Leadership & The Imago Dei Part I

Written by Victor Stanley Jr.

Introduction

What Is Leadership?

Leadership is the process whereby an individual influences a group of individuals to achieve a common goal. Leadership is often thought of as a one-time event or opportunity, but it is actually a process over time that requires implementing methodology, building structure, and fostering relationships. Leadership requires that there be a group of individuals, known as followers, being led. The role of the leader is to motivate, mobilize, and equip his or her followers towards a shared vision, and the role of the follower is to buy into and carry out the vision presented by the leader. This means honoring and submitting to the authority of the leader, as well as having the freedom to purposefully contribute to the team.

The relationship between the leader and the follower should be based on clear boundaries, trust, and value. Whether it be in the role of the leader or the follower everyone wants to be known and recognized for what they contribute, thus the relationship between the leader and the follower should be a mutual safe environment so each person can share opinions as well as challenges. The idea behind leadership is built upon empowerment and integrity throughout both the role of the follower and the leader.

Biblical Basis for Leadership

While the desire to lead is a natural inclination within man, it is an inclination put there by man’s creator. In Genesis God says to Adam and Eve:

28 And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (Gen. 1:28 ESV)[1]

Here God gives the couple three commands; build a family, subdue the earth, and rule over all creation. All three of these require that both Adam and Eve step into leadership roles in order to lead their family; to place the earth under their submission, that is to subdue it; and to rule over creation. So, it is God who instills and commands that man be a leader in order to carry out the tasks assigned to him.

The Imago Dei

In Genesis, prior to the directives given in the aforementioned passage, the Godhead resolves to create man in his own image (Gen. 1:26-27). There are several different theories on what exactly it means that man is made in the image of God, they are as follows: the substantival view that man is the only creature in creation that has a soul.[2] Second is the functional view which sees the image of God relating to what man does, in that he is given authority over creation.[3] Third is the relational view, which states that “the imago Dei means that humans, like God, are essentially beings who exist in relationship.”[4] Next is the teleological view that sees the image of God as being tied to man’s ultimate destiny and purpose of being completely conformed to the image of God via Christ.

Finally, there is the royal view which holds that the image of God is actually a combination of all these views. Like the substantival view it sees man as having the mark of the divine; like the functional view it believes that man is commissioned to rule; with regard to the relational and teleological view it holds that the sonship of the believer through adoption solidifies mankind’s relationship with God, and is her ultimate purpose, namely to be co-heirs with Christ, and thus children of God.

It is this final view, the royal view, that will serve as the impetus for the exposition that follows. Because the royal view encompasses elements from each of the other views, it provides the most comprehensive look into what the imago Dei really means, and thus helps to give a more accurate understanding of how this doctrine relates to leadership. Many secular theories on leadership understandably ignore the implications of the doctrine of the imago Dei within the context of leadership.

One book that delineates the philosophy and practice of leadership in the secular world is the national bestseller The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene. As the title suggests it is a book on how to rule through the means of power and manipulation, with the idea of power being a very common virtue among secular leadership philosophies as far back as Machiavelli’s The Prince. While secular theories promote the obtaining of power by any means necessary in order to lead, scripture teaches that man’s dominion over creation, his governmental powers, and his mandate to lead in ministry, at work, and at home are all derived from God and his command to rule.

Created to Rule

As shown in Genesis 1 man is set above all creation, and is made to have dominion over all creation. With dominion comes the idea of leadership, and if man is created to rule in the grand sense of the word, then he is created to lead in the modest sense of the word. And so, it becomes clear that God has set mankind to not only rule over the natural world, but also over each other in the form of government, as well as being leaders in ministry, their jobs, and at home.

Dominion Over Creation

While the term ‘creation’ can, in the broad sense, mean both nature, including animals, and mankind, this section is concerned with the former. Psalm 8 reemphasizes God’s words in Genesis 1 when King David says this concerning man:

5Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. 6You have given him dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet, 7all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, 8the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the seas.” (Psalm 8:5-8)

As King David points out God has charged man to look after the works of God’s own hand. This means that although man is set up as a ruler over creation, he rules only as a steward, and only with authority vested in him by the one who has all authority.

Psalms 104 speaks of the glory and splendor of the Lord, as well as the fact that he makes provision and cares for every creature on Earth. In Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount he instructs the people not to be anxious or worry excessively about their well being. Jesus drives the point home by saying, “Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” (Matt. 6:26). God is deeply concerned with his creation, and in his immanence he provides for and sustains his creation.[5]

This passage presents a very intriguing truth that really sets up a foundation for leadership. Jesus makes the point that even though animals—and in the subsequent verses he speaks about God’s care for plants as well—are lower than mankind God has a deep care and concern for them, a concern that is even greater when it comes to mankind.

In considering these things, any who would step into the leadership role must recognize that the initial charge to rule comes from God, and that it carries with it the command to look after the lower things in creation with great care. And if such solicitude is to be given to plants and animals, then, as Jesus himself said of the Father, much more consideration should be given to those persons under the leadership of an individual. Furthermore, those under the leader must hold said leader accountable to such a standard of nurture and care as presented in these passages.

 


 

[1] Unless otherwise noted all scripture references come from the English Standard Version of the Bible.

[2] Gregory A. Boyd and Paul R. Eddy, Across The Spectrum: Understanding Issues in Evangelical Theology, 2nd ed (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2009), 99.

 [3] Ibid, 103.

[4] Ibid, 106.

[5] Victor Stanley Jr., “Saving Jaguars,” The Double Edge, accessed December 14, 2015, https://hebrews4.com/2014/10/28/jaguars/.

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