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Leadership Quotes

These leadership quotes are from all of Christian history, though as usual, they emphasize the first couple centuries after the apostles.

These quotes concern everything that has to do with church government and leadership, including ecclesiastical offices and ordination.


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Ignatius of Antioch, AD 110

Let no one deceive himself: if anyone is not within the altar, he is deprived of the bread of God. For if the prayer of one or two possesses such power [Matt. 18:19], how much more that of the bishop and the whole Church! He, therefore, that does not assemble with the church has, just by this, revealed his pride and condemned himself. For it is written, "God resists the proud" [Prov. 3:34]. Let us be careful, then, not to set ourselves in opposition to the bishop, in order that we may be subject to God. (Letter to the Ephesians 5)

Let no one deceive himself. If anyone is not within the altar, he is deprived of the bread of God. For if the prayer of one or two possesses such power, how much more that of the bishop and the whole church! He, therefore, that does not assemble with the church, has even by this revealed his pride and condemned himself. (Letter to the Ephesians 5)

(to Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna) Pray for all men that they may be saved and demand things which are befitting, with all diligence both of the flesh and the spirit … Bear the infirmities of all men as a perfect athlete, for where the labor is great, the gain is also great. If you love the good disciples only, you have no grace. Rather, subdue those that are evil by gentleness. (Letter to Polycarp 1 & 2)

Ignatius' Leadership Quotes

I believe Ignatius is easily misunderstood on the subject of church leadership, so I have made a page thoroughly addressing his treatment of the subject.

Ignatius does advocate a strong adherence to church leaders. However, this is a response to the fact that his churches were not adhering to the bishop and elders and thus gnosticism was running rampant and finding a home in the church, corrupting even some church leaders.

Thus these leadership quotes from Ignatius are not evidence that the late 1st and early 2nd century churches had a strong hierarchy. These leadership quotes are evidence that they did not have a strong hierarchy, and Ignatius was trying to institute one to solve a problem.

It is well to reverence both God and the bishop. He who honors the bishop has been honored by God. He who does anything without the knowledge of the bishop, serves the devil. (Letter to the Smyrneans 9)

Since you are subject to the bishop as to Jesus Christ, you appear to me to live not after the ways of men, but according to Jesus Christ, who died for us in order that by believing in his death, you might escape from death. It is therefore necessary that—as you are doing—without the bishop you do nothing. You should also be subject to the elders, as to the apostle of Jesus Christ, who is our hope. In him, if we live, we shall be found. (Letter to the Trallians 2)

Let everyone reverence the deacons as the commandment of Jesus Christ, the bishop as Jesus Christ, who is the Son of the Father, and the elders as the sanhedrin of God and assembly of the apostles. Apart from these, there is no Church. (Letter to the Trallians 3)

Take heed ... to have but one Eucharist. For there is on flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ and one cup to show forth the unity of his blood; one altar, as there is one bishop, along with the elders and deacons, my fellow-servants. (Letter to the Philadelphians 4)

Let that be deemed a proper Eucharist which is by the bishop or by one to whom he has entrusted it. Wherever the bishop shall appear, let the multitude of also be, just as wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the catholic [i.e., universal] church. It is not lawful either to baptize or to celebrate a love feast without the bishop, but whatever he approves of, that is also pleasing to God. (Letter to the Smyrneans 8)

The Didache, AD 80 - 160

My child, night and day remember him who speaks the word of God to you, and you shall honor him as the Lord. For in the place in which lordly rule is uttered, there is the Lord. (ch. 4)

Irenaeus, AD 180-186

Those …; and who do not place the fear of God supreme in their hearts, but conduct themselves with contempt towards others; and who are puffed up with the pride of holding the chief seat and work evil deeds in secret, saying, "No man sees us"—these shall be convicted by the Word, who does not judge after outward appearance, nor does he look upon the face, but the heart. (Against Heresies, IV:26:3

Tertullian, c. AD 200

The tried men of our elders preside over us, obtaining that honor not by purchase, but by established character. (Prescription Against Heretics 39)

I must not omit an account of the conduct of the heretics—how frivolous it is, how worldly, how merely human; without seriousness, without authority,  without discipline, as suits their creed.

   To begin with, it is doubtful who is a catechumen [someone being taught but not yet a baptized Christian] and who a believer. They all have equal access, they all hear as equals, they pray as equals; even heathens, if someone like that happens along.

