Are Leaders Born or Made?

From Paraklesis, a resource of Baptist Bible Seminary (Spring, 2013). Used by permission.

All of us have witnessed those who seem to be “born leaders.” They appear to be naturally gifted to go in front and forge the way for others. Taking a group of people to a necessary and better destination seems easy for them.

They always seem to do well in leading. Some of us who aspire to lead and for whom things have not come so easily have looked at such people with a little bit of jealousy.

Three approaches to training leaders

Is there any hope for the rest of us? Is it possible for those who are not naturally gifted in leadership to be taught how to be leaders?

The first suggested answer is that not everyone can be a leader. Under this belief, no training would be necessary. All that is needed is for the circumstances to supply a need for the inherent leadership qualities of an individual to blossom. One example might be President Abraham Lincoln, whose great leadership presented itself to history because of the occasion of the American Civil War.

A second and opposite answer is that every person can be a leader if trained properly.1 Christian common sense would imply some measure of truth to this line of thinking. Every father needs to learn to lead his family. Every mother needs to learn to lead her children. We can all do more than we think we can. The Bible certainly gives us teaching to help us improve in how we do these kinds of actions that are required of us.

A third (and middle) answer proposes that some people are really designed as followers while others are designed to lead. The latter have the makeup of potential leaders and will lead naturally or develop into leaders with training.

How leaders are made

The last two answers direct us to the likely fact that training is necessary to develop leadership. The answer to the question of whether leaders are born or made, however, is largely irrelevant if we as Christians cannot establish how leaders are to be trained if such training is possible.

Where do Christians go to find the educational materials to help in training men to be leaders?

Believers will normally go to the Bible. Since it is God who has designed the idea of leadership, His declarations would be paramount. In the Old Testament, the example of Nehemiah is often pointed out.2 In the New Testament, we quite naturally emphasize Jesus in the Gospels as He trained His disciples for their future apostolic ministry.3

To help us with the example of Jesus we sometimes go to classic works like A. B. Bruce’s The Training of the Twelve.

In addition to the Bible, Christians sometimes go to extra-biblical “leadership literature” which yields the sociology or psychology of leadership. Here we study leadership principles in the field of business,4 observations from great battlefield generals like Robert E. Lee and U. S. Grant,5 organizational leadership principles,6 or applications of such principles to Christian ministry.7

Some pastors hesitate to receive such teachings into their thinking. It is certainly wise for church leaders to be cautious in this matter. Not everything that is taught in the secular world about leadership can be harmonized with biblical truth. However, there are some elements of leadership development found in leadership literature that can be validated by biblical teaching.

This is not an integrationist model where such teachings stand on equal footing with the Bible. Only the Bible is authoritative. However, the Bible serves as a filter for all truth claims from outside the Bible.

Leadership principles originating from outside the biblical text must be evaluated by the Word of God before they are allowed into a Christian worldview. In my own experience, I have found many leadership principles to be a help and not a hindrance to Christian practice.

Seminary leadership training

Seminaries think about leadership training now more than they did 40 years ago. Baptist Bible Seminary is no exception.

Even though some leaders appear to be born leaders, we accept the idea that leaders can be made. Therefore, as a trainer of future church leaders, we accept the challenge to make leadership development an important element of all our degree programs. We owe that much to the local churches and other ministries who receive the men whom we have trained.

BBS’ Master of Ministry and Master of Divinity degree programs both require students to take a course in pastoral and biblical leadership. Other courses for ministry training, such as “Training Others in Evangelism,” help students to come to the place where they can lead others in doing the intended and important work of the Great Commission.

Our Master of Arts in Biblical Apologetics requires a course in developing leadership strategies for local churches and other ministries. Even the Ph.D. program requires students to have prior studies in leadership or mandates they take coursework to make sure they wrestle with the idea of leadership, something their own future students will confront either in seminary or in the church.

Perhaps the place where leadership is highlighted the most in the BBS curriculum is the D.Min. degree, which is devoted to advanced training in pastoral and ministry leadership with biblical support. Such a focus on leadership shows BBS values leadership training and believes most men can improve their leadership skills within the confines of a biblical worldview.

The first time I became a pastor, after having obtained two seminary degrees from other seminaries, I discovered that in my educational training I only received part of what I needed. I was “riding the bronco” of a difficult church. I knew the Bible well and how to preach well (although I was far from perfect). What I struggled with most was bringing the people together to carry out the Great Commission. I started attending seminars to make up the lack from my seminary training.

At BBS, we believe pastors should not have to go to seminars to make up for what they did not get from us. It is our goal that we do not fail in helping the students God gives us to be men that can lead in the church.


1 Michael J. Farlow, Leaders are Made Not Born (St. Louis: Linked Up Publishing, 2012).

2 One must be cautious here. Leadership is not the major idea of the book of Nehemiah. However, along the way observations on how Nehemiah led the rebuilding of Jerusalem harmonize well with many things taught in extra-biblical leadership literature.

3 Ken Blanchard and Phil Hodges, Lead Like Jesus (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2008).

4 Jim Collins, Good to Great (New York: HarperBusiness, 2001).

5 Bill Holton, Leadership Lessons of Robert E. Lee (New York: Gramercy, 1999).

6 James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner, The Leadership Challenge, 4th ed. (Jossey-Bass, 2008).

7 Aubrey Malphurs, Values-Driven Leadership (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2004).

Mike Stallard Bio

Dr. Michael Stallard is the Dean of Baptist Bible Seminary and Director of Ph.D. Studies. As a professor of systematic Theology, his main areas of teaching are dispensational premillennialism, ecclesiology, Baptist distinctives, apologetics, and theological method. He is the author of two books and numerous articles and served as a pastor for several years.

679 reads
2426 reads

There is 1 Comment

WilliamD's picture

I knew the Bible well and how to preach well (although I was far from perfect). What I struggled with most was bringing the people together to carry out the Great Commission. I started attending seminars to make up the lack from my seminary training.


This is a real problem. For me it was worse, because I went to a sub-par Bible College where I didn't learn preaching or theology well. I had to do a lot of catching up as I pastored. By the time I got that down, the bronco kicked me off. 

The best training I received about leading people to carry out the Great Commission was at Soma School in Tacoma WA 

These are the only guys I know of that are really getting it done without programs, high financial overhead and the traditional trappings of the modern church such as seeker sensitive church growth. 

Help keep SI’s server humming. A few bucks makes a difference.