Tuesday, February 17, 2004

Principles of Leadership(1)

I want to take the next two days or so to write some thoughts about leadership. I will confess that what has had me thinking about this of late is the presidential politics that is escalating and will dominate much of this year. But I will advise that what I have to write is better applied close to home. We all have leaders and many of us seek to be leaders. Some lead by authority. Some lead by influence. Some lead outwardly. Some lead from the sidelines. Leadership can enable the many to do more than they could alone.

Let me begin with the first recorded leadership crisis in the Bible:

It came about the next day that Moses sat to judge the people, and the people stood about Moses from the morning until the evening. 

Now when Moses’ father-in-law saw all that he was doing for the people, he said, “What is this thing that you are doing for the people? Why do you alone sit as judge and all the people stand about you from morning until evening?” 

Moses said to his father-in-law, “Because the people come to me to inquire of God. When they have a dispute, it comes to me, and I judge between a man and his neighbor and make known the statutes of God and His laws.” 

Moses’ father-in-law said to him, “The thing that you are doing is not good. You will surely wear out, both yourself and these people who are with you, for the task is too heavy for you; you cannot do it alone. Now listen to me: I will give you counsel, and God be with you. You be the people’s representative before God, and you bring the disputes to God, then teach them the statutes and the laws, and make known to them the way in which they are to walk and the work they are to do. Furthermore, you shall select out of all the people able men who fear God, men of truth, those who hate dishonest gain; and you shall place these over them as leaders of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties and of tens. Let them judge the people at all times; and let it be that every major dispute they will bring to you, but every minor dispute they themselves will judge. So it will be easier for you, and they will bear the burden with you. If you do this thing and God so commands you, then you will be able to endure, and all these people also will go to their place in peace.” 

So Moses listened to his father-in-law and did all that he had said. Moses chose able men out of all Israel and made them heads over the people, leaders of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties and of tens. They judged the people at all times; the difficult dispute they would bring to Moses, but every minor dispute they themselves would judge. 

Then Moses bade his father-in-law farewell, and he went his way into his own land. (Exodus 18:13-27) 

There are several points that can be made from this passage:

  • Leaders do not have to pretend to be perfect. This is implicit by the very fact that we have this story recorded. Moses was the greatest leader of God's people before the days of Jesus the Messiah. But here, he records an account of his early inexperience, and his willingness to receive instruction from his father-in-law. Think about this. Moses was one who heard the voice of God. He knows and teaches the ways of God to the children of Israel. He is able to inquire of God and receive answers. How easy it would have been to ignore and disdain Jethro's words. They were not from God, but from a mere man. A leader must understand that wise counsel comes from anywhere God chooses,
  • Moses was to choose men who were "able." In other words, they needed to be equipped for the task. Through a combination of natural abilities and training they needed to be able to lead.
  • Moses was to choose men who "feared God." These would be those who knew and understood that they would need to give an account of their leadership to God.
  • Moses was to choose "men of truth." They needed to be interested in truth over politics or personal gain. The people that they led needed to know that they would fairly investigate a matter. This means that they would be both diligent and thorough. When you are on the wrong side of a judgment, it is easier if you perceive the system to be fair.
  • Moses was to choose men who "hated dishonest gain." They would be those who would refuse a bribe that would pervert their judgment and their leadership. This characteristic naturally follows from fearing God and seeking truth. It is mentioned here, because when you see a leader using his position for personal gain at the expense of justice, you know that he neither fears God nor is a man of truth.

Character matters. Given equal abilities, the person who fears God, loves truth, and hates dishonest gain is the clear winner. So what if the abilities are not equal and the one with lesser ability has the stronger character? This depends on whether the one with lesser ability is competent and whether the one with greater aptitude is corruptible. On the scales of efficiency vs. graft, it might be better to live with the mistakes and missteps of the godly leader.

Tomorrow, I will look at the leadership vacuum in Israel during the times of the Judges.

<>< Test everything. Cling to what is good. ><>


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