Summary: The role of Christian leaders is to attract the church to Christ.

Title: The Leader’s Portrait

Text: I Corinthians 4:1-5

Text: The role of Christian leaders is to attract the church to Christ.

Life Question: What are the roles of Christian leaders that attract the church to Christ?


John Woolman was a Quaker who grew up in Pennsylvania in the early eighteenth century. He was a contemporary of George Washington. When he was a boy he was given to the things boys often do—in this case throwing rocks at a robin’s nest occupied by just hatched baby robins. Of course, the mother robin was protective, and young John nailed her with a rock. She fell to the ground dead. Woolman wrote later in his journal, “At first I was pleased with the exploit, but after a few minutes was seized with the horror at having, in a sportive way, killed an innocent creature while she was careful for her young.” That moment was a turning point in his life.

Despite this turning point he still struggled with other forms of youthful temptations, but he held firm to the Bible and the Quaker meetinghouse. In his twenties he heard the voice of God that set him on a path of servant leadership. The voice also set him on the course of anti-slavery.

An opportunity soon came. His employer owned a black slave woman and sold her. The employer asked John to write a bill of sale. He obeyed, but it was an incident which would set him on a course of turning the Society of Friends (Quakers) into an anti-slavery movement. It is a common misunderstanding that Quakers were opposed to slavery from the very beginning. They were not. Many of the affluent Quakers owned slaves. For the next three decades—until the time of his death at fifty-two—Woolman devoted his life to anti-slavery activities.

Unlike many abolitionists, Woolman was no firebrand. He was gentle and persistent. He was not a strong man physically, but he accomplished his mission by journeys up and down the East Coast by foot or horseback visiting slaveholders. His approach was not to censure but to raise questions. What does the owning of slaves do to you as a moral person? What kind of an institution are you building to give over to your children? Person by person, inch by inch, by persistently returning and revisiting and pressing his gentle arguments over a period of thirty years, the scourge of slavery was eliminated from the Quakers, the first religious group in America to formally denounce and forbid slavery among its members.

In addition to his personal conversations, Woolman wrote essays and spoke at meetinghouses. He spoke at the yearly meeting of the Friends. Though his primary focus was on slavery, he was also concerned over the treatment of Native American Indians and other humanitarian causes.

John Woolman is one of those remarkable and influential persons of American history we never hear about. He is a role model of Christian servant leadership—a man of self-sacrifice, sensitivity, and perseverance. Paul was this kind of leader, too.

The fundamental issue in I Corinthians is that salvation in Christ is to be manifested in a believer’s behavior. The Corinthians were destroying their church because they had a misunderstanding of what it meant to be a spiritual Christian. The first major problem Paul confronts is a division in the church over their favorite leader. It was not the quarrel that was the big problem. The problem was the division was rooted in false theology and doctrine. They did not understand the nature or the fundamental characteristics of Christian leadership.

The central focus of the church is Christ and the message of the cross. God gives churches different leaders with different gifts. Maybe one is a gifted speaker and another is a gifted administrator. One leader may be an extrovert and the other an introvert. One is not better than the other. The differences in leaders are intended to point the church to Christ and His message.

The Corinthians got it backwards and, instead, focused on the particular gifts and personalities of Christian leaders. It was a subtle way of exalting self. “I’m a follower of Paul. He is so intellectual.” (Implying I am intellectual.) “I’m a follower of Peter; he is so passionate for Christ. I’m follower of Apollos; he is so sophisticated and polished in his presentation. I’m a follower of Christ because I am so spiritual.” Paul corrects them: our life and our church are not about us but about Christ.

The conflict in the Church is caused by an incorrect understanding of the nature of Christian leadership. We need to understand the nature of Christian leadership because all of us are placed in some role of leadership. Fathers, mothers, preachers, deacons, and many other examples of leadership need to understand Christian leadership. Though I am talking about deacon leadership in our church, these principles apply to everyone in exercising your Christian influence over others. The role of Christian leaders is to attract the church to Christ.

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