THOUGHTS ON BIBLICAL LEADERSHIP


 

A TALK BY KENNETH BOA

I was asked to talk about this whole issue of authenticity and integrity. As you well know, the thing that people look for the most in a leader is integrity. They want to see a person who has authority whether yes is yes or no is no. Integrity has to do with what you are doing and what you are like when no one is looking. Yet, you know there is always someone looking.

 

A person with integrity from a biblical point of view is someone who lives Coram Deo (before the heart of God). They seek to practice his presence and welcome him into the rough and tumble, the give and take of day-by-day practice in such a way that their intentionality is to run their business and to lead and serve other people with eternal values at heart. Their desire then is to see that you do your work to the glory of God.

 

It’s difficult for me to get people to grasp this falsehood of the sacred secular dichotomy that so many people can continue to buy into whereby they have compartmentalized their lives such that if you look at this circle, and they have certain circles within their lives (this is my family, this is my hobbies, this is my finances and work and so forth). If you are a believer, you have an extra one that you just threw in: it’s Jesus. He’s another circle in there, but at the end of the day, he’s only a component. In my view, that’s not an integrated life.

 

To live out of the center is the key, and the wisdom is such that He becomes the hub of the wheel and the other components become spokes that radiate from it. In this manner, Christ is welcomed into all things so it’s not just one thing here and another there but all things become one and integrated. He’s living in you and through you in such a way that you do your work through the glory of God. It’s my conviction that what we do on Monday morning is as important on Sunday morning.

 

One of the films that I love to teach (I love narrative and the idea of something evoking the heart through beauty) is Chariots of Fire. I contrast two kinds of men. One, Harold Abrahams, was a man who was driven, he was a great man. Eric Liddell was a man who was called. When I teach the film, I work my way through the life of Harold Abrahams first and then I go back through the life of Eric Liddell, the flying Scotsman, who did all that he did through the glory of God. It’s an intriguing notion, the scene when Eric is before the Mission Society in Edinburgh. He gives a sermon real quickly. He says, “Eric, you can praise the Lord by peeling a spud if you peel it to perfection.” Don’t compromise. Compromise is the language of the devil.

 

Run in God’s name and let the world watch in wonder. Three great points: The first one alone is enough. It is the idea of living every component under the lordship and wisdom of God so that the whole literature in the Bible and, in particular, in the book of James which is always the wisdom literature of the New Testament.

 

There are two axes to wisdom: there’s a vertical and a horizontal. The vertical invites the leader to lead from the top down rather than the bottom up. The world around us pursues the bottom up and supposes through this reductionism that the small things can account for the larger things. It’s called naturalism. At the end of the day, the higher can account for the lower but the lower can never account for the higher. It’s a top down vision. It has to do with time and your view of time. How do I view this day, and the wise person will not just live from day to day but live with two days on their calendar. Today and that day. The day when I will actually give an account of myself before the Lord. If I live each day in light of that day, then what’s happening is that I’m animating each day with an expectation as if it were my last day. Think about this, God has actually wired the reality of every day being enough of its own. We were never meant to bear the freight of a week and put it on one day, and so many people do just that. It doesn’t mean that you don’t plan, but you hold your plans with a loose enough grip and allow God to move things around. Consider this day alone. You woke up and every day has a mini life.

 

Consider birth, growth, decay, death. You were born, you grow. You reach a point where you hit your maximum and then you begin to fade. You may have a second wind. Eventually, it will nail you and you will decay. You’re going to go into your burial chamber (your bedroom) and you will put on your grave clothes (your pajamas) and you’re going to turn off the light and pull your shroud (your cover) over your head and then you will go into this state of sleep. The scripture uses that image of sleep. Sleep is a kind of death because you let loose of control and give yourself to it. You are letting loose of the control of your system. It’s kind of a mini death. You wake up. In Ephesians 5, “Awake sleeper and rise from the dead and Christ will shine on you.” That’s a wonderful picture. In the morning you wake up and the son of righteousness gives you a new day and every day is a great gift.

 

The person who lives with humility and integrity is the person who will realize that the key to humility is to realize that everything is gift and grace. What do you have that you did not receive? Why do you boast as if you didn’t receive it? Your capacity to make wealth, your skillset, your intelligence; all of these things are things that were actually given to you and as capacities you will be accountable for them. Every day is a gift.