   That which is holy they will cast to the dogs, and their pearls—although they are not real ones—they will fling to the swine. (Prescription Against Heretics 41)

Hippolytus, c. AD 215

When one ordains a deacon, he is chosen according to what has been said above, with only the bishop laying on his hand in the same manner. In the ordination of a deacon, only the bishop lays on his hand, because the deacon is not ordained to the priesthood, but to the service of the bishop, to do that which he commands. For he is not part of the council of the clergy, but acts as a manager, and reports to the bishop what is necessary. He does not receive the spirit common to the elders, which the elders share, but that which is entrusted to him under the bishop's authority. This is why only the bishop makes a deacon. Upon the elders, the other elders place their hands because of a common spirit and similar duty. Indeed, the elder has only the authority to receive this, but he has no authority to give it. Therefore he does not ordain to the clergy. Upon the ordination of the elder he seals; the bishop ordains. (Apostolic Tradition 8:1-8)

Christian Leadership Quotes from Cyprian, c. AD 250

Cyprian's Leadership Quotes

Be careful to note the difference between the requirements for ordaining a bishop and the requirements for ordaining an elder in Cyprian's leadership quotes.

Otherwise, Cyprian will seem to be contradicting himself.

Only the appointment of a bishop required the attendance and approval of surrounding bishops. Elders could be approved by the congregation alone.

...I also, upon whom falls the charge of knowing all of them thoroughly, might promote any that were worthy and humble and meek to the offices of the ecclesiastical administration ... (Epistles of Cyprian, Epistle 37, par. 1)

Nor let the people flatter themselves that they can be free from the contagion of sin, while communicating with an elder who is a sinner, and yielding their consent to the unjust and unlawful episcopacy of their overseer … 

   On which account a people obedient to the Lord's precepts, and fearing God, ought to separate themselves from a sinful prelate, and not to associate themselves with the sacrifices of a sacrilegious priest, especially since they themselves have the power either of choosing worthy elders, or of rejecting unworthy ones. ("To the Clergy and People Abiding in Spain," par. 3, from the Epistles of Cyprian 67)

We observe to come from divine authority, that the elder should be chosen in the presence of the people under the eyes of all, and should be approved worthy and suitable by public judgment and testimony. ("To the Clergy and People Abiding in Spain," par. 4, from the Epistles of Cyprian 67)

St. Cyprian of Carthage, martyr, public domainCyprian of Carthage
Martyred AD 258
His leadership quotes tell us much about the necessity of holiness in Christian leaders

God commands an elder to be appointed in the presence of all the assembly; that is, He instructs and shows that the ordination of elders ought not to be solemnized except with the knowledge of the people standing near, that in the presence of the people either the crimes of the wicked may be disclosed, or the merits of the good may be declared, and the ordination, which shall have been examined by the vote and judgment of all, may be just and legitimate. ("To the Clergy and People Abiding in Spain," par. 4, from the Epistles of Cyprian 67)

For which reason you must diligently observe and keep the practice delivered from divine tradition and apostolic observance, which is also maintained among us, and almost throughout all the provinces; that for the proper celebration of ordinations all the neighbouring bishops of the same province should assemble with that people for which a prelate is ordained. And the bishop should be chosen in the presence of the people, who have most fully known the life of each one, and have looked into the doings of each one as respects his habitual conduct. ("To the Clergy and People Abiding in Spain," par. 5, from the Epistles of Cyprian 67)

As there are many other and grave crimes in which Basilides and Martialis are held to be implicated; such persons attempt to claim for themselves the episcopate [office of bishop] in vain; since it is evident that men of that kind may neither rule over the Church of Christ, nor ought to offer sacrifices to God … men of this sort might indeed be admitted to repentance, but were prohibited from the ordination of the clergy, and from the priestly honor. ("To the Clergy and People Abiding in Spain," par. 5, from the Epistles of Cyprian 67)

Christian Leadership Quotes from Hippolytus (d. c. AD 235)

Let the servants [deacons] and elders assemble daily at the place which the overseer [bishop] shall appoint for them. Especially do not let the servants neglect to assemble every day unless sickness prevents them. When they have all assembled they shall instruct those who are in the church. Having also prayed, let each one go about his own business. (Apostolic Tradition 33:1)

