Chapter One. The Leader's Challenge

Mike sat in stunned silence, alone in the boardroom. He had appointments to keep, but they seemed irrelevant now. He remained frozen in his chair, trying to process the events of the previous hour. Mike was CEO of a software company. He was a young man—in his early thirties—bright, creative and good at his job. Moreover, he was a committed Christian with a strong work ethic. He'd always considered his faith to be an asset to his career. But the morning's executive team meeting had shattered that assumption. What began as a routine weekly meeting escalated into an acrimonious dispute, revealing a pervasive undercurrent of resentment toward him—more specifically toward his Christian beliefs. It seems a clear line had been drawn in the sand, with his executive team demanding he choose between his faith and his business.

First, the vice president for human resources announced a revision to the company benefits to include coverage for therapeutic abortions in the health policy. He urged Mike to herald the new policy as a public relations tool.

Then Barbara from Marketing announced a new advertising campaign, one that deliberately misrepresented the facts. Mike felt he had no choice but to veto both recommendations. That's when the floodgates opened and his colleagues' hostility spewed out. His staff seemed united on one thing—that his agenda for the company did not match theirs. Mike was bewildered. He had a talented staff who knew their fields. Yet the majority were nonbelievers and several were disdainful of the Christian faith. Was there anything he could do? He worried about legal issues if he stood by his convictions on certain social issues. It had never been easy taking a stand for his faith at work, but he'd always tried to be obedient to Christ through his job. Now it just didn't seem possible. Maybe he should face the reality that his job and his faith could not coexist, and resign.

Pastor Edwards could barely withhold his tears. He could still hear the deacons' voices as they walked down the hallway, away from his office. The group had arrived unexpectedly and lambasted him, blaming him for all the church's problems. And problems there were—lots of them! Two years ago Edwards had enthusiastically accepted the call to serve as pastor of the church, fully aware of some of the difficulties. After all, every church has issues. He was young and his faith was strong. He sincerely believed that prayer, biblical preaching, and loving guidance would bring the ailing church back to health. But now things were actually worse. Landmines seemed to explode under him no matter where he stepped. Several families requested more modern music in the services and he willingly obliged. In doing so he inadvertently alienated several others who were now withholding their tithes as well as their service in the church until the music was changed back to the style they enjoyed. One of the deacons was rumored to be in an adulterous relationship. An attempt to confront him had set the entire deacon body up in arms. They accused Edwards of witch hunting. They argued that this man had great influence in the community; they pointed out the sad truth the church could ill afford another public scandal. When Edwards proposed hiring a part-time youth pastor, a battle erupted. Various interest groups in the church clamored for more ministry—for seniors, for choir members, for college students, for the divorced, and for children. Even his preaching had come under fire—too long, not enough humor. Edwards had been growing weary under the stress, but he remained strong in his belief that, if he persevered, the problems would eventually sort themselves out. That was before this visit. Their words cut like a knife: "As representatives of this church, we feel obliged to tell you we can no longer follow your leadership. Perhaps you should begin circulating a resume to other churches. There are churches out there who might appreciate your style of leadership...." The pastor held his face in his hands. What more could he have done? He had worked to the point of exhaustion for this church. He had sacrificed time with his wife and children, spending most evenings at church meetings, counseling people in distress, or visiting potential members. He knew where the church should be heading, but he simply could not get the people to support him. He felt like a total failure.

Leadership: The Challenge

Leadership. Everyone experiences it, or the lack of it, in their daily lives. Those called to lead can find doing so a daunting task. Those expected to follow can experience frustration when their leader is unable to lead and their organization seems to be going nowhere. Struggling leaders may agonize in the knowledge that others resent them and blame them for their organizations' failures. Countless discouraged leaders would probably quit their jobs today, but they need the income. Besides, they fear the same problems would engulf them in their new jobs. Discouraged, Christian leaders carry the added, albeit misguided, burden that they are failing not only their people but their Lord. They feel guilty because they lack the faith to move their organization forward yet the same fears prevent them from leaving their leadership positions for jobs where they might be more successful. Is there any hope for the countless numbers of leaders who are not experiencing the fulfillment and reaching the potential God intended for them? If anything can revolutionize today's Christian leaders, it is when Christians understand God's design for spiritual leaders.

