Blogs,  Vic Stanley

Leadership & The Imago Dei Part III

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.


As the scope of leadership is narrowed down from ruling over creation to governing nations it reaches its focus on practical leadership in ministry, at work, and in the home. In these three settings one can see differing aspects of the imago Dei as interpreted through the royal view. In ministry as a child of God and a shepherd like Christ tending the flock of his father. At work as an authority figure holding to a standard of morality and ethics. Finally, in the home as a father guiding his family and instilling biblical principles and holy living, or as a mother submitting to and empowering her husband as Christ likewise submits to the father and empowers the believer through the Spirit. And both father and mother raising up their children to serve God as well.

In Ministry

Pope Gregory the Great wrote the following words in 590AD in his book The Pastoral Rule, a pastoral treatise that sets a high bar for those considering going into the ministry:

“No one presumes to teach an art that he has not first mastered through study. How foolish it is therefore for the inexperienced to assume pastoral authority when the care of souls is the art of arts… And yet, how often do they who are completely ignorant of spiritual precepts profess themselves physicians of the heart, while anyone who is ignorant of the power of medicine is too embarrassed to be seen as a physician of the body”[5]

To step in pastoral leadership is to place oneself in a position of not only high authority, but also of great responsibility and accountability. Two things stand out as being of utmost importance with regard to leadership in ministry: holy living, and recognizing the intrinsic value of people. The former, holy living, recognizes that because man is made in God’s image, and God is holy, then man must strive for holiness as well; of course holy living is achieved through the empowering of the Holy Spirit.

The second thing, the intrinsic value of man, is a recognition that because man is made in God’s image, and as the royal view states, sonship is an aspect of that image, then man has inherent value and worth given him by his creator.

Holy Living

Pope Gregory emphatically makes clear that no one should enter a position of leadership in ministry if their life does not reflect scripture; they trample the word they teach by their unholy living.[6] In the Pastoral Epistles—1 & 2 Timothy and Titus—Paul gives specific qualifications for those who seek to be leaders in the church. These qualifications include several key qualities: the leader should be innocent of wrongdoing, have a good reputation, and be respectful and kind in the eyes of believers, as well as of the unbelieving world.[7]

Because God is holy and man is made in his image, then the leader must strive for holiness in his or her life, and through this holy living set an example for those that follow. If the leader seeks to, and does, live holy it sets a standard to which both he and his followers can be held accountable.

Intrinsic Value of Man 

Graeme Goldsworthy says this about the image of God:

The Bible presents man as having a special dignity before God. The image of God is one way of referring to this… The image of God in man, then, shows that it belongs to the dignity of man to be next to God in the order of things… humanity is the special focus of this care.”[8]

As pointed out earlier in Matthew 6:26, God places a high value on humanity. In fact he values humanity so much that he sent the Son, his son, to die in order that through him humanity might be saved.[9] Thus a leader in any capacity, but especially in ministry, must recognize that those under her leadership should be viewed as precious.

Ezekiel 34 paints a picture of the wicked and unfaithful shepherds over Israel. These shepherds misled the people and took advantage of them. They allowed the “sheep” to remain weak, lost, sick, and desolate, only taking care of themselves and gaining off of the spiritual destruction of the children of Israel. In John 10 Jesus says that the shepherds who came before him were thieves who came only to kill and destroy, these shepherds Jesus speaks of in John 10 abandoned the sheep and left them to be devoured by wolves; the shepherds over Israel are said to do the same thing in verse 5 of Ezekiel 34. So both passages show the failure of those God appointed over his people.[10]

The charge to care for Christ’s people as he would care for them comes in John 21:15-17 where Jesus asks Peter three times if Peter loves him. Peter responds “yes” each time, and each time Jesus replies then feed my lambs; tend my sheep; and feed my sheep. In John 10:11 Jesus says that he lays down his life for these sheep, and in this he shows how much and how deeply he cares for his people. Christ’s love for all of humanity, and specifically for those whom he has called unto himself, is indisputable proof of the intrinsic value and worth that each person has. Law 33 in Robert Greene’s 48 Laws of Power posits the following:

“Everyone has a weakness, a gap in the castle wall. That weakness is usually an insecurity, and uncontrollable emotion or need; it can also be a small secret pleasure. Either way, once found, it is a thumbscrew you can turn to your advantage.”[11]

This belief is reminiscent of the wicked shepherds described in Ezekiel 34. This view on leadership from a secular scholar seeks to exploit and take advantage of people, ignoring their dignity and worth, and instead seeing them only as tools to be used for personal gain. A true leader must flee from this ideology and instead seek to empower and build up people as a result of recognizing their dignity and value.

