Leadership Letters
Leadership Letters

Writings on Christian leadership and leader development by Malcolm Webber

June 2002
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The Importance of Character in the Life of a Leader

Malcolm WebberMalcolm Webber

No leader will be perfect – other than the Lord Jesus. However, since God’s leaders reflect God Himself to men, they must be of the highest character. This was why Moses received such a harsh judgment (Num. 20:7-12). God’s work will be done in God’s way, in a manner consistent with God’s holiness and character.

The minister’s shortcomings simply cannot be concealed. Even the most trivial soon get known…. However trifling their offenses, these little things seem great to others, since everyone measures sin, not by the size of the offense, but by the standing of the sinner. John Chrysostom (347-407)

He who is required by the necessity of his position to speak the highest things is compelled by the same necessity to exemplify the highest things. Gregory the Great (540-604)

Since you [O Lord] have appointed this blind guide to lead them [your people], for their sakes, Lord, if not for mine, teach him whom you have made to be their teacher; lead him whom you have bidden to lead them; rule him who is their ruler. Aelred (1109-1167)

Prayer, meditation, and temptation make a minister. Martin Luther (1483-1546)

Those whom the Lord has destined for this great office he previously provides with the armor which is requisite for the discharge of it, that they may not come empty and unprepared. John Calvin (1509-1564)

I go out to preach with two propositions in mind. First, every person ought to give his life to Christ. Second, whether or not anyone else gives him his life, I will give him mine. Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758)

People are not only motivated to follow by the leader’s captivating vision or by his compelling communication skills, but also by their sense of the leader’s desire to serve, his high integrity and consistency. People will only follow someone they trust, and trust follows character.

Character > Trust > Leadership Effectiveness

One man I know had a powerful calling from God to be an evangelist. He had a compelling vision to reach his nation, and with great signs and wonders accompanying, he led many people to the Lord and established a movement consisting of dozens of churches. Then it was revealed that for years he had lived in a series of adulterous relationships, and his followers were devastated. The movement he established continues to this day under different leadership, but it has never regained its former glory. This man had an extraordinary calling as well as strong abilities to lead and build an organization but he lacked integrity and accountability.

King Saul had great abilities and a genuine calling but he lacked integrity, so his leadership failed in the end. Ultimately, God is more interested in who we are than in what we do. Thus, we should be strong in both gifts and fruit.

Similarly, one may have received some excellent training that has produced sound competencies in one’s life, but without character, the leader will eventually fail. The following is quoted from No Other Foundation by DeVern Fromke:

Training Fails When Character Is Not Developed

Here at the edge of the Ozarks where we live, many young workers are sent by home mission boards to help the unchurched and under-privileged. Because this work is often hard, demanding and unrewarding many fail. Most often the reason for their failure is simply a lack of character development – not a lack of formal scholastic training.

Scholastic accomplishment neither makes nor breaks a missionary. It is but one factor in the complex of influences which have formed the man himself. A man may be highly trained in medicine, in linguistics or in Bible knowledge, yet be an utter failure in his assigned task. Why? Because his training was deficient? Not at all, if you are speaking in a formal sense of skills acquired. It is the human factor, any mission director will tell you, that crumbles. Hands skilled to operate on sick bodies, tongue quick to frame strange sounds, mind stored with hundreds of Bible verses – all this can be true, but the man himself may still be untrained – lacking in character development.

Formal training can be a most subtle stumbling block to its own usefulness. In our human way of thinking, formal training carries with it some sort of prestige that feeds personal pride, so that in the field of his specialization a man is afraid to make a mistake lest he appear incompetent. The application of hard-earned skills and knowledge to new situations where mistakes in action and judgment may become obvious to others demands genuine humility and moral courage.

Often those with the highest grades in language courses, for example, when faced with another language where that particular skill will no longer serve, find that fear and pride paralyze their efforts. Such failure is not due to lack of ability or skill, but to the character of the individual. He has in fact failed to learn from and during his training the very thing that alone can now make it useful in application.

Essential training, then, should produce disciplined – self-disciplined, Spirit-disciplined men – who know how to exercise wise control over their time, appetites, passions, tongue, thoughts; men who have learned how to operate on a Spirit-directed system of priorities, on their own, away from the helpful stimulus of Christian fellowship and meetings, or in the midst of pressure toward mediocrity among many Christians. We can see why so much training has failed; it is not mere skills and knowledge attained but the character produced that is basic to the resilience and flexibility necessary to meet situations without cracking.

This month’s recommended web site is The Wabash Center: Guide to Internet Resources For Teaching and Learning in Theology & Religion. A massive guide! “A selective, annotated guide to a wide variety of electronic resources of interest to those who are involved in the study and practice of religion: syllabi, electronic texts, electronic journals, websites, bibliographies, listserv discussion groups, liturgies, reference resources, software, etc.”

This month’s recommended book is From the Plow Handle to the Pulpit by A.E. Humbard. A reprint of the famous life story of “Dad Humbard.” This autobiography is a classic account of suffering and miracles in the service of the Lord Jesus. This book has been out of print for some time, but is now made available again. You must read this book!

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