The twenty-first century provides unprecedented opportunities for leaders to impact positively their organizations. However, the new millennium also brings unforeseen challenges to leaders. The digitalized nature of the twenty-first century has created increasing expectations among followers, and the unrelenting advance of technology has made communication both a blessing and a curse. E-mail and cell phones provide instant access to leaders. In times past, people would write letters or send memos to their leader and then wait for days, or even weeks for a reply. People accepted such delayed responses as a matter of course.

Past leaders could take time to ponder their decisions and to consult with advisors before sending a response. Today's technology, however, has radically changed the dynamics of communication. The moment someone sends an e-mail they know that within minutes they could (and therefore should) receive a reply. Busy leaders can return from a lunch appointment to discover a dozen new e-mails and as many voice-mail messages waiting for them, classified by their senders as urgent. In any airport you can see harried executives exiting airplanes and consulting their cell phones to discover that while they traveled the first leg of their business trip, their voice mailbox was filling up with urgent messages, most of them demanding a reply before they board their next flight. Cell phones can be tremendously helpful to leaders as they seek to maintain close contact with their people, but beleaguered executives and pastors are discovering that those phones follow them everywhere, even on their vacations.

Past leaders had certain times in their day when they were inaccessible to people. During such times they could reflect on their situation and make decisions about their next course of action. Technology has made today's leaders constantly and instantly accessible to people. With such access, people often expect immediate responses from their leaders. Such pressure to make rapid decisions and to maintain steady communication can intimidate even the most zealous leader.

The rise of the Information Age has inundated leaders with new information that must be processed as rapidly as possible. Today's leaders are bombarded with books, articles, and seminars on leadership and management theory as well as data pertaining to their particular field of work. An exhausting parade of books claims that if busy executives will simply follow the proposed steps, they will be guaranteed success. Leaders wanting to improve their skills and expand their knowledge base have virtually limitless opportunities to enhance their leadership skills. But where does one begin? Which book does a leader read next? Which seminar is a must? Which management trend vociferously advocated now will be passe by next year? Such a bombardment of information, much of which is contradictory, can cause leaders to become cynical. While it is true the Information Age has given leaders many new tools with which to lead, it has also placed heavy demands on leaders, demands previous generations of leaders never faced. It is no wonder so many leaders express the frustration that they are always hopelessly behind.

Probably the most widespread modern myth is that technology will create more time for leaders. While many modern tools of technology are heralded as time-saving devices, the reality is that these instruments become major information highways bringing an endless stream of data racing toward leaders who feel pressured to respond as quickly as possible. All the while, these leaders are aware that a wrong decision can have disastrous consequences on their organization. Gordon Sullivan and Michael Harper have suggested that the defining characteristic of the Information Age is not speed, but the "compression of time." It is not so much that events are necessarily moving faster but that there is less time for leaders to respond to events than there used to be. This puts enormous pressure upon today's leaders.

Our world craves good leaders. It would seem that effective leadership has become the panacea for every challenge society faces. Whether it's in politics, religion, business, education, or law, the universally expressed need is for leaders who will rise to meet the challenges that seem to overwhelm many of today's organizations. The problem is not a shortage of willing leaders. The problem is an increasingly skeptical view among followers as to whether these people can truly lead. Warren Bennis warned, "At the heart of America is a vacuum into which self-anointed saviors have rushed." People know intuitively that claiming to be a leader or holding a leadership position does not make someone a leader. People are warily looking for leaders they can trust.

