Good Leaders Lead Without Lording Over Others

obeyNo growth = Deficiency of leadership. Good leadership is a major key to any healthy growing organization or church. If a church is not growing you can almost always find that the deficiency lies with the “old” leadership of the church. They are not able to reverse the decline, likely because they want to maintain the status quo. They do not know how to delegate to different dynamic leaders, often because they still want to be the controlling authority, rather than allowing the Holy Spirit to be the head of the church. Instead of judging fairly without partiality, their decisions are often based on their strong sense of community solidarity. This comes across like showing favoritism and protecting the leadership, instead of caring for “the least of these.”

All four gospels emphasize “no lording over others.” According to Jesus, good leaders lead without lording over others, which is what worldly leaders do. It is to influence without imposing oneself, without being intrusive and without interfering. A few weeks ago I preached on Christian leaders are not to lord over others. Matthew, Mark and Luke all record Jesus’ emphatic negation by stating clearly and explicitly that his disciples are not to lord over others like worldly rulers (Mt 20:25-28; Mk 10:42-45; Lk 22:24-27). John’s version of “not lording over others from above” is Jesus’ attitude toward his disciples as his close friends (Jn 15:15), rather than as their lord and teacher (Jn 13:13). Jesus also showed his leadership as one that takes the lowest humblest role (Jn 13:1-5), which shocked his disciples.

Obedience follows love, not the other way around. Not lording over others is hard for any leader to put into practice because it is easier to “get things done” by telling others what to do based on your position of authority as a leader. What is wrong with this? It reduces the human interaction into a command-style relationship. Command-obey relationships is a lording over others that the NT speaks out against (Mt 20:26; Mk 10:43; Lk 22:26; Phm 8-9, 14; 1 Pet 5:3). To Jesus it is NEVER obey me and be loved by me, which would be a top down manipulative relationship. In fact, it is the very opposite (Jn 14:15, 21, 23).

The Christian leader is functionally the Holy Spirit. Perhaps, the greatest damage of a top-down lording over others ministry is that the Christian leader functionally becomes like God. Even if the leader emphatically denies it, those under his (or her) leadership will feel as though obedience to them is a prerequisite to pleasing God. By lording over others, the leader produces a form of slavery to the leader, and obscures one’s own relationship with God. This also produces guilt not based on one’s sin before God (Ps 51:4), but false guilt based on one’s obedience or disobedience toward the leader who lords over them. This creates an anthropocentric ministry that draws attention to the human leader’s direction and directives, rather than to Christ and Scripture.

Have you experienced a leader who lords over you?


  1. A few years ago, a person spoke at a UBF staff conference on intergenerational ministry and leadership. Her talk focused on the transition in leadership from a leader of one generation to a leader from a later generation. It was framed in a fun fictional story about a company with observations that convey the points from the author interspersed, entitled “We’re In This Boat Together.” The book was excellent, easy to read, and fun!

    One of the things that deeply struck me in the book is that the definition of leadership and the qualities in a leader that are thought highly of differ from generation to generation. Wartime generations (those who were adults in the 1940s-60s) respect leaders like FDR and Gen. McArthur who can command respect, take decisive action, and act deliberately. Boomers and younger generations often see those leadership attributes as invalidating their opinions, efforts, and contributions, and as “lording over”. I realized that the very definition of “lording over” can have a totally different meaning from one person to the next, one generation to the next, and one culture to the next.

    I cannot remember all the points that were given in the talk, but I think the take-home message is that no single group, generation, or culture should think that it has the “right” answer and its own understanding of good and bad leadership practices is the “true” one. There needs to be a generosity towards each other and a mutual trust that each has the best interests of the group at heart. My observation is that this is VERY hard when there is a power imbalance in the relationship between senior and junior leaders and when real dialogue is fettered by lack of opportunities, sincerity, and openness. In the story presented in the author’s book, I recall it was the failure in these things that made the leadership transition very rocky.

  2. I remember the speaker/author’s name now: Camille Bishop. Her book is “We’re in This Boat Together: Leadership Succession Between the Generations” (