Leading is dangerous. It always has been, and it always will be. Yet, leading is required. Someone will lead. But will they lead well, and will they lead with the right convictions? Let’s look at 10 leadership principles and dangers…
1) Leading requires deep conviction
There have, however, been many successful leaders that led vast amounts of people astray. Leaders must have deep conviction; why else would you lead? Especially with how dangerous leadership is? Why lead at all unless you have the dire conviction that something must be done about something, even if you’re the someone that must do it… But it is vital that that something that we have conviction about is the correct conviction. If not, we not only risk and waste our life, if we’re an effective leader, we also risk and waste other’s lives too.
So, leading is dangerous because it requires the correct convictions. If we have the wrong convictions, we can do a lot of wrong (especially, ironically, if we’re “good” at leading). When you have conviction you lead, even if it means leading with a limp.
2) Leading requires talking well
People respect you when you can talk well, whether or not you have the character or maturity to back it up. So, talking well is important. Who’s going to follow someone that is uninspiring and doesn’t make sense? Yet, someone can talk well and amass a massive following and yet have nowhere to go, no ability to actually lead, or is only heading to a very shallow, empty place. Talking well is a blessing but can be the fancy shell that hides the hollow emptiness inside.
So, if you talk well, make sure you live well too.
3) Leading is lonely
Leading is often quite lonely. In the same way that it can be lonely once you summit a great and difficult height. It’s lonely by the sheer difficulty of the journey. But the reality is, it’s also more dangerous at the summit. So, as hard as it is and as much as you may not think you need help, if you lead, you especially need help. You need it in a way that you’re not even aware of and it’ll be harder to find than for others.
So, as lonely as leading is, you need to find people to travel with you and traverse the trails. Leading is dangerous no matter what, but it’s doubly so if you don’t have someone to help you when you fall.
4) Leading is hard, it requires leading
Part of what leading entails is setting the pace, being in front. This can be the case when it comes to work ethic, creativity, dedication, knowledge, or really all of the above. Leaders can’t and don’t know it all, and shouldn’t think they do or can, but leaders do lead. So, if they’re not always in front they’re knowledgeable and encouraging to those that are “in front” in their specific expertise. Yet, to even be competent and relevant in many fields is difficult.
So, leading is hard because it requires diligent work in various fields. It also requires wisdom to navigate what needs to be worked on and when.
5) Leading requires leading and learning
Leading requires audacity but never ignorance. It requires a type of confidence but never arrogance. It takes boldness but must never be blind. Learning must always be a part of leading and if it’s not, leading is very likely to go the wrong way. Humility should also accompany leadership. If not, followers should and hopefully won’t accompany you very far.
So, as you lead, make sure you are also learning; even from those you’re leading.
6) Leading becomes easier, letting character and integrity slip becomes easier too
As leading becomes more natural and second nature it’s easy to let character and integrity slip. When it’s more and more possible to cut corners, it becomes easier to cut corners. When the wake of your own name can carry you and you can drift on what you’ve done in the past, it can be hard to continue to deserve that name in the future.
So, as you become more competent in your leadership, don’t neglect your character. “A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches” (Prov. 22:1).
7) Leading requires delegation, not dictatorship
As a leader you can’t do everything. You can’t even do a lot of things. If you’re going to actually lead you have to get people to do things. Yet, what the leader is called to is wise and loving delegation, not dictatorship.
So, carefully and humbly lead others to contribute. Without them, you would not be a leader. You have the honor, steward, and privilege to lead them. It’s not about you.
8) Leading from the front is where the bullets are
To lead is to be in the front of the fight. It is to be at the front of the fray. To lead is essentially to die daily. It is to make the hard decisions, even the wrong decisions, and it is to own it. Leading means being first out of the foxhole and on to the field. Leading is difficult and costly.
So, remember when you’re in the front you are liable to get “bullets” from the front as well as “friendly fire.” The “bullet”, however, does not mean that you are a terrible person or that it was even specifically meant for you. It’s partly just that a lot of times people direct their rage at leaders.
9) Leading is failing but having the conviction to do it again and again
I’ve heard it said that “Leading is disappointing people at a rate that they can endure.” That truth resonates. Leaders don’t always get it right, but they have the conviction to continue, to endure, and to do it again until they get it right. Where the leader is leading is that important. Conviction for the cause, propels the mission.
