Leadership is a very important matter, for leaders, by definition, lead people. Who we choose to follow as a leader has very real consequences. How should we decide who we follow? In this post, I would like to make the case that the most important characteristic of a leader is character. What a leader says he will do and his stand on various issues is of lesser importance. Without good character, what confidence do we have that what a leader says, he will do?
Simply speaking, character is a combination of a person’s beliefs, reputation and managing relationships. For the purposes of this discussion, I will look at the Bible’s qualifications for an overseer in the church. I believe that these character qualities are essential for a good leader in every field of human endeavor, whether church, business or government. A study of the Old Testament would show that most of these qualities were noted as being important for leaders of nations, such as kings.
1 Timothy 3:2-7 (NIV) Now the overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?) He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap.
Let’s begin with the requirements regarding relationships. The Bible says that a leader should be “the husband of but one wife” and that “he must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect.” The reason is that if someone cannot manage his own family, how can he possibly manage anything bigger, like a business, a church or a government body. Now of course, this wisdom is not politically correct, for the media tells us that one’s private life and family life have absolutely nothing to do with how someone leads. This is foolish. If one is unsuccessful in his family life, he has a definite character flaw. Multiple marriages is a big red flag which you ignore at your own risk. If you want to learn something about today’s aspiring political leaders’ family lives, look them up in Wikipedia.
Next, let’s look at a leader’s reputation, which must be good with people outside of his immediate group. I don’t have time to go over each individual quality which make up reputation, but the list is worthy of study. A leader must be temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome and not a lover of money. This list covers dealing with people, lack of addictions, ability to communicate and proper handling of finances. The passage also indicates that a leader should grow in his leadership ability over time, so that he will not become prideful. Whereas, there seems to be a tendency to gravitate towards leaders who exhibit quarrelsome and angry traits, this is not what the Bible recommends.
Finally, I want to look at the importance of a leader’s beliefs as the foundation of their character. Again, contrary to popular opinion, a leader’s beliefs are not irrelevant and a private matter, but they form the basic worldview from which a leader draws principles with which to govern. If a leader’s beliefs are correct, the principles he governs by will be correct and ultimately successful. If a leader’s beliefs are incorrect or he draws his principles simply by polling the public, the result will be leadership failure.
Proverbs 9:10 (NIV) The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding. True wisdom and understanding only comes from knowing God and the truth of God’s Word. Can a leader who does not personally fear the Lord, govern by godly principles? Yes, to some degree, but how much better a leader who can lead both by the general principles of God’s word and the specific guidance of the Holy Spirit. Now, the vast majority of leaders in America claim to be Christians, so this claim doesn’t do much to winnow the field. One must analyze their words and their actions to determine their beliefs. If they have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, they will talk about it and not be ashamed of it. However, some leaders may be believers but have a very shallow understanding of God’s Word and how it’s principles apply to a Christian worldview. A leader with true Christian beliefs will exhibit a long track record of applying biblical principles to the issues of leadership.
In future posts, I will explore how biblical principles apply to various issues of importance to leaders and all of us. Moral character is of essential importance in leadership. Don’t fall for that line used so often, that all of us make mistakes. Yes, we all sin, but there are leaders who have godly character according to the biblical standard and have not fallen in the major areas highlighted by Scripture. Elect and follow leaders who follow God and you won’t go wrong.