What Kind of Leader Was The Apostle Paul?: An Interview with Ryan Lokkesmoe

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The Apostle Paul was, without question, one of the most influential leaders in human history. His impact continues to be felt in local churches all over the world. But what kind of a leader was Paul? What kind of teams did he create? Ryan Lokkesmoe is a pastor/scholar who spent much time considering questions like these and completed his Ph.D. from The University of Denver focusing on the ministry of Paul. In his excellent new book, Paul and His Team: What the Early Church Can Teach Us About Leadership and Influence” Ryan has much to say about Paul as a leader and he was kind enough to sit down for an interview of Paul’s leadership.

How would you describe Paul’s leadership style? What was his greatest strength and weakness as a leader?

Ryan: Paul did several things as a leader that I think people would find surprising. We often view him as this strong, heroic, singular leadership figure. He was a lot more transparent than we usually give him credit for – openly admitting his struggles and acknowledging when people had cared for him. He also entrusted people with lots of responsibility, even relatively new believers. Paul was very wise at choosing his battles. He only seemed to get really angry about a couple of things: distortions of the Gospel and unnecessary divisions within the Church. In our own relationally fraught season of history, we can learn a lot from his approach.In terms of weaknesses, he probably – at times – carried too much of a personal burden for the churches he pastored, forgetting that their growth was ultimately the Lord’s responsibility. I think that’s what’s behind his comment in 2 Corinthians 11:28Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches.

What would you consider to be the most overlooked aspect of Paul’s leadership? What do we miss when we think about “Paul the Leader”?


Ryan: I would say his transparency, as I mentioned before. Paul referred to his co-workers with terms of equity-like ‘fellow worker’ etc. These words meant that in Paul’s mind, he was working alongside them. He needed them. In Romans 16 he makes comments about ‘dear friends’ and a woman who was ‘like a mother to him.’ He’s showing that he needed care too. Similarly, in 2 Corinthians, we see Paul openly pouring out his heart to the church in Corinth over their broken relationship. I don’t think a lot of leaders today would be secure enough to openly share that they’ve been wounded. Paul set an important example for us in that regard.

In what ways would you say Paul’s leadership style shaped and informed the culture of his team? 

Ryan: He had a very diverse, committed team of men and women that were scattered around the Roman world – a place that was fairly antagonistic toward Christians, and in some places, openly hostile. These leaders – people like Priscilla, Aquila, Erastus, Luke, Timothy, Titus – would not have given their lives to partnering with Paul if he had not made them feel valued. I think they saw in him someone who was committed to the Gospel, loved people, and helped them to fully express their gifts and grow in their leadership capacities. He trusted them, relied on them, and showed them consistently that he didn’t think he had arrived. He was working and growing alongside them. He was a godly steward of those relationships and set a wonderful example for his team as they invested in others.

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