So, have no false illusions about what leadership is. But also realize that it’s hard for every leader. So, when you fail it’s no surprise. It’s what happens when you lead. The thing is to get up again and do it again.
10) Leading effects all of life
Leading is not contained within the “9 to 5.” Leading doesn’t just happen at work. Leading is who you are and so leading goes with you.
So, ensure that as you lead at work or your organization, you’re leading and loving well at home too. If you say “yes” to something, know that you’re saying “no” to something else. Make sure you say “yes” to the right things: your faith commitments, your family, your friends.
 Notice that non-leaders get murdered and killed but leaders get assassinated. That is, people kill other people on accident and people murder people for money or as a result of someone’s rage. But leaders get assassinated because they led. Leaders literally put themselves into harm’s way in all sorts of ways.
*Photo by Mathias Jensen
Recently, I’ve seen a lot of Christian leaders be criticized or criticize, and even call other Christian leaders names because of disagreement on such things as politics, the pandemic, and policies regarding justice. And not surprisingly, those who are not leaders are also jumping into the fray and lobbing grenades too.
How many people, however, actually think through the appropriate way to evaluate Christian leaders? And how many people know what reasons Scripture gives for concern? How many Christians have a sort of theological triage they use to evaluate and make these important decisions?
There are doctrines of “prime importance and great weight” that we must insist on. “There is a time to fight. There are certain hills that must not be surrendered, even if the cost is losing our lives.” Some of the hills that we must be willing to die on are the deity, life, death, resurrection, and Second Coming of the Lord Messiah Jesus.
Other doctrines, beliefs, and convictions are, or should be, a little further down the list of importance. Just as a doctor would jump to help the patient with a gunshot wound to the chest before she would help someone with a broken pinky finger. It is not that the pinky finger is not important; it is that the gunshot wound is more important and dire.
So, let’s look at some biblical criteria by which to evaluate Christian leaders. It should be understood that these criteria do not have the same weight. The criteria of “Christology,” for example, should be given more weight of importance than “Clarity.”
1. Christology (& sound doctrine)
Christian leaders have the duty to communicate God’s transforming truth, exalt Jesus Christ, teach the Bible so that people understand and apply what God has said, and encourage conformity to Christ (see e.g. Neh. 8:7-8; 1 Tim. 3:2). Faithfulness to the revelation of God and preaching Christ are paramount (Col. 1:28). If the word of God and Jesus the Messiah are not being preached then you have reason for concern.
If false or unhealthy things are said or taught about God, His word, or Jesus the Messiah then you have great reason for concern and should share your concern and likely leave that individual’s leadership. It is important that we are aware that leaders sometimes don’t preach the truth. Peter told us that there will be false teachers among us, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought us (2 Pet. 2:1).
“If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions” (1 Tim. 6:3-4).
So, in evaluating a Christian leader, ask yourself:
- “Does this person preach/teach true, healthy doctrine? Does this person preach/teach the goodness and glory of Messiah Jesus?”
- “Do I like the style etc. of the person?”
See also: Deut. 13:1-5; 1 Jn. 4:1-3; 1 Cor. 12:3; Col. 1:28; 2:8 2 Thess. 2:15; 1 Tim. 1:10; 2 Tim. 1:13; 4:3; Titus 1:9, 13.
The leaders own life should be in order. That is, the leader should have Christ-like character. Leaders and teachers can “profess to know God” and yet “deny Him by their works” (Titus 1:16). That’s partly why it’s so important that Christian leaders meet the biblical qualifications (1 Tim. 3:1-13; Titus 1:1-9).
We see through James P. Boyce’s and Charles Spurgeon’s life that they were entrusted with great gifts but we also see through a survey of their biographies that they also suffered great grief. We have much to glean from them. We will see that we are all called to be faithful stewards of what God has entrusted to us. Though it will be difficult to various degrees we can endure what God has called us to by the grace that He grants us.
Hear Spurgeon’s words:
I know you will tell me that the gold must be thrust into the fire, that believers must pass through much tribulation. I answer, Truly it must be so, but when the gold knows why and wherefore it is in the fire, when it understands who placed it there, who watches it while amid the coals, who is sworn to bring it out unhurt, and in what matchless purity it will soon appear, the gold, if it be gold indeed, will thank the Refiner for putting it into the crucible, and will find a sweet satisfaction even in the flames.
