Leadership Letters
Leadership Letters

Writings on Christian leadership and leader development by Malcolm Webber

August 2008
« Jul   Oct »


Reflections on the “Be, Know, Do” Model of Leader Development #2

Malcolm WebberMalcolm Webber

In our last Letter we began looking at the “Be, Know, Do” (BKD) model of leader development. This model is used by the U.S. Army but has also gained some measure of popularity in Christian leader development circles.

According to the Army, leaders lead others by their character, by their competence, and by their actions; therefore, effective leader development must focus on the leader’s character and values (“Be”), his competencies (“Know”), and his decisions and actions (“Do”).

In defining a holistic goal for leader development, the BKD model has some clear strengths; indeed, it is far superior to a purely academic approach. However, the BKD model also has significant limitations – especially when used in distinctly Christian leader development.


Again, our purpose is not to critique the Army’s use of this model, but rather its use as a goal for distinctly Christian leader development.

1. The BKD model emphasizes character development – indeed character is so important to the Army that it comes first. Certainly, character is vitally important in Christian leadership but it is not first.

Christ is first!

However, Christ is entirely missing from the BKD model. This is not a small issue, but it is a critical and ultimately-fatal flaw of the BKD model as a basis for Christian leader development.

Union with the Person of Jesus Christ is not a “part” of Christian leadership – it is the very nature of Christian leadership. Thus, union with Christ must explicitly and pervasively define Christian leader development.

During His earthly ministry, Jesus lived in continuous union with His Father. This inward, spiritual fellowship was the source of everything in His life and ministry:

For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. (John 6:38)

…the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. (John 5:19)

By myself I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear… (John 5:30)

The Jews were amazed and asked, “How did this man get such learning without having studied?” Jesus answered, “My teaching is not my own. It comes from him who sent me…” (John 7:15-16)

…what I have heard from him I tell the world…I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me. (John 8:26-28)

…it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. (John 14:10)

…These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me. (John 14:24)

Jesus lived in continuous fellowship with His Father, and through that fellowship He drew from, and lived by, His Father’s life. Thus, Jesus’ leadership came from His inward union with His Father and perfectly revealed the Father:

If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him… Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father… (John 14:7-9)

Then Jesus cried out, “When a man believes in me, he does not believe in me only, but in the one who sent me. When he looks at me, he sees the one who sent me.”(John 12:44-45)

Furthermore, just as Jesus lived His life by the indwelling life of His Father, so we are to live our Christian lives by the life of Jesus in us.

Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so (i.e. even so, or in the same manner) the one who feeds on me will live because of me. (John 6:57)

Just as Jesus lived in continuous fellowship with His Father, so we are to live in constant inward fellowship with Him by His Spirit. Jesus’ leadership entirely came from His union with His Father, and He sent us to lead the same way.

This is the source of Christian leadership: fellowship with Jesus Christ by His indwelling Spirit. It is Divine fellowship that enables us to live and to lead according to Divine life.

…If a man abides in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:5)

It was Jesus’ fellowship with His Father, in itself, that enabled Him to live and lead by His Father’s life. So it is our fellowship with the Father and the Son, in itself, that will be the source of our life and leadership.

Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. (John 17:3)

… He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him…My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. (John 14:21-23)

But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord. (2 Cor. 3:18, NKJV)

Biblically, Christian leadership is not character-based; it is Christ-based.

According to the Army’s BKD model, values are crucial to leader development because values “tell” the leader what he needs to do, guiding his everyday actions and decisions. This view, while exemplary for a secular organization, is not, however, a biblical view of Christian leadership.

In Christian leadership, everything does not proceed from character and values; everything proceeds from union with Christ. This is not mere semantics but it goes to the very heart of how we understand the Christian life and Christian leadership.

To make this distinction is not to undermine the importance of character and values. On the contrary, this actually establishes true character and values, proceeding not from human effort but from the indwelling life of Christ!

…If a man abides in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit… (John 15:5)

so that you may be… filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ – to the glory and praise of God. (Phil. 1:10-11)

True Christian leadership is not possible without Christ first!

When character is first and Christ is omitted (or “sub-pointed”) the result is human righteousness, which, in God’s eyes, is like “filthy rags.”

All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags… (Is. 64:6)

… apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:5)

This is not just the “best” way; it is the only way to true Christian leadership. Everything else is mere human works. Jesus is preeminent!

For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. (1 Cor. 3:11)

And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. (Col. 1:18)

It is conceivable that someone would add Christ as a sub-point to the BKD model; for example: “Be” (the leader walks in union with Christ) or “Know” (the leader knows God). However, in view of the absolute preeminence and centrality of union with Jesus Christ as the very core of what Christian leadership is, to adapt the BKD model to Christian leader development by simply adding Christ as a polite sub-point is hardly appropriate! Union with Christ is not a sub-point added as an afterthought – it is the very core, the very essence of Christian leadership and must be at the very center of all our leader development endeavors.

In summary, while we recognize the appropriateness of the Army’s use of the BKD model, it is absolutely unacceptable as a model for Christian leadership and leader development; its neglect of the Person of Jesus Christ disqualifies it.

In our next Letter, we will examine several more limitations of the BKD model as a basis for the design of Christian leader development.

Comments 2
  • Gokhan
    Posted on

    Gokhan Gokhan

    Reply Author

    1. Quote: “This is not just the “best” way; it is the only way to true Christian leadership. Everything else is mere human works” said above & and yet God says, “Philippians 2:12b-13 “…work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure”. How are you able to discern what desires/directions are from God which ones are not as a leader on moment by moment basis?

    2. How are you able to discern what is human works/self righteousness and what is not on a regular basis?

    3. Who has lived this model so far? I would like to see/hear someone demonstrating this idealistic/good model working.

    thanks kindly,

  • david
    Posted on

    david david

    Reply Author

    Romans 5 opens with our justification by Christ. It continues by listing several things that develop the next idea in a person. I will pick it up in verse 4: “and perseverance, proven character, and proven character hope, and hope does not disappoint…”

    My point is that character for the Christian is based on our relationship with Christ. If we were not justified by our faith in Christ then proven character never truly develops. If my case is made, then your argument for this segment has missed the point.

    I agree that the Army model does not overtly address Christian beliefs. However, the underlying truth is without Jesus there can be no proven character. So we can synthesize from the model, or maybe a better idea is to correct the misunderstanding of the existing model to a better understanding of the truth.

    I believe this model provides a great structure to build on, not a finished program to live within. Overall, I am enjoying your discussion of the model. Very insightful in many ways.