The wisdom on the linear is to actually live with a long-term perspective rather than the immediate perspective. Live with the end in mind. You live life backwards. You view your future and then move backwards. Life is seen with the end in view. Every day is a gift. Every day is a mini life. What you do this day, you will spend this 24 hours and squander it or invest it. It will be gone, and you will never have it again.

 

It is prudent that we treasure the present and live in the now rather than in the future. Most men don’t do that. They live from product to product. They suppose somehow that “if I acquire this thing,” or “if I get this position, then I will… (you fill in the blanks).” If you are among the few who accomplish it, most never get it, your life would’ve been better. Not so. The loneliest moment in your life is when you just experience what promised to deliver the ultimate experience and it just let you down. Even as you are laying hold of that thing, you realize that it isn’t what it was cracked up to be, and you are already looking for the next one. You put your hope in that, and therefore as a result, you are always living with that future tense.

 

As Walker Percy put it, is it possible for someone to miss his life like someone misses a plane? The answer is that it surely is. It’s a sad thought. You can live from product to product until you reach the point that there is no more time. You have nothing but memories behind you, the end in front of you. You say, “Where did it go?” Many people then go into nostalgia land. They live in the past. They successfully achieve the ability to avoid living in the now and treasure the precious present. This is all you have. The wise person would see that this “now” – I am welcoming him into the now and seeking to serve my customer, my clients, with integrity and skill, playing to an invisible audience of one, knowing that instead of being a person who pleases people, my call is to be a servant of Jesus, knowing from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord which you serve.

 

Looking at it that way, my conviction then is that all things being equal, I will be more apt to walk with integrity and excellence even when no one is noticing. At the end of the day, playing to the invisible audience of one will actually make your work more excellent. For example, if you are in construction, you know the materials you are using. Behind the sheetrock, there’s no way of deceiving him. The quality and integrity will be greater. If no one notices, you are satisfied. You are not seeking to impress people but to please Him.

 

I have a phrase that I use a lot, “God is easy to please, but impossible to impress.” You cannot impress Him. Nor can you contribute anything to God. He has no need or lack. But, you can participate. If you choose not to take on the call of God, He’ll get his work accomplished in another manner. Esther Chapter 4, “If you do not act now, help and deliverance will come from another place.” Who knows whether or not you will attain royalty, whether you were sovereignly placed in this position of becoming queen, but you will have to take the risk of obedience and trust.

 

God says that He will use us for deliverance. If you back off, I’m not going to be ringing my hands wondering what I will do because I will always get my work accomplished. A leader with integrity realizes each day that God is giving me an invitation to have a slice of the action that will last forever. He says, “Do you want in? If you don’t, I’ll get my work done, but you miss out.”

 

Psalm 90 is the only one written by Moses, so it’s the oldest. He speaks about the eternality of God and the brevity of human existence. Years fly away and they seem to be gone. Moses was a godly and wise man. It appears it was near the end of his journey. The generation of the exodus would no longer be that of the conquest. They missed out on the opportunity. I estimate that there were about 89 people who died a day for 38 years. Moses went to a lot of funerals. He was an objective man. “Teach us to number our days (Verse 12) that we may present a heart of wisdom.”

 

Is there anything I can do that will last, or is it like writing my name on water? Jesus answers that the things that we do in Christ as we abide in Him and allow His vitality to live in us and through us, by the power of the spirit, turn out to be much fruit. You are called that your fruit will last. If we trust him, and obedience flows out of trust, trust flows out of loving, loving flows out of knowledge, Jesus says that He will give perpetuity to the work of our hands. We all want that. The measure of the significance of something is how long it will last.

 

I think of leadership. When we were in Vienna, I asked about the next thing we will be speaking at (because I have to live in the present), Joe says, “Oh, you will be speaking on leadership.” We walked about ten minutes and went to the Botanical Gardens. It turned out to be pretty good, so I’m using it. I’ll use it right now. I’ll give you the briefest version.

 

There are three dimensions, and they all begin with the letter “s.” There are three metaphors of a leader. A leader as a steward means that he is one who owns nothing, possesses nothing. In fact, as a steward, he manages the possessions of another. As an ambassador, he is on the king’s business. The leaders as a steward is his perspective.