If there is a teacher there, let none of you be late in arriving at the church where they give instruction. Then it shall be given to him who speaks to utter things which are profitable to all, and you shall hear things which you do not think and you will be profited by the things which the Holy Spirit will give to you by him who instructs, and so your faith will be established by what you hear. Further, he will tell you there what you ought to do in your own house. Therefore, let each one be careful to go to the assembly to the place where the Holy Spirit abounds. (Apostolic Tradition 35:3)

Christian Leadership Quotes from Eusebius Pamphilus of Caesarea, the Historian, AD 323 - 337

But you are well aware of the fact that testimony does not in any way produce a blessing for everyone. Some who hear are glad merely to secure the supply of their bodily necessities, while others court the patronage of their superiors; some fix their affection on those who treat them with hospitable kindness; others, being honored with presents, love their benefactors in return. Few are they who really desire the word of testimony, and rare indeed it is to find a friend of truth. Because of this we must endeavor consider everyone's unique situation, and, like a physician, to administer to each one what will tend toward the health of the soul, so that the saving doctrine may be fully honored by everyone. (Life of Constantine III:21)

Jerome, d. 419-420

Under Christ's banner seek for no worldly gain, lest having more than when you first became a clergyman, you hear men say to your shame, "Their portion shall not profit them" [Jer. 12:13, LXX]. Welcome poor men and strangers to your homely board, that with them Christ may be your guest. A clergyman who engages in business, and who rises from poverty to wealth, and from obscurity to a high position, avoid as you would the plague! (Letter 52, to Nepotian, par. 5, A.D. 394)

It is the glory of a bishop to make provision for the needs of the poor; but it is the shame of all priests to amass private fortunes. (Letter 52, to Nepotian, par. 6, A.D. 394)

Read the divine Scriptures constantly; never, indeed, let the sacred volume be out of your hand. Learn what you have to teach. "Hold fast the faithful word as you have been taught that you may be able to exhort and convince the gainsayers. Continue in the things that you have learned and have been assured of, knowing of whom you have learned them;" [Tit. 1:9; 2 Tim. 3:14] and "always be ready to give an answer to everyone that asks you a reason for the hope and faith that is in you" [1 Pet. 3:15]. Do not let your deeds belie your words, lest when you speak in church, someone may mentally reply, "Why do you not practice what you profess? Here is a lover of dainties turned censor! His stomach is full, and he reads us a homily on fasting. As well might a robber accuse others of covetousness." In a priest of Christ mouth, mind, and hand should be at one.  (Letter 52, to Nepotian, par. 7, A.D. 394)

Christian Leadership Quotes from John Chrysostom, d. 420

The presbyter is the same as the bishop, and before parties had been raised up in religion by the provocations of Satan, the churches were governed by the Senate of the presbyters. But as each one sought to appropriate to himself those whom he had baptized, instead of leading them to Christ, it was appointed that one of the presbyters, elected by his colleagues, should be set over all the others, and have chief supervision over the general well-being of the community . . . Without doubt it is the duty of the presbyters to bear in mind that by the discipline of the Church they are subordinated to him who has been given them as their head, but it is fitting that the bishops, on their side, do not forget that if they are set over the presbyters, it is the result of tradition, and not by the fact of a particular institution by the Lord. (Commentary on Titus 1:7. Cited by Joseph, M. 2018. "The Apostolicity of Non-Manual Succession." Not published.)

Christian Leadership Quotes from Martin Luther, 1520 - 1546

He who attempts by the restraints of law to compel the unwilling to renunciation is no Christian preacher or ruler; he is but a worldly jailer. ("First Sunday after Epiphany" from Complete Sermons of Martin Luther, vol. IV [Grand Rapids, MI:BakerBooks, 2007] p. 11)

A teacher of the Law enforces his restraints through threats and punishments. A preacher of grace persuades and incites by calling attention to the goodness and mercy of God. The latter does not desire works prompted by an unwilling spirit or service that is not the expression of a cheerful heart. (ibid.)

