“Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the LORD’s purpose that prevails.” Proverbs 19:21
by BJ Rudge, Ph.D.
Whether you are in a leadership role or not, this study on biblical principles of leadership is essential for every Christian for growth and maturity.
A few years ago I wanted to teach my soccer team the importance of keeping their focus and not becoming complacent, so I brought a jar of 18 marbles to practice. Each marble represented how many games the team had to play in the regular season. I explained that each season they are only given a limited number of marbles (games), and they must decide what to do with each one. Once the marbles were gone they could never get them back.
In the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30), Jesus instructs on how we should live as we await His return. He reminds us that, like the master who provided each of his servants with talents, we are to be faithful with what we have been given. By contrast, verses 24 – 30 focus on the wicked and lazy servant who wasted opportunities and lived a fruitless life.
As in the team parallel given above, in life, we all are given only so many “marbles.” Will we waste our opportunities, making excuses for inaction and failure? These are traits exhibited in bad leadership. Or will we use our opportunities to live fruitful lives for Jesus Christ?
Consider Esau who, because he was hungry, sold his birthright to Jacob for a bowl of stew (Genesis 25:29-34). As the firstborn son, Esau’s birthright entitled him to several blessings including a double portion of the inheritance (Deuteronomy 21:17). However, Esau rashly gave all this up for a bowl of stew.
Impulsive decisions can have adverse effects, not only for the leader but also for those affected by his/her decisions. For personal study, ponder the disastrous consequences of King Saul’s hasty decision to consult the witch at Endor (1 Samuel 28:7).
All About Me
Our culture may view bragging and self-praise as a sign of confidence and leadership ability, but the Bible makes it clear that God opposes the proud (1 Peter 5:5). Boasting in one’s own strength and bragging about one’s feats without acknowledging God is self-glorification – a sure road to eventual defeat and humiliation.
Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar, surveyed his empire then made the following boastful claim:
Is this not Babylon the great, which I myself have built as a royal residence by the might of my power and for the glory of my majesty? (Daniel 4:30).
Babylon was certainly a place of beauty and majesty under Nebuchadnezzar’s reign. Not only did he construct the hanging gardens (recognized as one of the seven wonders of the ancient world), his capital city was surrounded by a double wall that was 10 miles in length highlighted by the elaborate Ishtar Gate. He expanded the empire (becoming the first Babylonian king to rule over Egypt) and brought Babylon to world dominance. However, in the midst of boasting about his great accomplishments, the following occurred:
While the word was still in the king’s mouth, a voice fell from heaven: “King Nebuchadnezzar, to you it is spoken: the kingdom has departed from you!” (Daniel 4:31).
Nebuchadnezzar is a real example of the biblical truth that pride goes before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall (Proverbs 16:18). The passage in Daniel goes on to tell us that Nebuchadnezzar was driven away from his people and lived like a wild animal until he realized that the Most High is ruler over the kingdoms of men (Daniel 4:32, 33). Nebuchadnezzar was restored to power after he recognized that honor and glory belong to God alone (Daniel 4:34-37).
Saddam Hussein ruled over the nation of Iraq and desired to be the next Nebuchadnezzar. He wanted to rebuild Babylon and gain prominence over surrounding nations. This proud and boastful man lived in opulence while his subjects lived in poverty. But Saddam was eventually humbled. He was captured by American forces – found hiding like an animal in a hole in the ground. Put on trial, he was executed for his crimes against the Iraqi people.
Self-exalting pride leads down a dangerous and destructive path; it hinders one from being an effective leader for God. True humility acknowledges that it is not “all about me” but testifies that everything one has and everything that one accomplishes comes from the Lord.
Controlled By Fear
In my coaching I have seen many players fall short of their potential. The most common reason is fear: fear of failure; fear of incompetence; fear of disappointing others. As in sports, fear has a crippling effect in leadership. Moses had to face this reality when God told him to deliver the Israelites from Egyptian bondage. Moses’ response echoes his fear of inadequacy:
Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt? Oh, my Lord, I am not eloquent, either in the past or since You have spoken to Your servant, but I am slow of speech and of tongue (Exodus 3:11; 4:10).
With God’s help Moses was able to move beyond his fear and lead the children of Israel out of Egyptian bondage and through the wilderness to the edge of the land God promised them.
A sad reality is that people who are dominated by fear forfeit opportunities to be used by God. This loss is due not to their own shortcomings, but to their lack of trust in God – not believing He can use them to make a difference in the lives of others. Never forget, friend, the key to being used by God is not based on your ability, but on your availability.
Give In to Compromise
King Saul is an example of compromise. In the early chapters of 1 Samuel, we find a man who had been chosen by God as the first king of Israel (1 Samuel 10:24). However, because Saul constantly compromised (1 Samuel 13:7-14; 15:1-23) God eventually rejected him (1 Samuel 15) and no longer answered him (1 Samuel 28:6).
King Ahab is another example of how compromise destroyed a leader. He not only allowed his wicked wife Jezebel to influence him, but he allowed her to lead the people of Israel into idolatry through Baal worship. His life of compromise not only resulted in his death but that of his entire family (1 Kings 22:29-40; 2 Kings 10:17 ).
While leaders need to be adaptable and sometimes have to make concessions, never compromise your convictions or commitment to the Lord as Saul and Ahab did.
Dictate to God What They Want
The account of the prophet Jonah is a reminder to not set limitations on God. Jonah wanted God to destroy the wicked city of Nineveh. Unwilling to obey God’s command to call the city to repentance, Jonah initially ran away (Jonah 1:1-3).
In biblical leadership, God will not put up with those who approach Him with a sense of entitlement or predetermined expectations of what He must do for them. A friend of mine learned this lesson when he began the process of planting a church. He told me he would not accept anything less than planting a mega-church. He felt that a small church would not be worth his time and energy. After a year of little success, the church he planted failed and he left the ministry. He later learned that while there is nothing wrong with wanting to be successful, this must never take precedence over being faithful. My friend was eventually restored to another pastoral position where he is faithfully serving the Lord.
As leaders (and believers), our ultimate goal should be to seek and yield to God’s will. Dictating what we want, imposing our expectations, or attempting to manipulate God is futile. In the end His plan will succeed:
Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the LORD’s purpose that prevails (Proverbs 19:21).
Complain In Difficulty
Under the leadership of Moses, God had taken the Israelites out of Egyptian bondage. He supernaturally provided for their needs during their wilderness journey. As they approached the promised land, Moses selected twelve men – tribal leaders – to scout the land. They all came back and reported that the land was just as God promised – flowing with milk and honey (Numbers 13:27). However, ten of the spies pronounced they could not conquer the land because it was inhabited by powerful people who lived in fortified cities (Numbers 13:28).
This negative report caused such grumbling and rebellion among the Israelites that God made them wander forty years until all those age twenty and older died in the wilderness. Of the older generation, only Caleb and Joshua (the two spies who remained faithful to God) entered the promised land (Numbers 14:24, 30).
Reaps Destructive Fruit
It is imperative that we do not become, or follow leaders who habitually use excuses, make impulsive decisions, are “all about me,” or are controlled by fear; who give in to compromise, dictate to God what they want, or grumble and rebel in the face of difficulties.
If we are to be the leaders God has called us to be, then we need to avoid that which is displeasing to the Lord. Instead, let’s embrace the qualities and characteristics that honor the Lord and make great leaders for Him.