What Has Happened to Leadership?

There is a scene in the movie Braveheart where William Wallace goes to Robert the Bruce and says, “The people will follow you if you will just lead them.” Scotland was in chaos because no one was willing to lead the people to stand up to the tyranny of the English king Edward Longshanks. William Wallace was willing to lead but he realized Robert the Bruce was the legitimate leader of Scotland. Wallace knew what needed to be done and he was willing to lead but he knew the long- term leadership should be vested in the right authority.

The United States is not in a state of subjection to a foreign power but we, like 13th century Scotland find ourselves in need of leadership. We have a national debt level that threatens not only our financial stability but also our national security. We see the Middle East deteriorating at an alarming rate with the most devastating results coming out of Libya. The United States seems powerless to lead any kind of cohesive effort to stop the carnage so we take a back seat to the ineffective leadership efforts of France and the Arab League. Domestically and internationally we find ourselves drifting without a clear sense of purpose and or a clear vision of leadership.

If we are going to regain our position of leadership in the world we need to find leaders who understand the fundamental characteristics of leadership. True leadership begins righteousness that comes from a relationship with Jesus Christ. The Greek word for righteousness is dikaiosyne. It means action that conforms to a standard. That standard can only be understood if we are in a right relationship with God through Christ. Jesus, speaking to the woman at the well of Sychar, used the analogy of water springing up and becoming a constant source as an example of the righteousness that flows through the life of a believer. John 4:14 says, “But whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life.”

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The intrinsic righteousness imputed through our relationship with Christ is expressed in the extrinsic righteousness of a life conformed to God’s will. The Apostle Peter progressed towards an outward display of righteousness by realizing his sinful condition (Luke 5:8), realizing who Jesus is (Matthew 16:16), and then who he is in Christ (Acts 2:14-36). Peter goes from being an impetuous, unsure follower to the decisive leader we see in the book of Acts. Following the leadership of Jesus and moving ever closer to Him gave Peter the consciousness and the confidence to be a great leader.

Leadership also requires perseverance. In Acts 3, Peter reveals a heart that is fully surrendered to God at a time when he could have been sorely tempted to exalt himself. When the people saw Peter heal the beggar at the Beautiful Gate of the temple they clung to Peter believing him to possess miraculous power. But Peter was steadfast in his desire to point people to Christ. He rebuked their attempt to focus on him and instead pointed the people to the power of Christ.

The Sanhedrin in Acts 4 challenged Peter’s perseverance when he was commanded to stop speaking in the name of Jesus. But Peter answered them saying, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; for we cannot stop speaking what we have seen and heard.” On the one hand, Peter was tempted to give up his perseverance by the praise of the people. On the other hand has tempted to give it up because of the persecution of the Sanhedrin. In both cases, Peter persevered showing his spiritual maturity and engendering himself to the people as a leader.

Leadership requires courage. When a true leader stands against the prevailing winds of opinion he or she must have the courage of their convictions or they will be swept away as if in a hurricane. Again, Peter is an excellent example of a true leader as he demonstrated the courage in his convictions when Jesus was arrested (John 18:10), by stepping out of the boat in the midst of a storm (Matthew 14:28-29), by facing death with courage (Acts 12:6-17), and by having the courage to change when confronted with his own prejudice (Acts 11:17-18).

When I think of modern examples of courage in leadership I think of President Kennedy calling us as a nation to commit to put a man on the moon before the end of the decade of the 60’s. I think of President Reagan standing at the Berlin Wall demanding Mr. Gorbachev tear it down. I think of President George W. Bush pushing for a troop surge in Iraq when just about everyone wanted the United States our of Iraq. As Max Lucado said, “If you want to lead the orchestra you have to turn your back on the crowd.” As a leader, being willing to turn your back to the crowd is a requirement and it requires great courage.

Leadership is grounded in and flows out of the righteousness that comes from a right relationship with Christ. It is maintained by perseverance and it inspires others through courage.

Dr. Tony Beam is Vice-President for Student Services and Director of the Christian Worldview Center at North Greenville University in Tigerville, South Carolina.

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