Are leaders made or born?
If you want to start a spirited conversation around a dinner table, just pose this question.
Clearly thousands (millions?) of people believe leaders can be trained and developed, rather than requiring an intrinsic trait bestowed at birth. I know this because if I Google “honesty” I get 83.4 million results. If I Google “wealth” I get 271 million results. A Google search for “Jesus” gets 681 million results. And a search for “leader” garners a whopping 886 million search results.
Then you can go to Amazon and find a gazillion or so books with the word “leadership” in their title. If you follow the trail of crumbs down the self-help rabbit hole you’ll find personalities such as Tony Robbins, John C. Maxwell, Dani Johnson, or Michael Hyatt. Each of these leaders, and many others like them, will offer innumerable conferences, workshops, webinars or courses to help you develop your leadership potential and create wealth. I don’t know the percentages, but while in some instances they deliver on their promises not everyone experiences the same success.
There’s also no shortage of Christian organizations focused on leadership development. Willow Creek Community Church in suburban Chicago hosts one of the largest leadership events among evangelical christendom, The Global Leadership Summit. They’re hardly alone. For instance, one of the widely circulated magazines in Christianity Today’s stable has the specific title “Leadership Journal“.
Leaders: Everyone wants a good one. And many people want to be one.
While some churches stress leadership and leader development, I’ve also observed the opposite extreme. I’ve seen churches that choose to give all their men, or all their members an equal voice in decision making through regular Men’s Meetings or Congregational Meetings, or both. I’ve seen churches limit the influence of the minister and largely restrict him to preaching and teaching classes. I’ve seen churches second-guess the decisions of their elders and thus cripple the congregational leadership structure.
These churches seem to intentionally, or unconsciously, operate under the assumption that “The only leadership we need is the Bible and the Holy Spirit.” Or, “Jesus is our True Shepherd”. This is despite the fact that Ephesians 5:11-12 appears to clearly teach that churches should emphasise the recognition of leadership abilities within the church, rather than fear the presence of leaders. “So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up.“
I give all these examples because on Sunday I preached on Jeroboam and Rehoboam whose story can be found in 1 Kings 11 & 12.
Rehoboam was King Solomon’s heir to the throne of Israel. Immediately, he faced a leadership crisis. Would he meet the demands of his citizens or would he seek to impose his will upon the nation?
He took three days to think it over. During that time he first consulted with Solomon’s advisers and then with advisers he grown up with and chosen himself. He chose to follow the counsel of his younger advisers and as a result ten northern tribes rejected him as their king and anointed Jeroboam.
Jeroboam quickly encountered a leadership crisis of his own. Realising that his people would still pilgrimage to Jerusalem to worship Yahweh he was concerned that they would come to see the king in Jerusalem as the rightful king of all twelve tribes and revolt against his leadership. 1 Kings 12:11 tells us that “After seeking advice, the king made two golden calves.” These calves were to serve as the new nation’s god and eliminate the need for people to travel to Jerusalem.
What caught my attention was that both of these leaders sought advice. Yet, both of these kings made terrible decisions. Conspicuously absent in these stories is any indication that either king sought God’s guidance in the face of these leadership crises. The impact of these poor leadership decisions was felt for years by the people of both nations. 1 Kings 14:30 observes, “There was continual warfare between Rehoboam and Jeroboam.”
Mothers lost their sons. Wives lost their husbands. Children lost their fathers in the perpetual skirmishes between these two armies.
God’s glory was splintered as his covenant people fought amongst themselves and rejected his leadership.
So here are some leadership observations that I discern from this story:
- Both of these kings have advisers. That’s a good thing.
- Advisers should represent a variety of backgrounds, not just be “the guys you grew up with”.
- Deciding which advice to follow and which to ignore requires wisdom.
- Effective leaders will listen to advice (rather than rely on their own instincts) but will learn to discern between wisdom and foolishness.
- Great leaders will always seek God’s counsel before seeking the advice of His people.
Leadership is a real thing. It makes a difference in the rule of a nation. It makes a difference in the health of a church. Because it makes a difference, congregations should intentionally invest in the training and growth of their leaders. This might mean bringing in consultants or sending leaders to workshops, but gathering advice improves leadership. Churches that resent outside perspectives will seldom flourish, being wise in their own eyes.