Leadership: In Politics

The political scene is perhaps the most public arena where people have expressed their distrust in those who lead them. These are not easy times in which to be a leader. The world's complexity increases at exponential speed. Political alliances are in constant flux. Threats of nuclear and biological terrorism are a real and frightening possibility. A severe downturn in the global economy can devastate a nation overnight. Violence is epidemic. Nothing shocks us any more. Social norms, previously taken for granted, are publicly ridiculed. Modern society has deteriorated to the point that, like those in the prophet Jeremiah's time, we have "forgotten how to blush" (see Jer. 6:15; 8:12). In the face of such daunting political and social realities, people search frantically for leaders they can trust. Society seeks men and women who will effectively address a multitude of societal and political ills. People are weary of politicians who make promises they are either unwilling or unable to keep. Society longs for statesmen but it gets politicians. Statesmen are leaders who uphold what is right regardless of the popularity of the position. Statesmen speak out to achieve good for their people, not to win votes. Statesmen promote the general good rather than regional or personal self-interest. Harry Truman was a statesman. He left the presidency with a low rating in the public opinion polls, yet history evaluates him as an effective leader during a dangerous and turbulent time. Politicians may win elections; nevertheless, future generations could deride them for their lack of character and their ineffective leadership.

Warren Bennis suggests that the American Revolutionary era produced at least six world-class leaders—Franklin, Jefferson, Washington, Hamilton, Adams and Madison. For a national population of only three million, that was an impressive feat. If the United States enjoyed the same ratio of world-class leaders to its current population, it would boast over five hundred such leaders today. In recent years the term great has not been the adjective of choice in describing political leaders. If there was ever a time that called for statesmen rather than politicians, this is it.

Leadership: In Business

The business world cries out for leaders as fervently as the political world. Technology continues to revolutionize the way people do business. The global economy has mushroomed. National economies have become integrated to the point that a financial meltdown in Asia can have instant, stunning repercussions on businesses in North America. Diversity is the pervasive characteristic of the North American work force. Employees represent numerous ethnic groups. More and more people are trading in their desks for laptops so they can work at home or while on the road. Job sharing is common practice. Charles Handy observes, "The challenge for tomorrow's leaders is to manage an organization that is not there in any sense in which we are used to." It requires a Herculean effort to create a corporate culture in which every employee feels a part of the community of the company. Yesterday's workplace was a specific location where employees came together for eight hours a day. The majority of jobs were performed for one reason—a paycheck. Personal fulfillment, though a factor, was secondary. All that has changed. Today's workplace is a forum for people to express themselves and to invest their efforts into something that contributes positively to society. People no longer choose jobs based merely on salary and benefits. They seek companies with corporate values that match their personal values. Daniel Goleman suggests: "Except for the financially desperate, people do not work for money alone. What also fuels their passion for work is a larger sense of purpose or passion. Given the opportunity, people gravitate to what gives them meaning, to what engages to the fullest their commitment, talent, energy, and skill." This has led many people to embark on multiple careers. Robert Greenleaf reflects on this shift in employee focus: "All work exists as much for the enrichment of the life of the worker as it does for the service of the one who pays for it." Consequently, employees expect much more from their leaders than they did in years past.

The complex and critical issues facing today's marketplace only exacerbate the need for effective leaders. Modern business leaders are expected to peer into the turbulent economic future and make the necessary adjustments to avoid disaster for their companies. Today's leaders must mold productive, cohesive teams out of the most diverse workforce in history. Leaders are expected to gain new skills continually and to adjust to dizzying daily changes in the business world. Businesses call on their leaders to understand and lead their industries, though the workplace is filled with specialists who themselves require constant retraining in order to stay current in their fields. Is it any wonder that companies are desperate for someone to lead them into an uncertain future? Is it surprising that the salaries of CEOs have risen astronomically in comparison to the wages of laborers?

In 1996 Apple Computer was sorely in need of leadership. The company was losing hundreds of millions of dollars annually. It needed a CEO who could quickly turn the company around. In February, Apple Computer hired a new CEO. From February 1996 to July 1996, Apple Computer lost $884 million as sales plummeted 27 percent. What caught the public's attention was not that the CEO was eventually fired, but that he was subsequently paid $9.3 million in salary and severance! The discharged CEO received $6.75 million in severance pay, $997,617 in salary, a $1 million bonus, $509,350 in stock and $471,461 in expense reimbursements. This man was paid $9.3 million for losing $884 million in six months! Labor experts claimed these salary and benefit levels were not out of line for CEOs of major corporations. Companies are willing to spend enormous amounts of money in an effort to enlist effective leadership!