 

Secondly, the leader is seen in scripture to be a shepherd. The idea of shepherding with integrity as it speaks of David. God has given you a unique sphere of influence and He has called you to shepherd those people. The shepherd feeds, protects, and guides. It’s no compliment that we are called sheep. They are pretty dumb and can’t really do a lot for themselves. You’d like to be a lion, but we are instead called sheep. They are dumb creatures who need a shepherd to take care of them. They will get cast down and will die on its back in a few hours.

 

God isn’t impressed by numbers as we are. We want to count and quantify so we can see how we are doing. God calls us to a more robust ambiguity and you realize that if you are immature you are looking for answers. You actually won’t see your influence in this life. Your life has a hidden impact. You won’t know. Ever so often when you are down and need encouragement, God may grace you with a little feedback when you need it. Someone may say, “When you did this, it had a powerful impact on my life.” God may do that to let us know that we are having an impact on someone. Keep on. I’m not going to give you feedback. Most of it is hidden. You would be living by sight and not faith. The idea is to live in this shadow lands, to live as a pilgrim, a stranger, an alien in this world that with the realization of living through faith, hope, and love, two of those will disappear. Faith will disappear because one day we will see Him face to face. Hope will disappear. Once you lay it down, you no longer need that either. Love will endure.

 

We are called to relationships. That brings us to the third level. The leader as the servant. As the servant leader, this is your practice.

 

When we created the Leadership Bible which is now back again and in a new edition, it went out of print for a period of time. We then got the rights. I turned it into a little handbook called Handbook to Leadership. I like using this thing. It was an interesting process that we went through in putting this together. We considered this matter of leadership and came up with the notion that it is personal development that is the key to everything else. It is the character of the leader that makes the difference. We came up with categories about personal development, skill development, and then relationship development. It was helpful for us to do that.

 

When Jesus points the twelve to leadership, the essential qualification is the leader’s spiritual and moral depth. It’s got to start with your character. Your integrity, your dependence on God, your vision, your purpose, and all of those things, is critical. That defines what you do. In Luke 6, 39–49, your qualification for leadership is your spiritual and moral depth. The good person brings forth what is good, and the evil person brings forth what is evil. The mouth speaks of what is in the heart. We see this whole notion here and Jesus makes it very clear as they are jockeying for position for their place in his kingdom. We can be on the right or left. That is the way of the world. It is not to be so with you but rather the first will be last and the last first. The one who serves will be the leader. He has the upside down values of God that are counter intuitive and counter cultural.

 

You see this notion of the leader’s character which, in my view, counts more than anything, it is molded and shaped by the life of Christ in us through the unique prism of our personality. The only way you can really be a full servant of other people is to be secure enough to serve other people. Looking at life from the top down point of view. We could go on or see what questions you may have.

 

When people are asked “what are you looking for in a leader,” that’s what I think of – Integrity. If a person makes a claim or promise, he will keep it even if it turned out to not be as advantageous as he thought, his word is his bond. There is an authenticity. The basis of integrity is the unchanging character of the living God. Jesus Christ the same yesterday, today, and forever gives me an absolute standard and foundation. It is the definition of what is true, good, and beautiful. The unchanging character is the wellspring of all that matters. It is the unchanging character. It is an anchor for the soul as Hebrew 6 puts it that the unchanging character becomes an anchor for the soul that is both sure and steadfast. We need this stability in our life.

 

If you look at your ethics, or defined standard of behavior, morality has to do with your live standard of behavior. Ethics is how you define it and morality is how you live it. Integrity is the degree of congruence between your ethics and your morality. Your desire is for those to become increasingly congruent. Never fully obtaining that in this life but getting them closer and closer. Living in the present tense, practicing his presence, all this flows out of Christ and the hope of glory who seeks to accomplish something of eternal value through the unique prism of your personality and temperament that He has given you. That’s a wonderful picture.

 

It’s an odd thing that there are negative forms of integrity. It’s interesting how a person claims something and then how they actually live and we understand that. People will be more impressed by what people do than what they say. I remember my father said something that I still remember, it was so bizarre. He said to do as I say, not as I do. Of course, values are more caught than taught. You are called to be an incarnation of transcendent truth. The powerful notion that Christ in you is such that his desire is to live his life through you, as you, in such a manner that he will do it through your personality and abilities, but he will do something uniquely through you, as you. We bear fruit that will last. That becomes something authentic and powerful and real. Living out of the center with integrity and security is critical.

