Written by Cindy Palin

When we honestly face up to our own sin, it’s challenging to consider becoming a leader. We’re flawed! We’ll certainly mess up. As a teen, I wondered why anyone would want to lead. But when the love of Christ got hold of me, I understood. Sharing His love with others requires us to lead. Who wouldn’t want to lead someone to the forgiveness, hope, and future God has for His children?

Stepping into leadership from that perspective, no matter what title or role we have, reminds us how selfless our ultimate goal is. We are to be like Jesus so that others will know Him too. Based on what He has taught me in my parenting, friendships, worship, single parent ministry, and pregnancy care roles, here are ten qualities I believe are essential for a selfless leader.

1. Give sacrificially

By coming to earth, Jesus knew His love would have an everlasting reach, but at a great cost. There is much talk about boundaries in leadership, but we must not confuse healthy limits with loving sacrifice. Our responsibility is to put others before our ambitions and desires, just as Christ did for us (1 John 3:16).

2. Leave your comfort zone

Immanuel left His heavenly throne and came to earth as a human to establish an eternal relationship with us. In return, Christ asks us to leave our comfort zones to be in relationship with Himself and others. This is how we mature and grow. If we don’t obey we can become stagnant and ineffective.

3. Be humbly approachable

The King of the universe was born in a lowly manger, surrounded by the humble of the earth. As a grown man and teacher, He had no place to lay His head (Matthew 8:20). He didn’t approach the poor and marginalized from a mighty throne, but as someone who lived among them.

What about us? What company do we keep? Are there lifestyle choices we can adjust to become more approachable? Let us protect ourselves from lofty pedestals and closed office doors.

4. Fly under the radar

Scripture teaches even our right hand shouldn’t know what our left hand is doing (Matthew 6:3). To this day, the most powerful leaders in my life are the women in my church family who have led quiet, holy lives (1 Thessalonians 4:11). Not all those in the limelight are selfish, but what we do behind the scenes matters most (1 Samuel 16:7).

5. Answer to authority

In Luke 5:12-14, I’ve wondered why on earth Jesus asked the man healed from leprosy not to tell anyone about the miracle. Christ was answerable to the Father, and it was not yet time for the Messiah to be revealed. As leaders in Christ’s Kingdom, we are answerable first to His authority, and second, to the human authorities He has placed over us.

6. Love unconditionally

A friend of mine once asked my advice about something she already knew I disagreed with. Despite my warnings, she went ahead and put herself in danger. I entertained the thought of proverbially washing my hands of the friendship—for a millisecond. The Holy Spirit reminded me of Christ’s selfless love toward me. I listened to the Spirit’s prompting and nurtured our friendship amid the chaos. Would I have emulated Christ’s love if I had abandoned her in the valley?

7. Don’t control or clone

I’m walking alongside a young mother who is re-establishing her family. Some people in her life insist she adopt certain behaviours before she can do so. Some of the expectations are reasonable, but most of them are not. Every time my friend takes a step backward, Jesus reminds me He loves her right now, even as she’s learning, and so should I. At no time should I project my own expectations of who she should be, nor put a deadline on when she should have it all together.

When Jesus walked with His disciples, He recognized where they came from, what factors had shaped them, and the long roads ahead to their reformation. He also asks us to be like Him, but knows each of us will reflect His glory in a unique way.

8. Ask questions and never stop learning

One of the most effective tools I have learned through community advocacy work is to ask questions. Asking questions is a sign of respect and an act of submitting to one another. It builds up character and allows the other person to see they have something of value to add to the conversation. Their unique insight reminds us we always have more to learn (1 Corinthians 27-29).

9. Seek God’s will

We must seek the Lord’s will when making decisions. There is no hard and fast rule on how to hear God’s directives. Studying Scripture is helpful, and specific passages may come to mind. We need the Holy Spirit to resist our natural tendency to lean on our own understanding and then slap God’s name on whatever we decide to do (Proverbs 3:5-6).

As a rule of thumb, consult God for an extended period and then wait. Move forward cautiously and watch for doors to open or close. Consult your pastor and two other steadfast Christians to confirm or oppose the direction you seek. Don’t just go to friends who will tell you what you want to hear. If you panic, prayerfully discern whether this is a sign you are insisting on your own way.

10. Know the power of silence

Are you filling silence because it’s what is best for those you’re leading, or because it makes you feel important or heard? Be careful of speaking just to hear the sound of your voice. Silence allows the Holy Spirit to stir. There is no need for “I told you so,” because wisdom echoes best within the walls of silence.

I believe the wisest leaders in this past year and a half of uncertainty caused by Covid-19 have been those who know the power of silence. Much of what we have experienced in this time has not had an easy answer. A multitude of words won’t ease our pain. Consider Christ’s example. What accomplished our salvation—a lengthy speech or a silent sacrifice (Isaiah 53:7)?