Leadership: In the Church

Sadly, Pastor Edwards is not the only Christian minister who is frustrated at leading his church. Like every other segment of society, the religious community has not escaped the leadership drought. Jesus Christ warned his followers about false prophets who would rise up to lead many astray (Matt. 24:11), but who could have anticipated the plethora of would-be spiritual leaders who have flooded the airwaves and descended upon churches with their books and their theories, clamoring for followers? It boggles the mind that destructive and delusional gurus such as Jim Jones and David Koresh could gain so many devoted followers. It is incomprehensible that well-educated people with lucrative jobs, upscale houses, and comfortable lifestyles have sold everything and abandoned their families, friends, and reputations to follow a self-declared messiah who assured them they would one day be taken away by UFOs! It is even more amazing that sincere people would follow such delusional prophets to violent deaths for the sake of oblique causes. What motivates people to blindly follow these would-be messiahs? People are desperate for leaders who can make positive changes in their lives!

Society at large is displaying widespread and growing interest in spiritual issues. Amazingly, at a time of renewed societal interest in spiritual things, many churches and denominations are declining. According to George Barna, "the American church is dying due to a lack of strong leadership. In this time of unprecedented opportunity and plentiful resources, the church is actually losing influence. The primary reason is the lack of leadership. Nothing is more important than leadership." Immorality is an epidemic in the church. Pastors face issues today far more complex and divisive than ministers faced only a generation ago. In order to survive, churches are seeking leaders who can not only overcome the voluminous challenges churches are facing, but also attract new members and resources in order to finance an increasingly expensive organization. One thing seems certain: while many theological seminaries are enjoying healthy enrollments, denominational leaders are bemoaning the fact that their schools are graduating so few leaders. Although the leadership shortage is universally acknowledged, there is little consensus on how to discover and develop leaders. Seminary professors are bewildered that so few successful leaders are emerging from their graduating classes.

Leadership: Secular or Spiritual?

This issue of leadership holds a deeper dimension for Christians: Is Christian leadership the same thing as secular leadership? Modern bookstores have capitalized on the chronic thirst for leadership. They stock shelves and shelves with books on leadership and management. Leaders who have been successful in business, sports, politics, or any other field have written autobiographies detailing their success. The myriad of such books testifies to the large number of people eagerly scouring the pages hoping to find the secret to their own effectiveness as leaders in their respective fields. The question many Christian leaders face is whether the principles that make people successful leaders in sports or business are equally valid when applied to leadership issues in the kingdom of God. The pastor examines the leadership style of a successful football coach and wonders: Will these same principles work for me as I lead my church?

This raises a significant issue for Christian leaders: Do leadership principles found in secular writing and seminars apply to work done in God's kingdom? Many Christian leaders think so. The current generation of Christian leaders has immersed itself in the popular leadership writings of its day. This acceptance of secular approaches by Christian leaders can be observed in numerous places. The shift in the traditional nomenclature from the pastor's study to the pastor's office is one consequence. In times past, churches focused on the Great Commission. Today's churches adopt mission statements. In earlier times, churches spoke of building fellowship. Contemporary Christian leaders build teams and lead their people through team-building exercises. Churches used to put church signs in front of their buildings in the hopes of attracting people to their services. Today's churches use state-of-the-art marketing principles to reach their communities. Pastors of large churches (and some not so large) are beginning to act more like CEOs than shepherds. The pastor's office is located in the Executive Suite, next to the boardroom where the leadership team meets. Is this adoption of secular leadership methodology a sorely needed improvement for churches? Or is it woefully inadequate? Is it a violation of biblical principles? Many church leaders claim these innovations have resulted in dramatic growth in their congregations, including a significant proportion of converts. Other Christian leaders decry such approaches as blatant theological and biblical compromise.

The trend toward a CEO model of ministry has changed the churches' evaluations of effective leadership. The pastor's ability is measured in terms of numbers of people, dollars, and buildings. The more of each, the more successful the pastor. As Pastor Edwards discovered, the godliness of a minister may not be enough to satisfy a congregation looking to keep up with the church down the street. Likewise, Christian organizations seem willing to overlook significant character flaws, and even moral lapses, as long as their leader continues to produce.

