Christian Living

Three Main Leadership Styles

Be Open to How God Wants to Lead Us

A minister once told me there are three ways to lead people. Some lead from above, others lead from the front, and still more lead from within. God can lead us in the same way. Consider these three leadership styles.

Lead From Above

Leaders who lead from above are a distance from those they lead. They give direction and expect people to follow through and do as they say. They lead through their words. Some do this positively and with encouragement. Others make demands and issue threats.

Rulers of kingdoms and CEOs of companies use this leadership style. For kings and queens, their position allows it. For corporate presidents, the scope of their company requires it. In churches, the sermon during the Sunday morning service is an example of a pastor leading from above.

Father God also leads from above. A prime example is Exodus 19:9 when God wanted to speak directly to the people. Though it’s not his fault, this didn’t work out.

The thought of God speaking to them so terrified them that they begged Moses to act as their intermediary (Exodus 20:19). Even so, God did lead from above, albeit through a liaison—as he did throughout the Old Testament timeline.

Today God continues to lead from above through the Bible.

Lead From the Front

Other leaders do so in front of their people. They want to be closer to their charges. They lead by example, and their people follow them.

This leadership style works well in smaller organizations (though some leaders will still choose to lead from above, keeping a distance between them and their employees or volunteers).

Aside from companies, teachers on a class trip lead in front of their pupils. It’s also a common way of training employees or instructing students, letting them learn by the example of their instructor.

Jesus led his disciples and admirers from the front. They followed him and watched what he did. He often urged listeners and those who sought his direction to “follow me” (Luke 9:23, as well as many other places). This was his call to action.

Though Jesus isn’t physically with us today to lead in front of us, we can still follow him as his disciples and learn about him and what he did through the Bible in the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. The Holy Spirit helps us in this (John 14:26), which brings us to the final leadership style.

Lead From Within

The third leadership style is to lead from within. These leaders don’t position themselves over the group, keeping a distance from them. They also don’t lead from the front, expecting people to follow. Instead, they immerse themselves into the group and lead from within the midst of it.

Though the distinction between leading from the front and leading from within often blurs, with leaders migrating between the two techniques, usually one predominates.

Leading from within often occurs in business startups and service organizations. In these cases, leaders work side-by-side with their employees or volunteers. They teach and encourage as they work.

The Holy Spirit leads from within. We see this exemplified in a literal sense when the church works to settle the controversy about the need for circumcision. Their conclusion was a group consensus in which the Holy Spirit played a key role (Acts 15:28).

The Holy Spirit also leads from within in a figurative sense, from within us. We see this later in the book of Acts when the Holy Spirit keeps Paul from preaching in Asia (Acts 16:6).

God’s Leadership Styles

Just as people can have three leadership styles: leading from above, leading from the front, and leading from within, so does God. Though these overlap, we see God the Father leading from above, God the Son leading from the front, and God the Spirit leading from within.

May we embrace all three of God’s leadership styles and learn from the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices.

Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

Bogged Down Reading the Bible?

10 Essential Bible Reading Tips, from Peter DeHaan

Get the Bible Reading Tip Sheet: “10 Tips to Turn Bible Reading from Drudgery to Delight.”

​Enter your info and receive the free Bible Reading Tip Sheet and be added to Peter’s email list.