6 Executive Leadership Principles from the Gospel of Matthew

Jesus revolutionized what it means to be a leader. His approach to leadership was so radically different from how the religious leaders of the day lived their lives that it both astounded the people around him and drew many to him. But the way Jesus led is often counter-cultural. Jesus says the last shall be first, and a leader will lay down his life for others, not lord over them. Many of these principles for leadership can be found in the gospel of Matthew and still apply today — especially today, in a world so focused on self and achieving one’s worth. Below are just six lessons from Matthew leaders in any context can apply to their day-to-day lives as a believer.

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1. Servant Leadership

“It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Matthew 5:26-28 (ESV)

“The greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”
Matt 23:11 (ESV)

“So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.”
Matt 7:12 (ESV)

The primary characteristic of strong biblical leadership in Jesus’ ministry and the early church thereafter is an attitude of servanthood and humility. Even Jesus himself was clear that though he was the Son of God, the only one truly deserving of any accolades, he came to serve. Maintaining humility and treating others well are two qualities Jesus sought to instill in all believers, but especially those seeking to lead others. In a culture so focused on self-promotion and self-preservation, putting such an emphasis on serving rather than being served is highly counter-cultural, not to mention counter to our sin nature. Keeping focus on a servant attitude, though, can not only connect your team and create a work environment that exalts Christ over self, but it can also draw others outside your company to Christ.

2. Honest, Simple Communication

“Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.”
Matthew 5:37 (ESV)

So much of the world’s language is hyperbolic, inflamed, tinged with outrage or embellishment, or decorated with profanity. At times, the truth is watered down or difficult conversations get sugar-coated for fear of potential negative reactions. Other times half-truths and meaningless filler abound. But the gospel of Matthew says to speak honestly, clearly and simply. Not only that, but the implication is also that one must let his word be final and stick to it. The ability to speak truth in love is a characteristic of spiritual maturity and a genuine faith. A strong biblical leader can communicate honestly and be upfront without being harsh. He or she is able to speak without exaggeration or hedging bad news — to be straightforward with his or her responses rather than beating around the bush or pawning it off on someone else. Biblical leaders take responsibility for their communication, speak clearly, and mean what they say.

3. Perseverance in Doing Good; Be Set Apart

“Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.”
Matt 7:13 (ESV)

At times it can feel lonely or even fruitless to follow Christ and his example of leadership, to be different from the world. But we work as unto God and not unto man. As believers we press toward entering the narrow gate — a much more difficult path to follow, but one that glorifies God and sanctifies us. Persevering in doing good and serving Christ, even when it is more difficult than living like the rest of the world, is another mark of a strong biblical leader. We are called to be holy, set apart, as God is holy. This may become wearisome at times, but we are to not give up and continue on the path set before us to serve God and love others well, even in our businesses.

4. Faithfulness

“And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me five talents; here I have made five talents more.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.”
Matt 25:20 (ESV)

No matter what we are entrusted with, we must remember it is first and foremost God’s, and we are to steward it well. Biblically, if we are faithful in little, we will be “set over much.” Our faithfulness to God is not dependent on how much he gives us to manage. Whatever God places in our hands is our responsibility to care for and grow, whether that’s four employees in a small nonprofit or hundreds in a hospital. These teams and businesses are the Lord’s blessings to us, and to be obedient to do with them what God calls us to is our responsibility as leaders in Christ.

5. Do Not Laud Righteousness

“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.”
Matt 6:1 (ESV)

Though God will certainly use our organizations to serve him and others and do great things, it is important to remain clear about the fact that it is not our own goodness that brings those things about. In remembering this, we minimize the temptation to declare our righteousness to everyone and announce our good deeds to the world, expecting praise. Celebrating success and blessing is not wrong, but broadcasting our own perceived righteousness becomes a testament to pride, which gets in the way of serving others, our organization, and Christ well.

6. Confront in Private

“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.”
Matt 18:15 (ESV)

Jesus’ charge to confront one another about issues in private first provides a highly practical application for leaders. If an employee or colleague makes an error or wrongs you, it is important to avoid embarrassing or rebuking them publicly, as this not only inflames the situation but skips out on having compassion for the other person. Addressing the circumstances in a personal conversation allows for more grace and understanding on both sides and diffuses a situation before it gets out of hand or continues further. It also fosters deepening relationships and trust between the two people involved and develops the individual, as the criticism is heard in a constructive way rather than being seen as an ambush. This approach enables the person to be more receptive to behavior change moving forward. Dealing with employees and coworkers directly and privately creates a culture of respect within the organization and also sets a precedent of speaking the truth in love to one another as fellow believers.