The trend among many Christian leaders has been for an almost indiscriminate and uncritical acceptance of secular leadership theory without measuring it against the timeless precepts of Scripture. This book will look at contemporary leadership principles in light of scriptural truth. It will become clear that many of the "modern" leadership principles currently being espoused are, in fact, biblical principles that have been commanded by God throughout history. For example, secular writers on leadership are insisting on integrity as an essential characteristic for modern leaders. This is nothing new for Christians. The Bible has maintained that as a leadership standard for over two millennia.

Paradoxically, concurrent with the churches' discovery of popular leadership axioms, secular writers have been discovering the timeless truths of Christianity. A partial explanation for this juxtaposition may be that many secular writers on leadership are Christians, or at least religious people. More fundamentally, this shift to Christian principles is because leadership experts are discovering that doing business in a Christian manner, regardless of whether one is a practicing Christian, is, quite simply, good for business. Earlier leadership theories assumed the best CEOs were larger-than-life, charismatic people who stood aloof from those they led, giving orders to be followed unquestioningly. In contrast, today's leadership gurus are writing books that appear almost Christian. Book titles such as Jesus CEO, Management Lessons of Jesus, Servant Leadership, Love and Profit, Leading with Soul, and Encouraging the Heart sound like they ought to be shelved in a Christian college, not in the office of a corporate CEO.

The Christian tenor of these books goes beyond their titles. It is common to read in secular leadership books that companies should make covenants with their people, that business leaders should love their people, that managers should be servant leaders, that leaders should show their feelings to their employees, that business leaders must have integrity, that leaders must tell the truth, and interestingly, that leaders must strive for a higher purpose than merely making a profit. These principles appear to be more in keeping with the Sermon on the Mount than with the Harvard Business School. Incredibly, as secular writers are embracing Christian teachings with the fervency of first-century Christians, Christian leaders are inadvertently jettisoning many of those same truths in an effort to become more contemporary!

God or King?

The willingness of God's people to barter their spiritual birthright for the benefit of contemporary secular thinking is not unique to this generation. During Samuel's time, the Israelites were a small, insignificant nation in the midst of international superpowers. They were content to have Samuel as their spiritual guide and God as their king. But as Samuel grew old, his ungodly sons abused their leadership positions. The Israelites compared themselves to neighboring nations and envied their powerful armies, their magnificent cities and the glory of their monarchies. Rather than trusting in God to win their battles, to direct their economy and to establish laws for their land, the Israelites wanted to be just like all the other nations with a king who would do this for them. They took their request to Samuel. In response, Samuel gave them God's appraisal of where this pursuit for a king would lead them.

Samuel told all the words of the Lord to the people who were asking him for a long. He said, "This is what the king who will reign over you will do: He will take your sons and make them serve with his chariots and horses, and they will run in front of his chariots. Some he will assign to be commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and others to plow his ground and reap his harvest, and still others to make weapons of war and equipment for his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them to his attendants. He will take a tenth of your grain and of your vintage and give it to his officials and attendants. Your menservants and maidservants and the best of your cattle and donkeys he will take for his own use. He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his slaves. When that day comes, you will cry out for relief from the long you have chosen, and the Lord will not answer you in that day." But the people refused to listen to Samuel. "No!" they said. 'We want a king over us. Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles." When Samuel heard all that the people said, he repeated it before the Lord. The Lord answered, "Listen to them and give them a king" (1 Sam. 8:10-22 NIV).

