Day 182

Seven Characteristics of Great Leaders

Wisdom Psalm 78:56-72
New Testament Acts 21:1-26
Old Testament 2 Kings 3:1-4:37


An online survey listed all the qualities that people expect from ‘perfect’ pastors:

They preach for exactly twelve minutes.

They are twenty-eight years of age, but have been preaching for thirty years.

They work from 8 am until midnight every day, but are also the caretaker.

They frequently condemn sin, but never upset anyone.

They wear good clothes, buy good books, drive a good car, give generously to the poor and have a low salary.

They make fifteen daily calls to parish families, visit the housebound and the hospitalised, spend all their time evangelising the un-churched and are always in the office when they are needed.

They are also very good-looking!

Of course, we all know that there is no such thing as a ‘perfect pastor’. Nevertheless, daunted by the high expectations that people have of their church leaders, on 1 July 2004 (when I had been asked to take on the role of Vicar at HTB in London), I felt both excited and a little overwhelmed by the responsibility. That day, I wrote my prayer in the margin of my Bible in One Year: that I, like David, would shepherd the people with integrity of heart and lead them with skilful hands (Psalm 78:72). This is still my prayer today.

In yesterday’s passage we saw how Paul said to the Ephesian elders, ‘Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood’ (Acts 20:28). Pope Francis urged the spiritual leaders of the church to ‘be shepherds living with the smell of sheep’.

The task of an overseer is to pastor God’s flock, following the example of Jesus who said, ‘I am the good shepherd’ (John 10:11). In the passages for today we see seven characteristics of good shepherds which are seen in all great Christian leaders.


Psalm 78:56-72

56 But they put God to the test
   and rebelled against the Most High;
   they did not keep his statutes.
57 Like their ancestors they were disloyal and faithless,
   as unreliable as a faulty bow.
58 They angered him with their high places;
   they aroused his jealousy with their idols.
59 When God heard them, he was furious;
   he rejected Israel completely.
60 He abandoned the tabernacle of Shiloh,
   the tent he had set up among humans.
61 He sent the ark of his might into captivity,
   his splendour into the hands of the enemy.
62 He gave his people over to the sword;
   he was furious with his inheritance.
63 Fire consumed their young men,
   and their young women had no wedding songs;
64 their priests were put to the sword,
   and their widows could not weep.

65 Then the Lord awoke as from sleep,
   as a warrior wakes from the stupor of wine.
66 He beat back his enemies;
   he put them to everlasting shame.
67 Then he rejected the tents of Joseph,
   he did not choose the tribe of Ephraim;
68 but he chose the tribe of Judah,
   Mount Zion, which he loved.
69 He built his sanctuary like the heights,
   like the earth that he established forever.
70 He chose David his servant
   and took him from the sheep pens;
71 from tending the sheep he brought him
   to be the shepherd of his people Jacob,
   of Israel his inheritance.
72 And David shepherded them with integrity of heart;
   with skillful hands he led them.


Integrity and skill

Great leadership is rare. As we look around the world today, there are not many countries that are led well.

As the psalmist looks back at Hebrew history, there wasn’t much good leadership around. It was a story of rebellion against God: ‘traitors – crooked as a corkscrew’ (v.57, MSG).

God was looking for a man after his own heart. God led the people like a shepherd: ‘Then he led his people out like sheep, took his flock safely through the wilderness. He took good care of them; they had nothing to fear’ (vv.52–53, MSG).

Eventually he found David, a rare example in the Old Testament of great (though not perfect) leadership: ‘He chose David his servant… to be the shepherd of his people Jacob, of Israel his inheritance. And David shepherded them with integrity of heart; with skilful hands he led them’ (vv.70–72).

David had the experience of being a shepherd in the literal sense. God ‘took him from the sheep pens; from tending the sheep’ (v.70). He used these skills to be a shepherd also in the metaphorical sense of the leader and pastor of God’s people:

1. Integrity of heart

‘Integrity’ is the opposite of ‘hypocrisy’. The word integrity comes from the Latin integer meaning ‘whole’. It describes an undivided life, a ‘wholeness’ that comes from qualities such as honesty and consistency of character. It means acting according to the values, beliefs and principles we claim to hold.

