The Formula for Success All Great Leaders Follow

How does Scripture talk about great leaders?


We begin as servants and, if we are faithful, we become leaders. You find this pattern illustrated throughout Scripture.

Joseph was hated by his brothers, sold as a slave, and taken to Egypt. He was such a good worker that his master put him in charge of his whole household, but his master’s wife lied about Joseph and he was put in jail. But even there Joseph was faithful in helping the jail keeper and the other prisoners. His wisdom came to the attention of pharaoh who was troubled because he did not know the meaning of his two dreams. Joseph explained the dreams and pharaoh made him the second ruler in Egypt. Joseph went from few things to many things, from servant to ruler, and from toil to joy.

Moses had a similar experience as he moved from being a shepherd to becoming a prophet and the leader of the people of Israel. Joshua was Moses’ personal aide and he became Moses’ successor and the conqueror of the Promised Land. David also began as a shepherd and became king of Israel. Ruth went to Bethlehem a destitute widow but was faithful and became the wife of a wealthy citizen and the ancestress of the house of David. Her name is in our Lord’s genealogy (Matt 1:5–6).

The supreme example is our Lord Jesus Christ who was faithful in His ministry, suffered, sacrificed, and died but arose again and is now King of kings and Lord of lords (Rev 17:14; 19:16; Phil 2:5–11).

We lead by serving.

If we want to go from servants to rulers, from few things to many things (Matt 25:21, 23), and from toil to joy, we must live by faith and practice humility, obedience, and patience.

Over the years, I have faithfully read my Bible as well as hundreds of biographies and autobiographies, and I can assure you that there are no easy roads or cheap shortcuts to the kind of success that honors the Lord and helps to change the world. If you think that there are, just recall the story Jesus told about the prodigal son (Luke 15:11–32). This young man made a mess out of his life by ignoring obedience, humility, and patience. He started with many things and ended up with nothing. He started with worldly pleasure and ended up with toil. And he started with being important with all his wealth and ended up a disappointed slave, bankrupt and feeding the pigs. You can hardly call that success.

Revelation 22:3 grips my attention because it describes the eternal future of God’s people: “And there shall be no more curse, but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it [the new Jerusalem], and His servants shall serve Him.” Yes, there will be rest and praise in our heavenly home, but there will also be service to render to our Lord.

The service we render in eternity will depend on the kind of service we rendered during our lifetime here on earth. Scripture does not go into detail, but it does make it clear that how we serve today determines the ministry the Lord will give us in the new heaven and the new earth (Matt 24:45–51; 25:14–30). It is not easy to determine the details, but the fact is there that the Lord has ministries prepared in the new heaven and the new earth for all His faithful servants.

The Greek word translated “serve” in Revelation 22:3 is a word used for the worship of God (latreuō). At the entrance of many church sanctuaries there is often a sign that reads “Enter to Worship,” and when you leave the sanctuary, you see a sign that says “Depart to Serve.” But in heaven, service and worship will be united: our service will be worship and our worship will be service. I confess that there have been times in the past seventy plus years when my worship on Earth has been difficult and my service for the Lord has been a burden, but it will never be that way in heaven. Every thought, word, and deed will always be worship and service to the glory of the Lord.

We live in a working world. Do we work as diligently in serving the Lord as we do performing our daily tasks? We follow a serving Savior. Do we imitate Jesus Christ so that the Father can say to us, “Well done, good and faithful servant”?

The Lord has given us a faithful formula for success in the Christian life. Are we obeying it or imitating the ways of the world?

We lead others by serving others. There is no other way.


This post has been adapted from Truth on Its Head: Unusual Wisdom in the Paradoxes of the Bible by Warren W. Wiersbe.

Warren W. Wiersbe (1929–2019) was a former pastor of three churches (including historic Moody Church in Chicago), radio teacher at Back to the Bible, conference speaker, and a prolific writer of more than 150 books.

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