire other people to follow. Leaders are needed in every walk of life. Leadership is not restricted to world statesmen, national top brass, the opinionformers who dominate the media, and the senior executives of multinationals. Leaders can also be influential in their local community: teachers in the school, students in the university, parents in the home, and many others ‘Leadership’ is a word shared by Christians and non-Christians alike, but this does not mean that their concept of it is the same. On the contrary, Jesus introduced into the world a new style of servant-leadership. He said:

‘You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the

Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise

authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever

wants to become great among you must be your servant,

and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all’ (Mark 10:42–44).

The most influential leader in the early church was undoubtedly the apostle Paul. Appointed by Jesus as the apostle to the Gentiles, he never lost his vision of God’s single new humanity, Jews and Gentiles together, for which he suffered painful opposition and imprisonment. And in his letters we watch him exercising his leadership skills.

Of course, Paul was an apostle, and we are not. Indeed, as I shall argue in this book, there are no apostles in the church today who have an authority comparable to that of the apostles Paul, Peter, James and John, the apostolic writers of the New Testament. Nevertheless, Jesus Christ has evidently intended from the beginning that his church should be shepherded, or have pastoral oversight. So from the first missionary journey onwards Paul appointed elders in every church (Acts 14:23), and he later instructed Timothy and Titus to do the same, giving instructions as to what kind of people pastors should be (1 Tim. 3:1ff.; Titus 1:5ff.).

In the first four chapters of 1 Corinthians, which form the basic text of this book, Paul is responding to the complex Corinthian situation, and to the questions the Corinthians have addressed to him. He does so with admirable clarity, wisdom, humility, love and gentleness: pastoral qualities that are sorely needed by Christian leaders today.

During the last thirty-five years or so I have had the privilege of travelling to many countries and observing the church and its leadership. As a result, it is my firm conviction that there is too much autocracy in the leaders of the Christian community, in defiance of the teaching of Jesus and his apostles, and not enough love and gentleness. Too many behave as if they believed not in the priesthood of all believers but in the papacy of all pastors.

Our model of leadership is often shaped more by culture than by Christ. Yet many cultural models of leadership are incompatible with the servant imagery taught and exhibited by the Lord Jesus. Nevertheless, these alien cultural models are often transplanted uncritically into the church and its hierarchy. In Africa it is the tribal chief, in Latin America the machismo (exaggerated masculinity) of the Spanish male, in South Asia the religious guru fawned on by his disciples, in East Asia the Confucian legacy of the teacher’s unchallengeable authority, and in Britain the British Raj mentality, the overbearing pride associated with the period of British rule until Indian independence in 1947. It is easy for Christian leaders to assimilate one or another of these models without realizing it. But we need to determine that there is no place in the Christian community for the guru or the Confucian teacher, for the African chief, the British Raj mentality or Spanish machismo. These models are not congruous with the spirit of love and gentleness.

James Stalker was a Scottish minister and author at the end of the nineteenth century. In one of his books he wrote:

“When I first was settled in a church, I discovered a thing of which nobody had told me, and which I had not anticipated, but which proved a tremendous aid in doing the work of the ministry. I fell in love with my congregation. I do not know how otherwise to express it. It was as genuine a blossom of the heart as any which I have ever experienced. It made it easy to do anything for my people …

We have considered in 1 Corinthians 4 four models of ministry which Paul paints of his own apostolic ministry, and which are also applicable to Christian leaders today, even though they are not apostles. ‘This is how you should regard us,’ Paul writes. ‘We are underlings of Christ, stewards of revelation, the scum of the earth, and the fathers of the church family.’ Further, the common denominator of all four is humility: humility before Christ, whose subordinates we are; humility before Scripture, of which we are stewards; humility before the world, whose opposition we are bound to encounter; and humility before the congregation, whose members we are to love and serve.

My prayer, as you read this book, is that Christian leaders who peruse these pages may be characterized above all else by what the apostle Paul called ‘the meekness and gentleness of Christ’ (2 Cor. 10:1).


John Stott was one of the world’s leading and most loved Bible teachers, preachers, writers, pastors and mission-leaders. He is the author of many books including the best-selling “Basic Christianity”.

Calling Christian Leaders is available at all OMF Lit Bookshops for only P225

  1. […] Author Wednesday: An Excerpt from Calling Christian Leaders by … As a result, it is my firm conviction that there is too much autocracy in the leaders of the Christian community, in defiance of the teaching of Jesus and his apostles, and not enough love and gentleness. Too many behave as if they believed not … — Tue, 15 May 2012 23:59:11 -0700 Link to this post! […]

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