Only 18 percent of Americans trust our government leaders, and morality in America continues to decline. These troublesome trends cause many people to wonder where the George Washingtons, the Abraham Lincolns, and the Ronald Reagans of the 21st century are hiding. Yet, if leaders of this ilk appeared tomorrow, would this be enough to turn our country around?
Probably not, because our leadership crisis is not due to a shortage of leadership candidates. It stems from a shortage of street-level leaders, men and women who take seriously God’s mandate to lead themselves and those around them.
Throughout history, God’s heroic change agents have not been charismatic individuals with the kind of rock-star qualities we esteem today. They've been ordinary, faithful individuals who affected change by leading from the ground up—not from the top down.
Positive change in our country will happen when a groundswell of ordinary men and women decide to stop waiting for someone else to solve their problems and take personal responsibility to lead themselves, their families, and others in their sphere of influence. God looks for people who are not driven by making a name for themselves, but who want to help others succeed. People who are willing to sacrifice their own personal interests for the interests of others. People who ask where they can make the most significant contribution rather than where they can make the most money.
Business journalist Bill George writes, “[We have] a wrongheaded notion of what exactly a leader is. This misguided notion of leadership often results in the wrong people attaining critical leadership roles. Search committees and voters alike fall into the trap of choosing leaders for their style rather than their substance, for their image instead of their integrity. Given this way of doing business, why should we be surprised when our leaders come up short?”
Jesus turned the concept of leadership on its head when He responded to James and John’s request for positions of leadership and authority in His kingdom (Mark 10:42-45).
Note that Jesus didn’t rebuke James and John for their desire for positions of leadership; He confronted their concept of leadership. He wanted them (and us) to understand that leadership is not about getting others to serve us or our purposes—no matter how noble, right, and good they are—but about abandoning self-interest to serve those we lead, helping everyone achieve God’s purpose.
While not stating this directly, this passage in Mark implies that those being led are not children who need everything done for them. They are people with gifts, abilities, and resources who need to be developed and put to work doing the things God designed them to do, learning to lead themselves.
When we become overly impressed with, and dependent on, leaders at the top, the leadership needed at every level of an organization suffers. Placing our hope for change on an individual, whether a candidate for president, pastor, community leader, or corporate executive, leads to disappointment—and often disaster.
According to God, leadership is more about who we are and the choices we make than the position of authority we hold. It’s about believing that what God says is more important than what the press says. It’s about understanding that putting on Christ is infinitely more empowering than putting on a power tie. It’s about what drives us—not what we drives.
Substance, not style, qualifies a person for leadership. And our substance—the stuff at the core of our being—is formed from the choices we make day by day, hour by hour, at the private, intimate levels of life. Who we are up close and personal is the proving ground of true leadership.
Change begins right here—as ordinary people (like you and me) begin leading themselves.
Food for Thought
When was the last time you found yourself in a conversation about poor leadership? Did anyone offer up a personal solution? Next time, consider saying something like, “I wonder what we can do personally to address some of these concerns?”
What issues are you concerned about? If you had all the resources you needed and you knew you couldn't fail, what steps would you take to bring about change?
Now ask the question from a different perspective. Even though you don't have all the resources you need, and you might fail, what can you do today about this concern?
What will likely happen if you wait on a perfect leader?
When a leader asks for your "vote"--whether he/she is a political leader, a church leader, or a workplace leader—instead of listening for what this person is promising to do for you, listen for what he/she is promising to do through you.
(Adapted from What God Does When Men Lead )
A Group Study Guide for What God Does When Men Lead is available for free download. Click here.