Leadership in the New Testament


What does it mean to lead other people? Our culture longs for inspiring leaders. We are aimless and isolated, and we desperately want to trust people who seem to have a positive vision for us and for our communities. At the same time, however, we are jaded and suspicious of authority. We fear the corruption of power, and we are unable to forget the many (even Christian) leaders who have wittingly or unwittingly harmed people under their care.

This course will survey a number of significant New Testament passages that speak to the experience of following Jesus as a leader. We will explore stories of people who were “called” to lead, including Jesus’s baptism, his calling of the Twelve, and Saul’s experience on the Road to Damascus. We will examine cultural assumptions around qualifications for leadership (including education, eloquence, physical attractiveness and strength, gender, etc.) and discuss some New Testament passages that either share these assumptions or else challenge them. We will consider the tension that leaders navigate between leading within a community and being set apart for leadership, and we will look at some New Testament passages that illustrate this tension (e.g. Jesus’s rejection in his hometown, his loneliness in Gethsemane). We will stop to take seriously some of Jesus and Paul’s thoughts on marriage as distracting for leaders, and we will pause to ponder Jesus and Paul’s warnings about the effect that financial remuneration can have on a leader’s ability to maintain his or her integrity. We will remember that controversies flare up whenever bold responses are needed to unprecedented challenges, and will consider as a case-study the conflicts that erupted in the early Jesus-movement around the integration of non-Jewish people (including not only the tidy narrative of conflict resolution in Acts 15 but also Paul’s forceful denunciations of Jesus’s most trusted disciples as hypocrites and betrayers of Jesus’s good news). Finally, we will see how Paul responds to disappointed and even antagonistic congregants in 1 Cor 1–4 and 2 Cor 10–13, and we will reflect upon voluntary suffering for others—even in the face of judgement and rejection—as the Christian leader’s way of obediently following the leadership of Jesus.

We will do all of this together, with fear and trembling, mindful of the desperate needs of our own time and the terrible responsibility that is placed on those who are invited to lead.


  • Understand the social contexts within which early Christian leaders operated;
  • Recognize the pervasiveness of leadership as a topic in the New Testament and have an awareness of some of the key passages that address it;
  • Develop informed positions with regard to important issues pertaining to leadership.


  • Be critical of common leadership ideals both in the New Testament period and today;
  • Move beyond idealized portrayals in order to perceive early Christian leaders as historical people navigating complex and uncertain issues;
  • Be self-critical with respect to matters of personal power and/or weakness;
  • Develop a theological perspective in which leadership is a response to divine initiative.


  • Be able to carefully exegete New Testament passages related to leadership;
  • Be able to assess contemporary leadership in the light of the New Testament.