To lead people effectively, a leader needs to understand how the gospel should inform their leadership. A primary element of such leadership involves listening to where a person is and communicating where Jesus wants them to go in a gracious yet challenging way. Leaders listen and speak. A biblical leader helps people process through the appetites and affections of their hearts, provides doctrinal and biblical content, and gives tangible steps of forward obedience. As this happens, the leader takes on three roles: teacher, shepherd, and coach. They instruct in doctrine, help shape character, and offer practical wisdom regarding action.
Equipping the Whole Person
Those three roles (teacher, shepherd, coach) function to equip the whole person—the head, heart, and hands. Biblical leadership, in contrast to other leadership forms, never contents itself with attention on a singular area. Rather, it seeks to faithfully lead people in all human faculties because the gospel brings about the full restoration of man.
Biblical leaders who accept this reality ultimately adopt specific roles at specific times. The biblical leader acts as a teacher in communicating the truths of God’s Word to the mind, a shepherd in illuminating the affections and emotions of the heart, and a coach in providing practical steps of greater obedience to Jesus. Ephesians 3:14-20 offers a glimpse of this transformative kind of leadership. The Apostle Paul says:
For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. (Ephesians 3:14-20 ESV, emphasis added)
At the heart of this beautiful prayer lies Paul’s desire for the Ephesian church to be rooted in the Trinitarian God. He exhorts the church with language like “being strengthened in Spirit in the inner man,” Christ “dwell[ing] in your hearts through faith,” and “strength to comprehend…and know the love of Christ” so that God receives glory. Paul understands humanity is composed of several faculties, often summarized colloquially as the head, heart, and hands. Each faculty requires biblical leadership for gospel-infused change.
Instructing the Head
“Head” knowledge is rooted primarily in the intellect. Intellectual information tells people truths about who God is and who they are. This type of knowledge is primarily associated with doctrine, facts, and teaching. “Head” learners often have a love for Scripture or knowledge and are often able to affirm truths based on propositions or argumentation.
To instruct the head, leaders root their content in the Word of God because it is the only wholly sufficient and trustworthy source of truth. Paul testifies to Scripture’s sufficiency in 2 Timothy when he says, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17 ESV). Without this foundation of the Word, the head learner—and any learner—will remain incomplete and poorly equipped for any good work. The biblical leader recognizes that, so they teach the Word of God formally and speak the Word of God situationally.
Shepherding the Heart
“Heart” knowledge finds its roots primarily in the desire, will, or emotions. This type of knowledge is often associated with shepherding, character, relational care, and counseling. “Heart” learners tend to be aware of and often guided by their feelings, which can make them wonderful shepherds for the people they lead.
To shape the heart, leaders should value emotional awareness and resonance in their conversations, and value environments. Worship environments, for instance, can make heart-inclined people feel closer to God. Emotional awareness helps all learners, for most human decisions are driven by desire, not reason alone. The biblical leader also should help people to discover the motives underlying their affections and decisions. In every person dwell both both positive and negative motivations, and the task of a leader is to cultivate character and virtue like that seen in 2 Peter 1:3-9.
Coaching the Hands
“Hands” knowledge is rooted primarily in action, or tasks. This type of knowledge is most closely related to coaching, skills, and assessment. It applies head and heart knowledge into the surrounding world for the sake of gospel impact. Where head and heart learners may only feel or think about taking action, “hands” learners tend towards action and execution.
For these learners, the biblical leader should focus on equipping and accountability. Hands learners have knowledge and emotions, but they often have a bias toward action. They need a place or position where they can direct their passion and skills toward gospel impact. They also need a leader who will hold them accountable to obedience from the heart, rather than obedience born of a sense of duty. Biblical leadership of the hands often requires coaching individuals to consider motives and foundational ideas, and bringing accountability back to the Word of God and the power of the Holy Spirit.
While the three areas, head, heart, and hands, have been separated for ease of understanding, the three always work in concert. Biblical leadership recognizes that different situations demand different modes of leadership, and that obedience, affection, and intellect are intricately interwoven. Because of that, biblical leaders cannot and should not emphasize one at the cost of the other, even if they have a bent toward one particular faculty. The biblical leader values all three faculties equally and employs them as they are needed, just as Christ did throughout His earthly ministry. A constantly fatigued hands person, for example, needs to be reminded of what is true about God and work. An emotionally unavailable head person likely requires shepherding in character while a person pursuing experience after experience to feel something may need instruction in Scripture or an exhortation to committed action.
Ultimately, biblical leadership and discipleship is not meeting once a week over breakfast for Bible study. It is the continual and personal pointing of people toward Christ in a variety of contexts, situations, and locales with the hope of seeing them become more like Jesus over time. It involves teaching the mind, shepherding the heart, and coaching the hands so that God gets the glory and people who do not yet believe in Him desire to know Him.