Thus, even as we face difficulties we must entrust ourselves to God, as Spurgeon did. Even in the midst of Spurgeon’s great suffering he “never doubted that his exquisite pain, frequent sicknesses, and even despondency were given him by God for his sanctification in a wise and holy purpose.”
A Great Work At A Great Cost
Spurgeon and Boyce both had great life works but they both suffered great loss in their lives as a result. Boyce, who founded the seminary I went to, said that the seminary may die but that he would die first. He would worked rain or shine for the prosperity of the school. He said that he did not own the seminary but rather it owned him. Boyce kept the seminary alive and fed it with almost his own heart’s blood. Thus we see that Boyce clearly realized that he would have to imitate his Lord’s long-suffering. There was “mammoth energy and sacrifice involved” for Boyce “in setting the seminary securely during the trials of decades.” “Boyce endured the press of ‘anxieties, trials, and labors” during days when the seminary’s future appeared bleak and exerted ‘herculean toils’ to surmount these seemingly invincible difficulties.”
Similarly, Spurgeon was not a martyr, but he chose to die every day. He suffered with gout; he gave his money, his time, and himself completely to the Lord. God used Spurgeon greatly. He wrote over 140 books, penned around 500 letters a week, spoke to thousands of people each week, started an orphanage, started a pastor’s college, and led countless people to Christ, among other things. That was all possible because he gave himself entirely to the Lord. One of Spurgeon’s biographers, Arnold Dallimore, said, “Early in life he had lost all consideration of his own self, and his prayer that he might be hidden behind the cross, that Christ alone might be seen, had expressed his heart’s chief purpose.”
Spurgeon said, “It is our duty and our privilege to exhaust our lives for Jesus.” Boyce, similarly, had an “entire devotion.” Likewise, Paul was greatly used by God because he gave himself unreservedly to Him; even to the point of much affliction. If we are going to be used by God, for His glory, we must unreservedly sacrifice all and He must get all, Christianity is all-encompassing. May our chief boast be Jesus Christ, and Him crucified (Gal. 6:14).
Jesus held the weight of the world on His shoulders, even the sin of the whole world. Yet, Spurgeon and Boyce surely often felt as if the weight of the world was on their shoulders. However, they also felt that their burden was easy (cf. Matt. 11:30), and they knew that through Jesus Christ their reward would be great (2 Cor. 4:17). Both Spurgeon and Boyce knew that the cross came before the crown, trials before the triumphant Kingdom. So, Spurgeon said, for instance, “Good men are promised tribulation in this world, and ministers may expect a larger share than others.”
I would do well to remember the price that godly men and women have paid throughout the centuries when I become discouraged in my work. The writer to the Hebrews wrote about various faithful men and women to encourage the recipients of the letter to endure in the face of persecution (see Heb. 11). I need to remember “the great cloud of witnesses” (Heb. 12:1), including Spurgeon and Boyce, and run on with endurance (cf. v. 1).
Martin Luther talked about the theology of the cross. I think both Spurgeon and Boyce had a clear understanding of this theology. In fact, I think Spurgeon could have written his own tome on it. Both Spurgeon and Boyce lived a life of strenuous endeavor, to borrow Theodore Roosevelt’s words. Yet, they did not box as one beating the air (1 Cor. 9:26). Rather, they knew for what they labored, they labored for the Lord, and thus knew their labor was not in vain (1 Cor. 15:58). Spurgeon, as he loved Bunyan’s great work and read it around one hundred times, certainly would have agreed with Lloyd-Jones’s observation: “The great truth in Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress is not that Christian endured great hardships on his way to the eternal city, but that Christian thought it to be worth his while to endure those hardships.”
Spurgeon and Boyce ironically suffered with some of the same physical bodily afflictions. They both suffered with bouts of gout, for instance. Gout is typically the worst when body temperature is lower. Gout very often targets the big toe but can also cause joint pain in wrists and fingers as well as fatigue. Symptoms from gout can actually be so intense that the weight of a sheet can be unbearable. However, the physical pain was multiplied for these great men when you consider all that they were incapable of doing when they were laid up because of their pain. Though they sought to make the best of this time, surely they often felt anxiety and perhaps guilt over what they were unable to accomplish during these bouts.
