Reflections on Al Mohler’s new definition of leadership
One of the comments I heard recently was what a great group of leaders that God has given this church. The person was referring to the many people in our congregation whom God has gifted with unusual insight, experience and education in leadership and strategic planning. I heartily agree! And I’m even more grateful that these people are not only greatly gifted, but willing to sacrificially invest their time and energy in using their leadership gifts for the health and development of God’s kingdom through our church.
In between Hebrew studies yesterday I listened to a talk on leadership that helped crystallize for me the nature of Christian leadership and its importance. The talk by Albert Mohler entitled, “Is the World Really Flat,” (https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/is-the-world-really-flat) is one that I’d heartily recommend to anyone who considers themself a leader or aspires to be one. Let me share some of the things I learned or was reminded of:
- Leadership is crucial. In the decades following World War II, many people reacted against the authoritarian leadership that they felt had led to war and there was a shift toward more communal and democratic organizational structures. As Mohler says, “The sage on the stage was replaced by the guide on the side.” Society on all fronts moved away from authoritarian leadership styles and so, for example, parents began to see their role more as one of friendship and support than leadership and authority. The authority of teachers, pastors, and company leaders all subtly shifted to varying degrees but what was discovered was that while “leadership might be a recipe for disaster, absence of leadership was the assurance of disaster.” So in the 80’s and 90’s there was a resurgence in the perceived necessity of leadership. Books on leadership proliferated the market and leaders like Chrysler’s Lee Iacocca helped us to realize how important the right kind of leader is.
- Leadership must be rooted in theological conviction. The growth in thinking about leadership led to other problems however. Important leadership principles were being discussed in the 80’s and 90’s both inside and outside the church. But those principles were often divorced from theological convictions and so many churches were being guided by sheer pragmatism. There arose a divide among Christian leaders which Mohler describes as "those who were reading John MacArthur (on the theological side) and those who were reading John Maxwell (on the leadership side)." What he means is that the Bible teachers needed to develop better skill in leadership principles and gifted leaders needed to develop a better grounding in Biblical truth.
- Convictions are not just to be believed but also to be lived out. Mohler proposes a definition of leadership that tries to capture the Biblical balance: “Leadership is the transference of conviction that leads to communal right action.” Leadership is the passion to see truths held by a community and lived out in appropriate action. What he means is that leadership must begin with deeply held theological convictions and that leadership principles are only effective in so far as they help to spread and live out those convictions in changed lives. It’s possible to have a host of leadership skills but to operate free of conviction – but this is not Christian leadership. Convictions are deep beliefs that captivate your view of life and reality. As an example of convictional leadership, he spoke of Margaret Thatcher. “When she showed up you knew her ideas showed up.” When it was more expedient politically to reverse course she said famously, “I can’t reverse course because I believe in this course.” (See also his tribute, "The Lady's Not For Turning" http://www.albertmohler.com/2013/04/09/the-ladys-not-for-turning-margaret-thatcher-and-the-leadership-of-conviction/)
- Leading from convictions doesn’t help if you lead from the wrong convictions. The problem with convictional leaders is that they don’t always have the right convictions. Having deeply held convictions about many things is often admired among Christians. But what is admired can also be dangerous. Mohler touched on the dangers and excesses of certain forms of leadership and I thought of others. I think there need to be many checks on convictional leadership:
- Convictional leaders need to differentiate between convictions and preferences - and they often have trouble doing so.
- Convictional leaders need humility to avoid excess - but are often given to pride.
- Convictional leaders need to listen as much as they talk - but are often strong in the latter but weak in the former.
- Convictional leaders can’t lead alone; they need a team - but seldom see the need of one.
Whether you’re leading a ministry, a Sunday School class, a company, or a family, I pray that you’ll be a convictional leader. I pray that you’ll be grounded in convictions but also growing in leadership skill. And I’d ask you to pray the same for me.
In awe of Him,