Leadership & The Imago Dei Part II

Written by Victor Stanley Jr.



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.


Governing of People & Nations

While initially the mandate to rule was played out in Adam and Eve’s governance over the Garden, and later their family, as time went on families grew and villages were formed. Those villages gave way to towns, towns to cities, cities to nations, and nations to empires. This required systems of government to be put in place to oversee people and institutions existing at each of these various levels of society. Tracing this development is beyond the scope of this paper, however, several passages of scripture give insight into God’s view of government and what man’s attitude should be concerning government. Both of these play into roles of the leader and the follower.


In Exodus 18:13-27 Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law advises Moses to set up judges over the people. He tells him to put in place “…chiefs of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties, and of tens” (Exodus 18:21). In Exodus 28 God establishes the priesthood through the line of Levi and his descendant Aaron. What is important here is that Moses, through the chiefs he put in place, and Aaron through the Levitical priesthood both, through God’s guidance and directives, established systems to govern the people in judicial and spiritual capacities.[5] In this instance government is clearly seen as being derived from God, and thus the men in leadership are clearly required to live by God’s moral and ethical standards.

Civil Government

When it comes to civil governments such as the government of the United States one must recognize that even these governments are put in place by God, and ultimately answer to him. Psalm 47:8 says that “God reigns over the nations; God sits on his holy throne.” This text plainly states that God’s rule is universal, that he even reigns over those governments that are seemingly opposed to him.[6] Paul expounds on this even further in Romans 13:

“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. …Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? 4…for he is God’s servant for your good. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. …for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing.” (Romans 13:1, 3b, 4b-5, 6b)

This makes clear that God is the supreme authority, and there is no government that exists outside of God’s providence. In all of this one sees that any leader—be it in a theocracy such as Moses or an institutional system of government like the U.S.—is put in place by, and subject to the authority of, God. Likewise, those who follow any such leader must recognize this authority and that it is God who places people in positions of leadership.



[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., “The Bible & Team Leadership,” The Double Edge, accessed December 14, 2015, https://hebrews4.com/2015/12/07/teamleadership/.

[6] Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, 4th ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1949), 177.


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