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LEADERSHIP (3): Paul’s Example

Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ” – Paul, 1 Corinthians 11:1, KJV

Paul - Christian Leader

Paul - Christian Leader

Many credit Paul with being the greatest Christian leader except Jesus Himself. Of course, this is not the way he viewed himself. He said, “I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle” (1 Corinthians 15:9). This humility is one of the keys to his success as a leader for Christ.

Paul was always a leader, even before he became a Christian. Looking back to his life as a young Jewish Rabbi, Paul wrote, “I was advancing in Judaism beyond many Jews of my own age and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers” (Galatians 1:14). There is evidence he was very close to the inner circles of the Sanhedrin, if not actually a part of it. This was amazing in view of his youth plus the fact that the Sanhedrin was primarily controlled by the Sadducees while Saul of Tarsus was a devout Pharisee.

Thus, it appears he possessed natural leadership ability. But his Christian leadership was more than natural ability. Some who have great talent are poor Christian leaders. They exalt self, not Jesus. Paul always promoted Jesus, not himself. Hence, his leadership was a demonstration of a talented man under the control of the Spirit of God.

Saul of Tarsus was an inquisitional leader. His zeal for the Pharisaic traditions led him to eagerly persecute the church that challenged those traditions. When he became a disciple of Jesus his whole attitude changed, and he demonstrated a different spirit. As a Christian leader he powerfully displayed the attitudes and priorities of Jesus. The contrast between the Jewish Saul of Tarsus and the Christian Apostle Paul vividly illustrates the difference between carnal, worldly leadership and Christ like, spiritual leadership.

What was Paul like as a leader? There are two aspects of his leadership we need to consider. First, there was his authority as an apostle of Christ. Second, there was the way he exercised his authority. When his enemies challenged his authority, he went to great lengths to establish his right to command his hearers in the name of the Lord. Yet he used this right with great gentleness.


When people were in rebellion against the Lord, Paul could be a fearful and commanding figure. Think, for example, of how he rebuked Elymas, the sorcerer, in the presence of Sergius Paulus (Acts 13:6-12). Paul bluntly said to this man who opposed the preaching of Jesus, “You are a child of the devil and an enemy of everything that is right! You are full of all kinds of deceit and trickery. Will you never stop perverting the right ways of the Lord?” (v. 10). He then pronounced a curse of blindness on Elymas, who began groping about for a guide. This incident contributed to the conversion of the Proconsul of the Island of Cyprus.

He also pronounced an eternal curse on anyone preaching a different gospel than that which he preached (Galatians 1:8-9). He threatened the rebellious element of the church at Corinth that, if need be, he would come to them with a heavy rod (1 Corinthians 4:21; 2 Corinthians 10:10-11). In these things he reminds us of Jesus when he drove the money-changers from the temple or when he pronounced his “woes” on the hypocritical Pharisees and teachers of the law (Matthew 22:12-13; 23:1ff).


In spite, however, of Paul’s right to exercise power over the churches, the impressive thing is his extreme reluctance to use this right. He preferred to appeal rather than to command. “By the meekness and gentleness of Christ, I appeal to you” (2 Corinthians 10:1). “I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 1:10).

He did not use his authority to exalt himself, but always pointed to Christ as his own master. He said, “We do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake”(2 Corinthians 4:5). His God-given authority, he said, was given “for building you up rather than pulling you down” (2 Corinthians 10:8).

In fact, “authority” played a very minor role in Paul’s leadership. He was not a commanding figure in person. His enemies said he was unimpressive and timid. He would probably have agreed with them, for he denied any of the special eloquence or wisdom usually associated with leadership. He admitted his weakness and fear, but claimed the power of God (1 Corinthians 2:1-5). Rather than depend of “authority” and impressive display, Paul sought to point men to Jesus and to be an example of how to follow him.


Paul revealed his secret of leadership in Philippians 3:10-17. In this passionate text, he does not discuss his philosophy of leadership – but he demonstrates it. His purpose in these verses is to inspire the beloved Philippian church to even greater heights of service to God. He did this by exposing his own heart in the following eloquent words:

I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

All of us who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. Only let us live up to what we have already attained.

Join with others in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you.

These words reveal three great elements of Paul’s leadership.

1. His Purpose

First, he had a great purpose: to know Christ, to be like him, and to share in the power of his resurrection. No one can lead effectively unless he has a clear vision of where he is going and can establish significant priorities to get there.