He who cannot, by the gracious and lovely  message of God's mercy so lavishly bestowed upon us in Christ, be persuaded in a spirit of love and delight to contribute to the honor of God and the benefit of his neighbor, is worthless to Christianity, and all effort is lost on him. (ibid., p. 12)

[Paul] means those who have oversight of the Church officers generally; who take care that teachers be diligent, that deacons and ministers make proper and careful distribution of the finances, and that sinners are reproved and disciplined; in short, who are responsible for the proper execution of all offices. Such are the duties of a bishop. (ibid., p. 32; "Second Sunday After Epiphany")

It is the special duties of [the bishops] to be concerned about others, not themselves. … He must be attentive and diligent, even though all others be slothful and careless. Were he inattentive and unfaithful, the official duties of all the others would likewise be badly exectued. (ibid., p. 32)

Every minister should make much of his calling and impress upon others the fact that he has been delegated by God to preach the Gospel. As the ambassador of a government is honored for his office and not for his private person, so the minister of Christ should exalt his office in order to gain authority among men. This is not vain glory, but needful glorying. … Paul exalts his ministry out of the desire to make known the name, the grace, and the mercy of God. …

   We exalt our calling, not to gain glory among men, or money, or satisfaction, or favor, but because people need to be assured that the words we speak are the words of God. This is no sinful pride. It is holy pride. (Commentary on Galatians)

When Paul speaks of those called "by men," I take it he means those whom neither God nor man sent, but who go wherever they like and speak for themselves. When Paul speaks of those called "by man" I take it he means those who have a divine call extended to them through other persons. God calls in two ways. Either He calls ministers through the agency of men, or He calls them directly as He called the prophets and apostles. Paul declares that the false apostles were called or sent neither by men, nor by man. (Commentary on Galatians)

Elsewhere Paul draws a sharp distinction between an apostleship and lesser functions, as in I Corinthians 12:28: "And God hath set some in the church; first, apostles; secondarily, prophets; thirdly, teachers." He mentions the apostles first because they were appointed directly by God. (Commentary on Galatians)

On the other hand, those who have a divine call must suffer a good deal of opposition in order that they may become fortified against the running attacks of the devil and the world. This is our comfort in the ministry, that ours is a divine office to which we have been divinely called. Reversely, what an awful thing it must be for the conscience if one is not properly called. It spoils oneís best work. (Commentary on Galatians)

It is the lot of God's ministers not only to suffer opposition at the hand of a wicked world, but also to see the patient indoctrination of many years quickly undone by such religious fanatics. This hurts more than the persecution of tyrants. We are treated shabbily on the outside by tyrants, on the inside by those whom we have restored to the liberty of the Gospel, and also by false brethren. But this is our comfort and our glory, that being called of God we have the promise of everlasting life. (Commentary on Galatians)

Christian Leadership Quotes from John Calvin, 1540 - 1564

Pastors are mistaken if they imagine that they are invested with the government of the Church on any other terms than that of being ministers and witnesses of the truth of God. (On the Necessity of Reforming the Church, as cited by Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, bk. VIII, ch. 13, sec. 98)

Philip Schaff, 1893

Cyril himself was probably born, or at least brought up, near Jerusalem for it was usual to choose a bishop from among the clergy over whom he was to preside, a preference being given to such as were best-known to the people generally. (Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers. Series 2, Vol. 7. (1893). PDF. Grand Rapids, MI: Classic Christian Ethereal Library. p. 12.)

Christian Leadership Quotes from Jim Elliott, d. 1956

I have prayed for new men, fiery, reckless men, possessed of uncontrollably youthful passion-these lit by the Spirit of God. I have prayed for new words, explosive, direct, simple words. I have prayed for new miracles. Explaining old miracles will not do. If God is to be known as the God who does wonders in heaven and earth, then God must produce for this generation. Lord, fill preachers and preaching with Thy power. How long dare we go on without tears, without moral passions, hatred and love? Not long, I pray, Lord Jesus, not long ... (unknown)

 A.W. Tozer, d. 1963

It is doubtful whether God can bless a man greatly until He has hurt him deeply.

Christian Leadership Quotes from Leonard Ravenhill, (d. 1994)

We put men into pulpits because they have degrees. But you can have 32 of them and still be frozen! (unknown)

Leadership Quotes from Jim Collins, c. 2005

True leadership only exists when those who follow have the choice not to. (unknown, but he's the author of Good to Great)

Christian Leadership Quotes from Steven Furtick, 2010

If a leader doesn't walk with a little bit of a limp, he's not worth following. (Twitter)

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