What Does It Take to Lead?

converse feet on asphalt street
Remember going to the fair — excited to try the newest ride — only to find out, “You must be this tall to ride”? What about the church and workplace equivalent, “You must be this old to lead”? Ever run into that problem?

Age shouldn’t be a factor in determining people’s leadership skills, but it often is.

A couple weeks ago, I attended a conference and was invited to a breakfast for “emerging” leaders. This special event was open for all attendees under the age of forty. My co-workers joked about a younger director who’d been attending the conference for fifteen years. He’ll need to go around the sun a couple more times before he emerges as a bona fide leader.

I’ve worked for a wide spectrum of leaders over the past 15 years. I’ve had managers that treated me and other employees like useless pawns and others that mentored and developed me professionally. I’ve studied every leader I’ve crossed paths with — emulating the good and denouncing the bad.

Over the years, I’ve learned you can’t judge a leader by their age. I’ve seen young people lead courageously and old people lead terribly.

Every good leader has this.

The one thing every esteemed leader has in common is wisdom.

So, you might be thinking you have to be older to lead because wisdom comes with age, right?

God’s Word teaches that “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom” — not age.

Consider Elihu in the book of Job. After 31 chapters of Job’s older friends giving him terrible advice and unsound theology, Elihu finally speaks up:

I said, “Let days speak, and many years teach wisdom.” But it is the spirit in man, the breath of the Almighty, that makes him understand. It is not the old who are wise, nor the aged who understand what is right. (Job 32:7–10)

As a Christian, you can be a valuable and effective leader in your workplace and church because wisdom and Christian leadership are rooted in the fear and knowledge of God — not age.

What does it take to lead?

Paul told young Timothy, “Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.”

Notice that he said, “Let no one despise you for your youth” (emphasis added). That includes you.

As young Christians, we shouldn’t bide our time before setting an example as leaders. Regardless of the barriers set before us in the workplace or in our churches, we have what it takes to be leaders right now — we’re filled with the Holy Spirit and wisdom.

One of the worst mistakes we can make as young Christians is waiting for a job title or promotion before we start taking initiative to lead. Don’t wait to be a manager or director before you take the lead. Because if you’re waiting for a title, that title will make you a lousy leader.

Instead, start leading now by setting an example in the five things Paul encouraged Timothy to focus on. I’ve found them helpful and challenging as I try to lead every day.

1. Speech

Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person. (Colossians 4:6)

Speak like Jesus. His words were always gracious but firm. He never lied, and He always told the truth in a kind and constructive manner. After all, truth doesn’t have to hurt. As a Christian leader, you should use your words to communicate what you want for people, not necessarily what you want from people.

2. Conduct

And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Colossians 3:17)

As a Christian leader, people will hold you to a higher standard. They should. As a leader, your job isn’t to make everyone happy — your job is to keep everyone moving in the right direction. So, being a Christian leader can be a thankless job, but you should always give thanks to God for the opportunity to lead through service.

3. Love

Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. (1 Corinthians 13:7)

Christian leadership is both a passionate and compassionate leadership. Human resources departments work tirelessly to maintain a boundary between love and leadership. I only write that half-jokingly. As a Christian leader, read through 1 Corinthians 13 and take to heart how much love is required of you as a leader.

4. Faith

Let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith. (Hebrews 12:1-2)

Christian leadership is different from secular leadership. As a Christian leader, you lead best when you’re following Jesus and serving others. The race you’re running has already been won, and your eternal life-coach is waiting at the finish line, cheering you on. You’ll only be effective as a Christian leader as long as you keep your eyes on Jesus.

5. Purity

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. (James 1:27)

As a Christian leader, you’re holy. But holiness is often misunderstood. Holiness doesn’t mean you’re perfect and flawless. Holiness means you’re perfectly and flawlessly set apart from the imperfect world. Striving after godless goals and worldly expectations will ruin you, so keep your distinction as a Christian leader pure and protect it mightily.

Others may not take you seriously as a leader until you reach a certain age or hold a specific job title. But remember, good leadership requires wisdom, not age or a job title. So don’t let that stop you from leading. Don’t let them despise you for your youth. Instead, set an example in your speech, conduct, love, faith and purity. Your workplace and church will benefit from that kind of leadership.

About the Author

Matt Stickel
Matt Stickel

Matt Stickel is blessed to share people’s amazing, heart-breaking and inspirational stories for a living. He regularly writes and shares stories about lives being transformed by God’s grace at the rescue mission he works at in Colorado Springs and regularly challenges others to pause and think about important topics like introversion and depression on his own blog. He’s happily married to the most encouraging and hard-working wife. He enjoys simple pleasures like cooking yummy food, reading history books and taking long hikes in the woods with the aim of getting lost.