Leadership which does not select worthwhile goals is not worthy of the name. It is not enough merely to have a goal. The goal must be worthy of the effort needed to reach it. Many goals are small and unworthy of God’s people. Such goals are too anemic to be able to inspire us to soar with eagles’ wings. The true leader aims at targets deserving of his best efforts – and of the best efforts of his people.

Give people a challenging goal, and they will respond. Paul had his own purposes set on something so exalted it could – and did – command a life-time of effort. We need to select objectives that excite and inspire us to our best efforts. This means the church needs to have greater purposes than to pave the parking lot. Parents need to inspire children with more than getting good grades so they can get a good job and get by in life. Our goals need to reach into eternity – and be focused on Heaven’s king.

Leaders with high aspirations for themselves are able to inspire others to seek the very best as well. This was Paul’s genius: the ability to aim high and to point us in that direction!

2. His Progress

Second, Paul did not consider that he had arrived, but was pressing on toward the goal. He avoided the trap of self-satisfaction and complacency that destroys many leaders. He was not content merely to “keep house for the Lord.” Leadership, for Paul, always involved progress toward a goal. It was not static, but dynamic. He was going somewhere!

A leader who is not going somewhere is not leading: he is vegetating. Many leaders, in name only, think their function is to maintain the status quo. In Christ, the status quo is never sufficient. There is growth to be achieved and a world to be won! These things are not realized by just holding on to present levels of accomplishment.

True leaders are the throttle, not the brakes. They do not see their function as merely “stopping” wrong or misguided action. Rather, they encourage to good works by their words and deeds. They inspire good because they love and promote good – not merely because they condemn evil. They stimulate action because they themselves are acting with purpose and enthusiasm. Even when good intentions result in misguided action, a true leader would rather provide a course correction than to bring all movement to a screeching halt. He knows you cannot lead someone who is not moving.

3. His Positive Example

Third, Paul challenged others to follow his example. In this, though, he did not point to himself as the standard. Rather, he invited others to follow him in following Christ.

This is a supreme test of a leader: Will anyone follow? This is a question that will be answered with a resounding, “Yes” – when the leader has a clear vision of where he is going and is energetic in moving toward that mark. Men of purpose and energy will always attract followers, even if they are leading the followers to destruction.

Paul demonstrated the essence of Christian leadership: focus on Jesus, move closer to him, and invite others to come along. Jesus rebuked the Pharisees because they did not practice what they preached (Matthew 23:3). In contrast, Paul could say that his way of life agreed with what he taught everywhere in every church (1 Corinthians 4:17). Paul not only invited people to come closer to Jesus; he showed them the way.


Christian leadership is not first of all a matter of authority or of doctrine. It is primarily a matter of being and doing. A Christian leader must be like Jesus and act like Jesus. Then the leader will be able to teach, not by word only but also by example. Luke summarized his account of the gospel as being “all that Jesus began to do and to teach (Acts 1:1). Such teaching and leadership will possess power because it is backed by a credible life. Both believers and unbelievers will sit up and take notice of such a life.

His leadership came from his passion for Christ – and from living true to that passion. It came more from who and what he was than from the particular things he did and how he did them. His leadership was not a “method.” It was a way of life.

This is the example of leadership Paul set and which he encourages us to follow. It is this kind of leadership that is needed in today’s families, schools, businesses and churches. Have worthy goals and a passion to reach them. Live by the things you passionately value, and others will follow. Let’s say with Paul, “Follow me as I follow Christ.”


  1. Contrast Paul’s leadership in Judaism with his leadership in Christ.
  2. Under what circumstances did Paul exercise “authority” as a Christian leader?
  3. How was example crucial to Paul’s leadership?
  4. How did Paul teach his students to lead? See 1 Timothy 4:12 & Titus 2:6-8.
  5. What key elements of Paul’s leadership are seen in 1 Thessalonians 2:1-12?
  6. Why must leaders establish worthwhile priorities? How do you go about setting priorities?
  7. Why is satisfaction with the status quo the death knell for effective leadership? Someone said “status quo” is Latin for “the mess we are in.” Please comment.
  8. How can leaders inspire people to follow them? What is the difference between leading and driving? Comment on the expression, “You can’t push a string.”
  9. Why is leadership a matter of “being” before it is a matter of “doing.” Can one be a leader without being a “doer”? Can you be a Christian leader without first being a follower of Jesus?

What was the most important element in Paul’s leadership? Defend your answer.

NEXT – (4) Peter – Growing to Glory
PREVIOUS – (2) Christ, Our Glorious Leader

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