The pastoral care of God’s people must be done with integrity of heart. This is the most important characteristic. People said of Jesus, ‘we know you are a man of integrity’ (Mark 12:14). Many leaders have reflected on the importance of integrity in their role:

Former US President Eisenhower, Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Western Europe during World War II said, ‘The supreme quality for leadership is unquestionably integrity. Without it, no real success is possible, no matter whether it is… on a football field, in an army, or in an office.’

2. Skilful hands

David was a skilful shepherd. He had learnt to protect the flock with his sling. He went on to lead the people of Israel with great skill. There are leadership skills to be learnt.

We learn these skills through watching and following good examples, listening to the wisdom of others, asking questions of those we admire, learning together with our peers and, above all, through practice.


Lord, help us to be good shepherds in every area of our lives, leading well in our churches, schools, universities, businesses, community and culture. Help us to pastor with integrity of heart and lead with skilful hands.

New Testament

Acts 21:1-26

On to Jerusalem

21 After we had torn ourselves away from them, we put out to sea and sailed straight to Kos. The next day we went to Rhodes and from there to Patara. 2 We found a ship crossing over to Phoenicia, went on board and set sail. 3 After sighting Cyprus and passing to the south of it, we sailed on to Syria. We landed at Tyre, where our ship was to unload its cargo. 4 We sought out the disciples there and stayed with them seven days. Through the Spirit they urged Paul not to go on to Jerusalem. 5 When it was time to leave, we left and continued on our way. All of them, including wives and children, accompanied us out of the city, and there on the beach we knelt to pray. 6 After saying goodbye to each other, we went aboard the ship, and they returned home.

7 We continued our voyage from Tyre and landed at Ptolemais, where we greeted the brothers and sisters and stayed with them for a day. 8 Leaving the next day, we reached Caesarea and stayed at the house of Philip the evangelist, one of the Seven. 9 He had four unmarried daughters who prophesied.

10 After we had been there a number of days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. 11 Coming over to us, he took Paul’s belt, tied his own hands and feet with it and said, “The Holy Spirit says, ‘In this way the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem will bind the owner of this belt and will hand him over to the Gentiles.’”

12 When we heard this, we and the people there pleaded with Paul not to go up to Jerusalem. 13 Then Paul answered, “Why are you weeping and breaking my heart? I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” 14 When he would not be dissuaded, we gave up and said, “The Lord’s will be done.”

15 After this, we started on our way up to Jerusalem. 16 Some of the disciples from Caesarea accompanied us and brought us to the home of Mnason, where we were to stay. He was a man from Cyprus and one of the early disciples.

Paul’s Arrival at Jerusalem

17 When we arrived at Jerusalem, the brothers and sisters received us warmly. 18 The next day Paul and the rest of us went to see James, and all the elders were present. 19 Paul greeted them and reported in detail what God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry.

20 When they heard this, they praised God. Then they said to Paul: “You see, brother, how many thousands of Jews have believed, and all of them are zealous for the law. 21 They have been informed that you teach all the Jews who live among the Gentiles to turn away from Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or live according to our customs. 22 What shall we do? They will certainly hear that you have come, 23 so do what we tell you. There are four men with us who have made a vow. 24 Take these men, join in their purification rites and pay their expenses, so that they can have their heads shaved. Then everyone will know there is no truth in these reports about you, but that you yourself are living in obedience to the law. 25 As for the Gentile believers, we have written to them our decision that they should abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality.”

26 The next day Paul took the men and purified himself along with them. Then he went to the temple to give notice of the date when the days of purification would end and the offering would be made for each of them.


Love, service and sensitivity

I love it when leaders, from over 100 countries around the world where Alpha is run, come together at Alpha Global Week for teaching, ministry and encouragement. When each leader reports ‘in detail what God has done… through [their] ministry’ (21:19) I am reminded of this passage.