 

I’ll use this scenario: You are at a party. You don’t know anyone. What’s the first question someone asks? “What do you do?” They are typically trying to size you up. Not everyone, I’m being cynical. Some people just want to see if there’s any common ground. They ask and want to define you. The world defines us by what we do. The Word defines us by who we are and there’s a big difference. Suppose you were to ask this question of another. Instead of that one, ask “Who are you?” That would be a strange question. Almost like extending your left hand. People will shake your left hand, go give it a try. Sometimes I try weird things.

 

How would they answer? They would tell you what they do. I didn’t ask them their job. I asked who they are. They’ll tell you about their family. I didn’t ask about their family. I asked who they are. They really want to get away from you at this point. Press that a couple more questions and the average person doesn’t have a clue as to who they are. They have fabricated something based on having or doing…no “being” at all. Possessions and performance (what we have and what we do) isn’t enough to sustain a robust idea of our identity. We need something that will be true of us. Whether we are young or old, single or married, rich or poor, healthy or not, we need something that will sustain us that is an unchanging reason for being. I have a very simple answer. I can tell you who I am. I’m a child of the living God. That transcends all things and moves all. I can live out of the center. The Word tells you that who you are should shape what you do.

 

God has wired us or crafted us in his image. He has planted eternity in our hearts. We can’t get rid of it. The atheist is God’s haunted. Even when you deny them, you are haunted. The bottom line is that we are crafted in his image, and even fallen, we are still image bearers. God has wired us to have a security for satisfaction, but we go to the wrong places to get them. For security, we turn to people. The problem there is that people let us down and we let them down. For significance, we turn to possessions. It’s never all that it’s cracked up to be, and someone will always have more. For satisfaction, we turn to performance and position. Again, none of those earth-found accomplishments will ever sustain. Our hearts are restless until they find rest in Him. God wisely uses restlessness as a pulley that can draw us to Him. He gives us many gifts and graces. No earthbound good is enough. As Augustine put it: “You’ve made us for yourself and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you.” 

 

I believe that God has given us a fundamental basis for security. That is the fact that we are His children. We are now children of God. By virtue of that, I have security. God’s love is measureless and ceaseless. He loved me when I was unlovable. There’s nothing I can do to make Him love me more or less. Significance is based upon the fact that I’m embedded in a family that will go on forever. I am a member of a body and I have an identity that gives me a sense of significance bigger than myself. I find my need for satisfaction satisfied because I have been given the power of the Holy Spirit who can live through me as me. I’m satisfied and I can accomplish something that endures. God wires us this way. Often God will use pain and setbacks to drive us to Him. Very few people call upon Him when everything is going well. He crafts this world in such a way that He is bigger than your pain or bad intentions of other people. Much of our pain is self-induced. I’m astonished with God’s patience. He puts up with us. He sees us as we will be. I see that He loved me in spite of myself. He gave me gifts and a basis for security.

 

I talk about this idea that God is easy to please but impossible to impress. You cannot simultaneously seek to impress people and Jesus. You have to choose your audience. Consider this with your children, grandchildren, etc. What happens when they make artwork for you? You put it up on the wall or refrigerator. It’s an art gallery. Make sure you always keep it, because they will ask where you put it. Artwork on your refrigerator will fetch nothing at a garage sale. That stack of artwork will be worthless from the world’s point of view. Why do you treasure it? It’s borne out of love. You are pleased with it. As imperfect parents, we can take pleasure in their offerings. God also takes pleasure in the desire to be pleasing to Him; there’s a simplicity in such a way that I want to submit to you that your greatest accomplishment on this planet will be God’s refrigerator art. He will put it up there not because it impresses Him but because it gives Him pleasure. You did it out of love. What you do there is acceptable to Him. Don’t take yourself so seriously, because there’s someone already who did. The more secure you are in your walk, the less you need to base your identity on other people, you can be secure enough to love even when there’s no reciprocity.  

 

God crafts and uses pain, there may be the pain of a broken relationship.   God is bigger than those things. In the west, we think pain must be avoided at all cost. In the biblical vision, pain is something that God actually gifts us so that we can learn and grow through it.

 

Who are the people who you most admire whether they are alive or have passed? Who are the heroes? What are the qualities that they possess? Persistence, humility, perseverance in spite of opposition, true grit, kindness, love, courage, patience. None of these qualities are forged in times of ease. Every one of them is forged in adversity. If everything is going your way, you will have a thin character. Everyone wants to treat God as some kind of a cosmic vending machine. Prayer is no strategy session between yourself and God. They are trying to manipulate and control. You let loose of control and humble yourself casting all your anxiety upon him.

