Union University R.G. Lee Society of Fellows

"The Qualities of Godly Leadership"
I Corinthians 16:13-14 NIV

by Rev. Fred Ward
First Baptist Church
Huntingdon, Tennessee

Rev. Fred Ward

At the end of his letter to the Corinthians, Paul makes some personal requests and gives some final comments concerning those who would later minister to the church at Corinth. He then presents the qualities that a Godly leader should possess while leading the church.

Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be men of courage; be strong. Do everything in love. (1 Corinthians 16:13-14)

God calls leaders for the purpose of guiding the church according to His will. The great preacher and teacher R. G. Lee of Bellevue Baptist Church in Memphis said, "I gave the people leadership as I believed I got it from God, and they gave me fellowship. I used to say about my Bellevue people, I have to be careful what I ask them to do. If I ask them to jump in the river, I'll hear water splash. If I ask them to walk in the fire, I'll smell clothes burning." 1

What then are the qualities of a great leader of God?

I. Be Alert. Be on your guard. ( v.13)

A. We must watch over the flock which God has given to us.
Ephesians 6:18 says, "and pray in the spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayer and requests. With this in mind be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints..."

The reason is that we have an enemy the Bible calls the accuser of the brethren who roams about seeking whom he may devour. He is a scheming deceiver and we must understand his schemes. "For our struggle is not against flesh and blood but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of the dark world, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realm" (Ephesians 6:12).

B. We need to be alert to who our enemy really is and how we can defeat him. He is spiritual and only defeated daily by prayer and intercession for the saints. If Satan can draw our attention to focus on flesh and blood (our own flock) the enemy can have his way within our churches. We are to be watchmen, alert to the strategies of the enemy, which are defeated in prayer.

Be on your guard. Be alert.

II. Be Absolute in Your Faith. Stand firm in the faith. (v. 13)

A. Romans 10:17 tells us "faith comes from hearing and hearing by the word of God." We must stand firm on God's word. R.G. Lee explains this through a situation at First Baptist Church in Edgefield, South Carolina.

The most wonderful of all Edgefield events during my days in the town was when the people paid off the church debt. That debt of $11,000, on which 8 percent was being paid, bothered and burdened me. To me, that debt with recurring 8 percent interest payments was a painful "thorn in the flesh." One night, down on my knees in a little niche in the house I called my study; I sought direction from God. A voice "the voice of God, I believe"spoke with an authoritative whisper, saying: "Quit praying, I have heard your prayer. Go to bed and sleep. Then next Sunday ask the people to pay the debt off, and they will." I said nothing to anyone but my wife and the next Sunday this is what I said, "Brothers and Sisters, I am going to make an announcement. I have not told anyone what I am going to say but my wife and God. Nobody else knows about this announcement. But next Sunday morning, we are going to pay off our church debt. Together we can do it. Together the links make the chain. But nobody must give over five hundred dollars. I will give back any amount that goes beyond five hundred dollars. I want everybody to give, and all that is given must be cash or a check that will not bounce. Next Sunday is the day." That was a most interesting week. B.B. Jones, who was the owner of a furniture store, a bank, a farm and a big dwelling house and never attended church, called me into his office on Wednesday and gave me a check for $500. On Sunday we sang a hymn, I prayed, and then said, "Dear folks, the time has come to pay off our church debt. I want you to stand, give your name, tell how much you are giving and bring it to the altar. We got large and small amounts and when they were all through the money was taken to be counted. We sang a few hymns and the men who were counting appeared. There was a hush over the assembly. The spokesman for the group said, " Pastor, it has all been counted, and the people have given $14,000." 2

Stand firm in your faith in God's Word to you.

III. Be Active. Be men of courage (v. 13)

A. Take some risks, even if you fail. "Be strong and very courageous," the Lord told Joshua concerning the taking of Canaan,

B. A leader of God must be courageous to have influence . And influence is leadership.

In 1927 Dr. Lee was pastor of the Citadel Square Baptist Church in Charleston, South Carolina which was averaging over one thousand per Sunday. He was approached by the search committee of Bellevue Baptist Church, which was averaging about 500 per Sunday. Bellevue extended the call to come, but Dr. Lee did not feel led to accept their offer to become pastor. Three weeks later he had a change of heart and mind. He told his secretary, Mrs. Watson, "I have made a mistake. Send a wire to the chairman of the committee and see if they still want me." 3 The rest is history.

IV. Be Able. Be strong ( v.13)

A. Be strong in the Lord and His mighty power. Ephesians 6:10
His strength will make you able for whatever He has called you to do.

In October of 1929 while at Bellevue, the great financial crash came to our nation. The financial stress was severe. Dr. Lee was criticized for leading the church into debt. Some members left saying, " I can't support this." One banker said, "You are a good man, but you are sunk, you'll never get your members to pay the debt and other expenses of the church too." Dr. Lee replied, "You talk like God is dead." Dr. Lee preached that Sunday on "The Contagion of Faintheartedness" from Deuteronomy 20:8. "What man is there that is fearful and fainthearted, let him go and return unto his house, lest his brethren's heart faint as well as his heart." We never test the resources of God until we attempt the impossible. They never missed a payment and the church grew by 600 members in one year.4

He will make you able.

V. Create an Atmosphere. Do everything in love. (v. 14)

A. I Corinthians 12:31 tells us of a more excellent way. The right atmosphere is so important to leadership. This atmosphere must be created before you have much influence upon your congregation. People will follow your leadership if they know that you love the Lord and you love them.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. (I Corinthians 13:4-8a).


God has called you and placed you where you are for His purpose. With His leadership you will fulfill His call in your life and one day hear, as the Apostle Paul and R. G. Lee heard, "Well done my good and faithful servant."

Let us be Godly leaders!

Written by Rev. Fred Ward
Pastor, First Baptist Church
Huntingdon, Tennessee


  1. Editors, The. Payday Everyday, The Incomparable Memoirs of a Pulpit Giant
    (Broadman Press, 1974) p. 24
  2. Ibid. pp.38-44
  3. Ibid. p.88
  4. Ibid. pp. 90-91


Rev. Fred Ward has been pastor of First Baptist Church, Huntingdon Tennessee since 1986. He holds a B.A. degree from Union University and currently serves as a university trustee. He and his wife Lois have three grown children (all graduates of Union) and seven grandchildren.

Joanna Moore, Campus Ministries & Church Services

R.G. Lee Center for Christian Ministry