We read here how ‘Paul told the story, detail by detail, of what God had done among the non-Jewish people through his ministry. They listened with delight and gave God the glory. They had a story to tell, too: “And just look at what’s been happening here – thousands upon thousands of God-fearing Jews have become believers in Jesus!”’ (vv.19–20, MSG).

We saw yesterday that Paul said to the Ephesian elders, ‘Be shepherds of the church of God’ and ‘keep watch over… the flock’ (20:28). Today, we see examples of all this in action:

3. Love

Love and leadership go hand in hand. If you love people you will get close enough to them so that, in the words of Pope Francis, you smell of the sheep. Paul was an example of a good shepherd. Everywhere he went he met up with the disciples (21:4,7). He prayed with them (v.5), he loved them so much that when it was time to leave he had to tear himself away from them (v.1).

In his love for them Paul had warned about savage wolves (20:29). Yet Paul also loves them through encouraging them and building up their faith. He ‘reported in detail what God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry’ (21:19).

4. Service

The prophet Agabus warned Paul of what awaited him in Jerusalem. They pleaded with Paul not to go to Jerusalem, but Paul answered, ‘Why are you weeping and breaking my heart? I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus’ (v.13).

Jesus set the model of servant leadership (see for example Mark 10:45). Paul was willing to follow Jesus, ‘The good shepherd [who] lays down his life for the sheep’ (John 10:11). As Oswald Sanders wrote, ‘True leadership is achieved not by reducing people to one’s service, but in giving oneself in selfless service to them.’

5. Sensitivity

We often think of Paul’s pioneering drive and bold approach; however, he also showed sensitivity to the culture of Jerusalem. He purified himself and his companions, in accordance with the ceremonial laws, in order that nothing would distract from what God was doing (Acts 21:24–26).


Lord, help us to have that same love and care for your people. Help us to protect them from the wolves. Give us the courage to be willing to make sacrifices on their behalf.

Old Testament

2 Kings 3:1-4:37

Moab Revolts

3 Joram son of Ahab became king of Israel in Samaria in the eighteenth year of Jehoshaphat king of Judah, and he reigned twelve years. 2 He did evil in the eyes of the Lord, but not as his father and mother had done. He got rid of the sacred stone of Baal that his father had made. 3 Nevertheless he clung to the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat, which he had caused Israel to commit; he did not turn away from them.

4 Now Mesha king of Moab raised sheep, and he had to pay the king of Israel a tribute of a hundred thousand lambs and the wool of a hundred thousand rams. 5 But after Ahab died, the king of Moab rebelled against the king of Israel. 6 So at that time King Joram set out from Samaria and mobilized all Israel. 7 He also sent this message to Jehoshaphat king of Judah: “The king of Moab has rebelled against me. Will you go with me to fight against Moab?”

“I will go with you,” he replied. “I am as you are, my people as your people, my horses as your horses.”

8 “By what route shall we attack?” he asked.

“Through the Desert of Edom,” he answered.

9 So the king of Israel set out with the king of Judah and the king of Edom. After a roundabout march of seven days, the army had no more water for themselves or for the animals with them.

10 “What!” exclaimed the king of Israel. “Has the Lord called us three kings together only to deliver us into the hands of Moab?”

11 But Jehoshaphat asked, “Is there no prophet of the Lord here, through whom we may inquire of the Lord?”

An officer of the king of Israel answered, “Elisha son of Shaphat is here. He used to pour water on the hands of Elijah. ”

12 Jehoshaphat said, “The word of the Lord is with him.” So the king of Israel and Jehoshaphat and the king of Edom went down to him.

13 Elisha said to the king of Israel, “Why do you want to involve me? Go to the prophets of your father and the prophets of your mother.”

“No,” the king of Israel answered, “because it was the Lord who called us three kings together to deliver us into the hands of Moab.”

14 Elisha said, “As surely as the Lord Almighty lives, whom I serve, if I did not have respect for the presence of Jehoshaphat king of Judah, I would not pay any attention to you. 15 But now bring me a harpist.”

