We can learn much about leadership by studying the lives of Bible characters. Previously in our series we have learned from Jesus, Joseph, and Nehemiah. Today, we’ll look at leadership lessons from the Apostle Paul. I recently re-read John MacArthur’s book Called to Lead: 26 Leadership Lessons from the Life of the Apostle Paul, in which he wrote “If you want a human model of leadership, I don’t think you’ll ever find a better model than Paul. Paul is my hero as a leader”.
There are many leadership lessons we can learn from Paul. But, since Paul wrote 13 books, or about 28 percent of the New Testament, coming up with just a few leadership lessons from him will be a challenge. We could easily fill books with those lessons, but I’ll give it a try. Here are 8 leadership lessons we can learn from the Apostle Paul:
- God can use anyone to carry out His mission. The first time we encounter Paul, then known as Saul of Tarsus, in the Book of Acts, it was during the stoning of Stephen in Acts 7. We are told in Acts 8:1 that Saul approved of Stephen’s execution Later, we are told that Saul then ravaged the church (Acts 8:3). But Jesus saves Saul as he was on his way to Damascus, and chose him, the one who was persecuting Jesus and the church, to be the one to take the Gospel to the Gentiles. This is a good lesson for us. We may not have the best grades, most degrees or experience, speaking ability or charisma, but God can still use us for his purposes as leaders.
- Leaders demonstrate boldness. Throughout the New Testament we see that Paul was bold in his proclamation of the Gospel. In Romans 1:16, he stated: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” As a leader, he did not worry about pleasing people or being liked. John Maxwell has written “You can never make everyone happy. And wanting to do so is a setup for disappointment or failure.” And we should never be surprised when we face opposition. In John 15:18, Jesus told his followers “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.”
- Leaders demonstrate humility. At the same time that Paul was bold, he also expressed humility. Jim Collins, author of the business classic Good to Great, in looking for what made the difference in companies that were able to move from “good to great” and sustain that greatness identified two distinct characteristics among the leaders of those companies, one of which was humility. Good leaders need to demonstrate humility. Paul demonstrated humility, for example in 1 Corinthians 15:9, by describing himself as the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle. In Ephesians 3:8 he called himself the very least of all the saints; and in 1 Timothy 1:15 he called himself the chief of sinners. In Acts 21 he went to Jerusalem to see James and the rest of the disciples of which he said, “For I am ready not only to be imprisoned but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” He told the disciples of his ministry to the Gentiles, but obeyed their authority, judgment and the instructions given to him. He could have just bought a stadium, told everyone his wonderful testimony and have lots of followers, but instead he sought the blessing of the other apostles.
- Leaders drive results. One of the primary things organizations look to leaders for is driving strong results. In Romans 15:16, Paul states that his mission was to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles. He demonstrated results by leading teams into areas that had not yet heard the Gospel (Romans 15:20), planting churches and appointing leaders for those churches. Some have estimated that he may have started close to 20 churches himself, with many more churches started by those he mentored.
- Leaders provide feedback and hold others accountable. Paul first came to Corinth during his second missionary journey, in approximately AD 50. After he left Corinth, numerous and serious problems developed in the new church there requiring his leadership. Leaders need to address issues as they arise, with good leadership. If they don’t, the issues will continue. Another example of this was when Paul opposed Peter to his face in Antioch, which we read about in Galatians 2:11-14. Peter had been eating with the Gentiles until certain men came from James. But when they came, he separated himself from the Gentiles, leading the other Jews to act hypocritically with him in fear of the circumcision party. Paul saw their conduct not in step with the truth of the Gospel, and was thus willing to endure the pain of conflict with Peter in order to defend he truth of the Gospel.
- Leaders are discerning. Leaders have to make difficult calls. Paul had to remove John Mark from his team, which led to a sharp disagreement between Paul and Barnabas and ultimately their separation. On Paul and Barnabas’ first missionary journey, John Mark, the cousin of Barnabas, accompanied them. Along the way, however, John Mark decided to return to his home in Jerusalem, for reasons we are not told. Later, Paul wanted to return and visit the churches they had planted. Barnabas wanted to bring John Mark, but Paul thought best not to bring him. Paul had to be discerning as he made a difficult decision for the sake of his ministry and mission, knowing that it meant that Barnabas would no longer be ministering with him. Jim Collins talked about getting the right people on the bus (your team) in Good to Great. Paul determined that after John Mark left he was not the right person to be on his team, and he took decisive action.
- Leaders mentor others. Leaders should both have mentees and be mentored by others. I always enjoyed the opportunity to mentor up and coming leaders, often feeling like I learned as much from them as they may have from me. Paul mentored Timothy, who he calls his true child in the faith (1 Timothy 1:2). Their relationship, which serves as an excellent model for mentoring, evolved to the point where in Romans 16:21 Paul refers to Timothy as his fellow worker.
- Leaders have influence. John Maxwell often says that leadership is influence, nothing more and nothing less. In Called to Lead, John MacArthur shows how Paul’s leadership was manifest in the most unlikely of situations—in a shipwreck, where he was the lowest-ranking person onboard a ship sailing to Italy. Paul was a prisoner, and prisoners have no authority. That was Paul’s situation in Acts 27 when Paul was on a ship sailing to Rome. Yet, those on the ship listened to him. He had influence. MacArthur tells us that if you can show people you truly have their best interests at heart, they’ll follow you.
These are just 8 leadership lessons from the Apostle Paul. There are many more that we could list. What lessons would you add?