At Work

The following is one of the key verses to consider when it comes to being a leader in the workplace:

“Bondservants, obey in everything those who are your earthly masters, not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. 23 Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, 24 knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ. 25 For the wrongdoer will be paid back for the wrong he has done, and there is no partiality. Masters, treat your bondservants justly and fairly, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven.” (Col. 3:22-4:1)

John MacArthur’s book Slave does a great job at exploring the master-slave relationship seen in this passage, and his thoughts on the subject provide some grounding on which those pursuing leadership roles can stand. MacArthur makes the point that Jesus used slave language to define the reality of what it means to follow him, that it is a life of total self-denial, a humility toward others, and a complete devotion to the Master alone.[12]

From the passage in Colossians and MacArthur’s assessment it can be gathered that when it comes to working, in whatever capacity that may be, one must work with a fervent desire to please those to whom he or she answers. In the same way those in leadership must recognize that even though they are in positions of authority they too have one whom is greater than they. John Calvin puts it this way:

“But as masters, looking down as it were from aloft, despise the condition of servants, so that they think that they are bound by no law, Paul brings them under control,[13] because both are equally under subjection to the authority of God.”[14]

The leader must recognize that because he or she is made in the image of God and rules as God rules, he or she must also rule in a like manner as God, that is with love, compassion, fairness, and mercy. They must also look to Christ as an example, for although he was equal with God he willingly submitted to the father and led as a servant.[15] Ultimately, whether leader or follower, it must be understood that all they do, they should do unto the Lord as the Apostle made clear.


In The Home

One of the most important settings in which leadership takes place is in the home. God commands the people of Israel to teach their children his word:

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.” (Deut. 6:5-7)

He admonishes men to lead their households, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4). King David sees leadership in his household as an important role proclaiming to God “1I will sing of steadfast love and justice; to you, O Lord, I will make music. 2I will ponder the way that is blameless. Oh when will you come to me? I will walk with integrity of heart within my house” (Psalm 101:1–2). All of these passages emphasize the importance of leadership in the home. Even more so, they emphasize that leadership in the home must be built on the word of God.

David particularly said that he would sing of love and justice, and it is these two virtues that will be on display in his household. To show the love of God is to care for others and aid the oppressed and needy; to uphold justice, or to have good judgment, is to show fairness and stand on righteousness. It is these virtues by which David did, and everyone else should, lead his household.[16]

Parents have to see their kids as image bearers who must be taught the word of the Lord so that they may know that their whole identity is staked in Christ. Men must recognize that their wives are to be loved and treated as Christ loves and treats the Church, for the Church is the body of Christ, and likewise wives are one with their husbands, and no one would abuse his own body.[17] Thus when it becomes clear that all members of the home are bearers of the image of God the leader of the home has the duty of helping and guiding them in living out the holiness and righteousness required by God.


All of humanity was created in God’s image, and as a result bears the mark of the divine. Man was created by God and given the mandate to rule over all of creation. As civilizations were formed mankind established governments to rule over nations. As societies grew and became more ordered institutions such as churches, ministry organization, business, and corporations were formed, and all these require leaders to guide their course.  Ultimately leadership begins in the home where values, ethics, and morals are instilled through teaching, discipline, and holy living.

Pope Gregory the Great has a poignant statement that capture the idea behind a leader, specifically a Christian leader:

“For as I remember to have said in my book on the Morals of Job, it is clear that nature bore all men as equals, but through the variation of merit, sin subordinates some to others. But this very diversity, which is entered upon through vice, is then dispensed by the divine judgment, so that some are directed by others, since not all can stand equally. Therefore, those who preside over others should consider not their rank, but the equality of their condition. Moreover, they should revel not in ruling over others but in helping them. For indeed, our ancient fathers are not remembered because they were rulers of men, but because they were shepherds of flocks.”[18] (my emphasis)

Mankind, every single man, women, and child, bears the image of God. Because they bear God’s image leaders have to keep in mind their inherent value and worth; they must lead with the love and care that God displays; and they must seek to empower and build other up, not tear them down.



[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] Pope Gregory I, The Book of Pastoral Rule, ed. John Behr, trans. George E. Demacopulous, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press “Popular Patristics” Series, no. 34 (Crestwood, N.Y.: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2007), 29.

[6] Ibid, 31.

[7] John Peter Lange, Philip Schaff, and J. J. van Oosterzee, A Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: 1 & 2 Timothy, ed. E. A. Washburn and E. Translators Harwood (Logos Bible Software, 2008), 37.

[8] Graeme Goldsworthy, According to Plan: The Unfolding Revelation of God in the Bible (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2002), 96.

 [9] John 3:17.

 [10] Victor Stanley Jr., “Christian Leadership: The Good Shepherd,” The Double Edge, accessed December 14, 2015,

[11] Robert Greene and Joost Elffers, The 48 Laws of Power (New York: Penguin Books, 2000), 271.

[12] John MacArthur, Slave: The Hidden Truth about Your Identity in Christ (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2010), 43.

 [13] The Commentary includes this note : “Et rabbaisse leur presomption;”—“And beats down their presumption.”

 [14] John Calvin and John Pringle, Commentaries on the Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians (Logos Bible Software, 2010), .

 [15] Philippians 2:5–8.

[16] Joel R. Beeke and Mark Jones, A Puritan Theology: Doctrine for Life (Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 2012).

[17] Ephesians 5:22–33

[18] Pope Gregory I, The Book of Pastoral Rule.

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