While the harpist was playing, the hand of the Lord came on Elisha 16 and he said, “This is what the Lord says: I will fill this valley with pools of water. 17 For this is what the Lord says: You will see neither wind nor rain, yet this valley will be filled with water, and you, your cattle and your other animals will drink. 18 This is an easy thing in the eyes of the Lord; he will also deliver Moab into your hands. 19 You will overthrow every fortified city and every major town. You will cut down every good tree, block up all the springs, and ruin every good field with stones.”

20 The next morning, about the time for offering the sacrifice, there it was—water flowing from the direction of Edom! And the land was filled with water.

21 Now all the Moabites had heard that the kings had come to fight against them; so every man, young and old, who could bear arms was called up and stationed on the border. 22 When they got up early in the morning, the sun was shining on the water. To the Moabites across the way, the water looked red—like blood. 23 “That’s blood!” they said. “Those kings must have fought and slaughtered each other. Now to the plunder, Moab!”

24 But when the Moabites came to the camp of Israel, the Israelites rose up and fought them until they fled. And the Israelites invaded the land and slaughtered the Moabites. 25 They destroyed the towns, and each man threw a stone on every good field until it was covered. They stopped up all the springs and cut down every good tree. Only Kir Hareseth was left with its stones in place, but men armed with slings surrounded it and attacked it.

26 When the king of Moab saw that the battle had gone against him, he took with him seven hundred swordsmen to break through to the king of Edom, but they failed. 27 Then he took his firstborn son, who was to succeed him as king, and offered him as a sacrifice on the city wall. The fury against Israel was great; they withdrew and returned to their own land.

The Widow’s Olive Oil

4 The wife of a man from the company of the prophets cried out to Elisha, “Your servant my husband is dead, and you know that he revered the Lord. But now his creditor is coming to take my two boys as his slaves.”

2 Elisha replied to her, “How can I help you? Tell me, what do you have in your house?”

“Your servant has nothing there at all,” she said, “except a small jar of olive oil.”

3 Elisha said, “Go around and ask all your neighbours for empty jars. Don’t ask for just a few. 4 Then go inside and shut the door behind you and your sons. Pour oil into all the jars, and as each is filled, put it to one side.”

5 She left him and shut the door behind her and her sons. They brought the jars to her and she kept pouring. 6 When all the jars were full, she said to her son, “Bring me another one.”

But he replied, “There is not a jar left.” Then the oil stopped flowing.

7 She went and told the man of God, and he said, “Go, sell the oil and pay your debts. You and your sons can live on what is left.”

The Shunammite’s Son Restored to Life

8 One day Elisha went to Shunem. And a well-to-do woman was there, who urged him to stay for a meal. So whenever he came by, he stopped there to eat. 9 She said to her husband, “I know that this man who often comes our way is a holy man of God. 10 Let’s make a small room on the roof and put in it a bed and a table, a chair and a lamp for him. Then he can stay there whenever he comes to us.”

11 One day when Elisha came, he went up to his room and lay down there. 12 He said to his servant Gehazi, “Call the Shunammite.” So he called her, and she stood before him. 13 Elisha said to him, “Tell her, ‘You have gone to all this trouble for us. Now what can be done for you? Can we speak on your behalf to the king or the commander of the army?’”

She replied, “I have a home among my own people.”

14 “What can be done for her?” Elisha asked.

Gehazi said, “She has no son, and her husband is old.”

15 Then Elisha said, “Call her.” So he called her, and she stood in the doorway. 16 “About this time next year,” Elisha said, “you will hold a son in your arms.”

“No, my lord!” she objected. “Please, man of God, don’t mislead your servant!”

17 But the woman became pregnant, and the next year about that same time she gave birth to a son, just as Elisha had told her.

18 The child grew, and one day he went out to his father, who was with the reapers. 19 He said to his father, “My head! My head!”

His father told a servant, “Carry him to his mother.” 20 After the servant had lifted him up and carried him to his mother, the boy sat on her lap until noon, and then he died. 21 She went up and laid him on the bed of the man of God, then shut the door and went out.

