Transformative Leadership

Everyone knows how important leadership is at all levels. It’s a given that every church longs for leaders that lead with character and competenceThe Apostle Paul himself believed in its importanceso much so that he provides the qualifications for elders in his epistle to Timothy (1 Tim. 3:1-7). Indeed, one cannot ignore the necessity of biblical leadership especially in a time when the church’s moral and doctrinal fidelity is being challenged by a perverse and crooked generation. For the church to continually walk in the “ancient paths,” church leaders need to know a biblical model that allows them to lead their members in the right direction. 

William Willimon compared two leadership models that can help church leaders evaluate their leadership:

“The ‘great man approach,’ implies that leaders are ‘born, not made’. . . . It fosters delusion and irresponsibility in the lone leader, as well as implying that, when it comes to leadership, one either has it or does not. . . . Transformative leadership seeks more than merely managing the felt needs of the followers. The transformative leader elevates followers to a higher level, refusing either to be trapped or driven by the conventional expectations of followers, calling followers to a larger purposea higher moral commitment—thus transforming the organization and its members.”[1]

To put it another way, transformative leaders primarily seek the transformation of their followers even if it means being rejected by them—while the great man approach puts the spotlight solely on the leader’s personality and power to accomplish the goal and meet the expectations of his followers.

I believe that transformative leadership in the Christian context is the right approach because it understands the goal of leadershipthe transformation of the church and the exaltation of Goda goal that makes pastoral leadership peculiar. Willimon notes, “Christian leadership tends to be abrasive, because it is service to the body of Christ rather than to popularity, efficiency, productivity, and celebrity goals that corrupt and demean leadership within some communities.”[2]

Willimon helped me see that the greatest challenge I face as a pastor is to be the sort of leader whom God uses to change people.[3] He notes, “Real change in an organization requires more than simply having a leader who will get people to do what he wants them to do.”[4] Since God is the ultimate cause of change, I need to submit to Him, be nourished by His word, express my dependence through prayer, and cooperate with the Holy Spirit that I might be the kind of leader He wants me to be. Willimon states, “In a Christian context, being a transformative leader means believing that God makes all things new, even us, and that conversion, change, transformation is a typical, expected gift of this faith.”[5]

While transformation is a long and difficult process, it is not beyond the realms of possibility.  Paul confidently asserts, “For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work among you will complete it by the day of Christ Jesus” (Php. 1:6 NASB). May the promises of God and the provisions of grace be our hope for true and lasting change.


[1] William Willimon, Pastor: The Theology and Practice of Ordained Ministry (Nashville, TEN: Abingdon Press, 2016), chap. 12, Kindle. 

[2] Ibid., chap. 12, Kindle.

[3] Ibid., chap. 12, Kindle.

[4] Ibid., chap. 12, Kindle.

[5] Ibid., chap. 12, Kindle.