Leadership Lessons: Character is Crucial

It's an oft-repeated truism that God is more concerned about who we are in Christ, than about what we do for him. It is, however, deeply foundational for any kind of Christian leader. Read 1 Tim 3 to see just how many qualifications for leaders are internal, character-oriented qualifications. And how few are skills- or theology-oriented.

Don't mishear me, some are skills and theology oriented, but they are massively outnumbered by the character stuff. The obvious lesson: skills and theology on their own don't make a spiritual leader. Neither does character alone (because leaders are tasked with shepherding the flock with the truth of God's word), but talent without character is absolutely lethal in a church, or the life of a wannabe leader.

Why is it, then, that so many training courses for leaders have either pay lip-service to character matters, or don't cover it at all? Is it because our training mechanisms circulate around educational models? ie it is very difficult to teach godliness by theory from text books in a class room. Just like you don't teach evangelism in a lecture hall or angling in a seminar room (you teach angling by a river. Not to be confused with Anglican-ing - you teach that in a cathedral). 

Needless to say, the Bible just doens't teach leaders that way. You learned from a rabbi by walking with a rabbi in order to become more like him. Elijah taught Elisha by apprenticing him, getting him to burn his boats (actually his plowing gear) in order to follow. Moses taught Joshua and Caleb by sending them out on missions. The first training exercise Jesus gave his disciples was to send them out in twos to heal the sick, raise the dead and cast out demons. Paul trained Timothy by sharing not just his teaching, but his life, his sufferings, his faith and endurance with him.

Character emerges out of experience, relationships and hardships approached with, and reflected on, with faith, humility and prayerfulness. As an aside I think it is very difficult to learn to walk by faith in familiar, entirely known and under-control circumstances. After all, we know it will all work there, even if God doesn't act for us. No surprise that you find so many exemplary biblical leaders and disciples have been formed in the task of global missions, where nothing is familiar and their only security is humbly walking with God.

So, good questions to ask of current and potential leaders are:

  • Do they have soft hearts? Are they known for being kind, wise, loving, faithful, repentant and forgiving?
  • How is their worship and prayer life?
  • Are they known for longing for their flock to have Christ formed in their hearts, with all the affection of Christ?
  • Are they prepared to walk into the unknown with the Lord, because their security is in him, not in being in control of all their circumstances?
  • Are the people from whom love and grace flow? You can tell people who have been on the receiving end of God's grace, because they tend to be gracious in turn

Let anyone with responsibility for training leaders think very hard about how to develop these things as well as skills. The main thing to think about is not how to educate them, it is how to father and disciple them. Because the main goal isn't that they know a lot about God, it's that they know God and are becoming noticeably transformed into the likeness of his son.