Yet, their great enemy, to borrow the words of Spurgeon, was also a great teacher. We see in Spurgeon’s biography that his great suffering enabled him to better relate to people (cf. 2 Cor. 1:4). Suffering taught both Spurgeon and Boyce humble reliance on the Lord. This brings to mind Paul’s thorn in the flesh (2 Cor. 12:7). Even as Boyce and Spurgeon were writhing in pain I am sure they thought (1) that God was sufficient to use frail jars of clay (2 Cor. 4:7), (2) that God is sovereign and when they weep He still reigns and cares for His Church, and (3) that though they were indeed experiencing great suffering it was nothing compared to the eternal wrath that the suffering of the Son of God had averted for them. Thus, though these great men knew great suffering, they both grew instead of grumbling. Their gout was a rod that dished out sanctification.
I would do well to look at these men’s example and hear again, “Good men are promised tribulation in this world, and ministers may expect a larger share than others.” I may or may not deal with the physical pain that they dealt with but I can certainly learn from their patience in the midst of it. I must also remember “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master” (Matt. 10:24). If Jesus my Master suffered then I can expect nothing less.
During one of Spurgeon’s bouts with depression he said, “I could weep by the hour like a child, and yet I knew not what I wept for.” Not only did Spurgeon have a natural disposition to depression but the weight of his position and responsibilities also was heavy upon him. He said,
Our work, when earnestly undertaken, lays us open to attacks in the direction of depression. Who can bear the weight of souls without sometimes sinking to the dust? Passionate longings after men’s conversion, if not fully satisfied (and when are they?), consume the soul with anxiety and disappointment… The kingdom comes not as we would, the reverend name is not hallowed as we desire, and for this we must weep… How often, on Lord’s-day evening, do we feel as if life were completely washed out of us!
Thus we see that Spurgeon, “the prince of preacher,” was sometimes even depressed about his sermon on Monday or even as he walked down from the pulpit on Sunday. He said these words to a group of ministers, “We come out of the pulpit, at times, feeling that we are less fit than ever for the holy work. Our last sermon we judge to be our worst.” “We experience dreary intervals of fruitless toil, and then it is no wonder that a man’s spirit faints within him.”
I appreciate this from Steven Pressfield in The War of Art:
“The following is a list, in no particular order, of those activities that most commonly elicit Resistance:
1) The pursuit of any calling in writing, painting, music, film, dance, or any creative art, however marginal or unconventional.
2) The launching of any entrepreneurial venture or enterprise, for profit or otherwise.
3) Any diet or health regimen.
4) Any program of spiritual advancement.
5) Any activity who aim is tighter abdominals.
6) Any course or program designed to overcome an unwholesome habit or addiction.
7) Education of every kind.
8) Any act of political, moral, or ethical courage, including the decision to change for the better some unworthy pattern of thought or conduct in ourselves.
9) The Undertaking of any enterprise or endeavor whose aim is to help others.
10) Any act that entails commitment of the heart. The decision to get married, to have a child, to weather a rocky patch in a relationship.
11) The taking of any principled stand in the face of adversity.
In other words, any act that rejects immediate gratification in favor of long-term growth, health, or integrity. Or, expressed another way, any act that derives from our higher nature instead of our lower. Any of these will elicit Resistance.”
These thoughts are taken from John C. Maxwell’s book The 21 Indispensable Qualities of A Leader.
“The world has never seen a great leader who lacked commitment” (18).
“Effective communicators focus on the people with whom they’re communicating… Who is my audience? What are their questions? What needs to be accomplished?” (26).
“If you follow your passion–instead of others’ perceptions–you can’t help becoming a more dedicated, productive person. And that increases your ability to impact others” (85).
“If you want to grow your organization, you have to remain teachable” (144).
Quoting Gilbert Amelio,
“Developing excellent communication skills is absolutely essential to effective leadership. The leader must be able to share knowledge and ideas to transmit a sense of urgency and enthusiam to others. If a leader can’t get a message across clearly and motivate other to act on it, then having a message doesn’t even matter” (23).