22 She called her husband and said, “Please send me one of the servants and a donkey so I can go to the man of God quickly and return.”

23 “Why go to him today?” he asked. “It’s not the New Moon or the Sabbath.”

“That’s all right,” she said.

24 She saddled the donkey and said to her servant, “Lead on; don’t slow down for me unless I tell you.” 25 So she set out and came to the man of God at Mount Carmel.

When he saw her in the distance, the man of God said to his servant Gehazi, “Look! There’s the Shunammite! 26 Run to meet her and ask her, ‘Are you all right? Is your husband all right? Is your child all right?’”

“Everything is all right,” she said.

27 When she reached the man of God at the mountain, she took hold of his feet. Gehazi came over to push her away, but the man of God said, “Leave her alone! She is in bitter distress, but the Lord has hidden it from me and has not told me why.”

28 “Did I ask you for a son, my lord?” she said. “Didn’t I tell you, ‘Don’t raise my hopes’?”

29 Elisha said to Gehazi, “Tuck your cloak into your belt, take my staff in your hand and run. Don’t greet anyone you meet, and if anyone greets you, do not answer. Lay my staff on the boy’s face.”

30 But the child’s mother said, “As surely as the Lord lives and as you live, I will not leave you.” So he got up and followed her.

31 Gehazi went on ahead and laid the staff on the boy’s face, but there was no sound or response. So Gehazi went back to meet Elisha and told him, “The boy has not awakened.”

32 When Elisha reached the house, there was the boy lying dead on his couch. 33 He went in, shut the door on the two of them and prayed to the Lord. 34 Then he got on the bed and lay on the boy, mouth to mouth, eyes to eyes, hands to hands. As he stretched himself out on him, the boy’s body grew warm. 35 Elisha turned away and walked back and forth in the room and then got on the bed and stretched out on him once more. The boy sneezed seven times and opened his eyes.

36 Elisha summoned Gehazi and said, “Call the Shunammite.” And he did. When she came, he said, “Take your son.” 37 She came in, fell at his feet and bowed to the ground. Then she took her son and went out.


Compassion and prayer

We see in this passage why the image of the shepherd was such a popular one in the Bible – there were lots of sheep around. ‘Mesha king of Moab raised sheep, and he had to supply the king of Israel with a hundred thousand lambs and with the wool of a hundred thousand rams’ (3:4).

The events we read of took place in the ninth century BC. Joram reigned from 852 to 841 BC. Alongside the wars there were clearly domestic problems and injustices within Israel. We see an example in the way the widow and her sons were about to be taken as slaves (4:1).

Into this situation, Elisha comes to the rescue. Like a good shepherd, he loves and cares for the people. He says, ‘How can I help you?’ (v.2). He rescues this widow from the terrible curse of excessive debt and the potential slavery that was about to result from it.

6. Compassion

Next, Elisha, this ‘holy man of God’ (v.9) has compassion for the Shunammite woman who had been unable to conceive. She discovered that God honours those who provide hospitality. He speaks the word of the Lord to her and as a result, she conceives (vv.15–17).

7. Prayer

When her son dies, he prays to the Lord (v.33). He gives him a form of supernatural mouth-to-mouth resuscitation and he revives and sneezes seven times (vv.34–35).


Lord, give us that same compassion for your people – especially for the marginalised, the poor and the suffering. Help us to bring your love and your healing. Help us to be more like Jesus, ‘the good shepherd’ (John 10:11), who loves his flock and is willing to lay down his life for them.

Pippa adds

In 2 Kings 4:32 we see that God answers a heartfelt and, desperate cry.

Verse of the Day

psalm 78:72

And David shepherded them with integrity of heart;
  with skilful hands he led them.



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Jonathan Lamb, Integrity (IVP, 2006).

Unless otherwise stated, Scripture quotations taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version Anglicised, Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 Biblica, formerly International Bible Society. Used by permission of Hodder & Stoughton Publishers, an Hachette UK company. All rights reserved. ‘NIV’ is a registered trademark of Biblica. UK trademark number 1448790.

Scripture marked (MSG) taken from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.

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