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A very simple definition of leadership is, “The art of getting things done through people.” This definition points out several key areas. First, leadership is an art—it is something that leaders get better at with practice. Second, leadership has a goal to be reached or something to be accomplish. Third, leadership involves a group of people being led. The job of the leader is to assist those being led in accomplishing the goal or task. This definition draws attention to the three basic ingredients that apply to leadership in every situation and in every culture: the leader, those being led, and the goal which needs to be achieved. These three ingredients define the WHAT of leadership.

The HOW of leadership is another broad area of study which seeks answers to the question of how leaders accomplish leadership. Recent study has focused on two primary aspects: leadership style and organizational culture. Leadership style describes the way the leader relates both to those being led and to the task that is to be accomplished. Does the leader primarily focus on the task and risk hurting those being led, or does he or she focus on protecting the relationships with those being led and risk failing to fulfill the task? Does the leader act as a dictator or as the leader of a team? The second area of organizational culture examines the social group in which both the leader and those being led interact. What defines the relationship between the leader and the led? Under what authority does the leader operate? How did the leader become the leader?

A third element of leadership study considers the WHY of leadership. This involves asking questions in two areas, the first of which involves the leader: Why did the leader become a leader? What motivates the leader to lead? On what basis will the leader be judged a success or a failure? The second involves the bigger questions of life: According to the leader and the group, why are we doing what we are doing? What is life all about? What is truly important? What values guide both the leader and the led?

Our concern is not with leadership as it is practiced in the world, however, but with leadership in the Church. A definition of church leadership that has received widespread acceptance is that of J. Robert Clinton. He has defined leadership as follows: “A Christian leader is a person with a God-given capacity and a God-given responsibility who is influencing a specific group of God's people toward God's purposes.” In addition to the leadership elements noted above, this definition recognizes the key role that God plays in the whole process. It is God who selects leaders to lead His people in the accomplishment of His purposes. This shaping process involves the circumstances of the leader's birth and upbringing, the natural abilities with which he or she was born, the people the leader interacts with, and the events that happen in his or her life.


Clinton, J. Robert. Leadership Emergence Theory. Altadena, CA: Barnabas Resources, 1989.

________. Leadership Training Models. Altadena, CA: Barnabas Publishers, 1984.

________. The Making of a Leader. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 1988.

Clinton, J. Robert and Richard W. Clinton. The Mentor Handbook. Altadena, CA: Barnabas Publishers, 1991.

Stanley, Paul D., and J. Robert Clinton. Connecting. The Mentoring Relationships You Need to Succeed in Life. Colorado Springs, CO:NavPress, 1992.

Concept 2. Defining and Studying Leadership