The Fundamentals of Christian Leadership

September 20, 2023

It is my hope to use this space to continue to support you as you serve the University and your teams, especially as you consider the particular joys and challenges of managing and interacting in a diverse workforce. But the matter of first importance is to nail down some of what it means to be a Christian manager. To understand that, we ought to look to the Scriptures.

Colossians 3:23 is a common verse used among workers. “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward.” But if you notice the word, “masters”, you realize the provenance of this verse: it’s Paul writing to enslaved people. But what is most interesting is that immediately after addressing the slaves and workers in the congregation, Paul addresses the masters saying, “Masters, provide your slaves with what is right and fair, because you know that you also have a Master in heaven.” What Paul is doing here as he does elsewhere and as Jesus does throughout the Gospels is this: he’s reminding us that whatever our place is in a particular economic system or institution, whether that institution is just or unjust, we’ve all got a Master. And none of us really are masters. Rather, each and every one of us is a servant, not only of God but actually of one another. 

To back this up, Jesus’ words are always good to be reminded of. In Mark 10, James and John come to him asking to be at His right and left hand. They want to be in positions of influence and they go behind the other disciples’ back to do it, which understandably makes them upset. Jesus’ response to the whole situation is found in Mark 10:35-45. 

“You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said. “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?”  “We can,” they answered. Jesus said to them, “You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared.” When the ten heard about this, they became indignant with James and John. Jesus called them together and 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. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Jesus is making a significant point here about leadership, the very thing that you are practicing each day. He’s saying two things: first, leadership and power are not about domination, which is what the world around us tells us. Get in power so that you can tell people what to do. Instead, Jesus is saying that leaders are chief sufferers. Thus, if you are not prepared to suffer, leadership and management isn’t for you. 

The second point is a broader one about power. Leading is not just about suffering but it is about serving. Christ’s call extends to each of us: if we want to lead, we must serve. If the Son of God and bearer of all power and authority was not ashamed to take on human flesh, how can we be ashamed to take any task upon ourselves (within reason of course. Delegation is also an important skill!) And this is deeper than the popular call to “servant leadership” that a lot of Christian circles want to hone in on where you get the benefits of domination but the moral comfort of thinking that you’re being obedient to Jesus.

The call is for us to interrogate our systems and our relationships and ask of ourselves the question: am I leading my team by serving my team? Am I intentionally cultivating their gifts? Am I serving my leaders? Each of these are deep questions but ones we must ask and answer.

As you know, Baylor’s mission is to educate men and women for worldwide leadership and service, a word choice that allows us to also say that every member of the institution is included. And if we listen to the Savior, leadership can only be understood as service. In fact, this is Christ’s tangible expression of what he means when He talks about love. Without it, we are merely citizens of the kingdoms of this world rather than the Kingdom that He is bringing. 

As a leader at Baylor, you are called to bear witness to a different reality, a different way of working, a different way of supporting and a different way of living because Christ is your Lord and Master. 

Sic ‘Em!

Rev. Malcolm B. Foley, PhD

Special Advisor to the President for Equity and Campus Engagement - Baylor University 

Director, Black Church Studies Program - Truett Seminary