The world measured a kingdom's success by its grand palaces and magnificent armies. The glittering trappings of such monarchies dazzled the Israelites. But citizenship in such a kingdom came with a stiff price. Sustaining a monarchy required oppressive taxes from its citizens. The Israelites wanted a mighty army, but a royal army would require even heavier taxation as well as a draft of young Israelite men for the king's purposes. A monarchy could not function without a legion of servants; this would require the people's children to be conscripted to serve the king. God could not have been more clear about the consequences of choosing worldly leadership over divine leadership. Yet the Israelites stubbornly persisted in their pleas, so God granted them a perfect specimen of a worldly leader. Saul was handsome and physically impressive—yet he was insecure and incredibly vain. He was decisive, sometimes making on-the-spot pronouncements—but many of these had to be rescinded later because they were foolhardy. He was a passionate man—but he was also prone to violent temper tantrums. Saul was a hands-on general—who spent the bulk of his time chasing after his own citizens. The Israelites clamored for a leader who would lead them by worldly principles. God gave them one, and the results were disastrous.

What went wrong? The problem was the Israelite's assumption that spiritual concerns, such as righteous living and obedience to God, belonged in the religious realm while the practical issues of doing battle with enemies, strengthening the economy, and unifying the country were secular matters. They forgot that God himself had won their military victories, brought them prosperity, and created their nation. He was as active on the battlefield as he was in the worship service. When the Israelites separated spiritual concerns from political and economic issues, their nation was brought to its knees. Scripture indicates that it is a mistake to separate the spiritual world from the secular world.

Applying spiritual principles to business and political issues doesn't call for Baptist pastors to serve as military generals, nor does it require seminary professors to run the economy. God created people to be spiritual beings. Every person, Christian and non-Christian alike, is a spiritual person with spiritual needs. Employees, customers, and governing boards all have spiritual needs that God wants to meet through his servants in the workplace. God is also the author of human relationships. He has established laws in relationships that have not changed with the passing of time. To violate God-ordained relationship principles in the workplace is to invite disaster. Jesus Christ is the Lord of all believers whether they are at church or at work. The kingdom of God is, in fact, the rule of God in every area of life, including the church, home, workplace, and neighborhood. To ignore these truths when entering the business world or political arena is to do so at one's peril.

Society's problem is more than just a lack of leaders. Society's great deficit is that it does not have enough leaders who understand and practice Christian principles of leadership. Effective leaders are not enough. Hitler was an effective leader. The world needs people in business who know how to apply their faith in the boardroom as well as in the Bible study room. Jesus summed up this truth for every executive, politician, schoolteacher, lawyer, doctor, and parent, when he said: "'But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well'" (Matt. 6:33 NIV).

Mike, the young CEO, struggled to understand how he could remain true to his Christian beliefs and still be effective in the business world. The truth, as Mike was discovering, is that one's calling as a Christian not only takes precedence over his or her career; it actually gives direction to that career. Moreover, a Christian's calling will give meaning to every area of life. Is it possible to seek God's kingdom first, while striving in business or politics? A growing number of Christian leaders are proving that it is. Books such as Loving Monday by John Beckett, It Is Easier to Succeed Than to Fail by Truett Cathy of Chick-fil-A, and Character Is the Issue: How People with Integrity Can Revolutionize America by Governor Mike Huckabee of Arkansas provide examples of Christians who have successfully incorporated their Christianity into their business and politics. The business world has recognized these leaders and rewarded them for their leadership efforts. The world needs political leaders who seek their guidance from the Holy Spirit and not from the latest public opinion poll. The world needs religious leaders who are on God's agenda and not on their own. The world needs husbands and wives, mothers and fathers who know how to apply biblical promises in their homes rather than merely implementing advice from the latest self-help books.


Christian leaders who know God and who know how to lead in a Christian manner will be phenomenally more effective in their world than even the most skilled and qualified leaders who lead without God. Spiritual leadership is not restricted to pastors and missionaries. It is the responsibility of all Christians whom God wants to use to make a difference in their world. The challenge for today's leaders is to discern the difference between the latest leadership fads and timeless truths established by God. It is to this end that this book has been written. We hope it will encourage you to be the Christian God is calling you to be. It is our sincere belief that the following passage applies to every Christian: "The eyes of the Lord move to and fro throughout the earth that He may strongly support those whose heart is completely His" (2 Chron. 16:9a).

Concepts and Scriptures for Consideration

Jeremiah 6:15; 8:12

Matthew 24:11

1 Samuel 8:10-22a

Matthew 6:33

2 Chronicles 16:9a