 

As I said, I teach film and one of the films I enjoy teaching, It’s a Wonderful Life, became the Christmas special that everyone came to love and know. It feels me with a nostalgic desire for what once was. It’s gone. That world has passed. You see a world when it was a corporate morality. There was a moral consensus. It has now been radically abandoned.   We see the greatness of what once was. I believe it was based upon the borrowed capital of a theistic worldview that even at that time was being abandoned. The more you move away from a theistic vision of what is true, good, and beautiful, the more people will then want autonomy and independence and have what they want when they want it and get rid of God and so on. There is a corporate suicide that takes place. In fact, we see it in scripture. We see it in history. Every nation has a cycle of birth, growth, decay, and death.

 

I have a DVD that I created. I created this depressing thing in 2005. The Decline of Nations where I look at a 10-point comparison between the United States and Rome before its fall. I look at education, entertainment, government, and a wide array of things. It was depressing then but a lot more now if I were to update it. At the same time, I ended with a positive note, and I try to today. God raised up kings and He deposes them with history in His hands. God is not alarmed and nothing He is going to do will be defeated by our falling. It’s a sovereign perspective. There are cycles. Again, those cycles are predictable and you can see how long they last. This democratic experiment will only last as long as there is virtue to sustain it (by Alexis de Tocqueville). There is a triangle where you have to have virtue to sustain freedom. Faith sustains virtue. As long as they continue to feed each other, we are fine. What happens when faith gets eroded and virtue finds its erosion? As long as they continue to feed each other, once that is lost, which is happening, there is now an abandonment of that. I predicted it in the 70s, there will be overt persecutions of Christians in this country. It is becoming more robust. It will be people who define things by what you see.

Try using that same vilification with any other ideology or group and you’d never get away with it. This should be no surprise. At the end of the day, it is the name of Jesus. There is a power in the name of Jesus that’s found no other place. That’s why it’s intriguing to me.

Another film I teach, Crimes and Misdemeanors, by Woody Allen, is about a Jewish ophthalmologist. His word is when he is totally upset and totally depressed, he says, “Jesus Christ!” He doesn’t believe in Jesus. Why doesn’t he say “Moses!” or “Buddha!” The reason he knows to use that name is because there is no other name that has the power and authority. It is the name above every other name. It is the thing that people will vilify, because it actually would put a cap and limit on their autonomous (inaudible); sexual behavior as they define it, any number of things. The quest for autonomy means that we get rid of God.

I was just doing a seminar in Annapolis, where I go every year. I do four days there, and they have 30 events. Two of the events were for Seekers in neutral places. One was in a bar and the other in a bookstore. The question was “Why God?” You never know what questions will come up, but I enjoy that. It was interesting. At one point I mentioned the idea of radical relativism in morality. People pose as moral relativists. I can turn one into an absolutist right away. I used to stand in line for an iPhone, now I just order it online. So back then, there were about 20 people in line. If I strolled to the front of the line, everyone will become absolutist and say, “Who do you think you are?” I wouldn’t do this unless I was big. Here’s the point. They may believe that they are socially conditioned, but they know better. I had a guy stand up in this meeting when I used this analogy. He said, “That’s a straw man.” I sensed a spirit in this guy. This guy had something in him. I later found out what it was. He had a demonic presence. He was a warlock. He and his wife, who was a witch, were there in that meeting to disrupt it. People were praying, I was praying. They left. They were not able to get a purchase on us. Even if you believe you are socially conditioned, you don’t live that way. You live better than your worldview because of your image of God. We live as if there really are rights and wrongs. We could go on about the culture, but it is a somewhat of a depressing topic.

I looked at the end and I see that the good guys win out after all.

I think about a fight that took place in 1979 in Knoxville, Tennessee, in the Stokely Athletic Center. It was the World Heavyweight Championship between Mike Weaver and John Tate. Weaver is knocked down a few times in the fight and loses every round. In the 15th round with 20 seconds left, he comes up with a haymaker out of nowhere and knocks Tate out. Where did that come from? A friend of mine saw it live and said, “When I saw it the next night, I had a totally different attitude.” Knowing what would happen, this guy comes back bloody after every round, I know the 15th round. Revelation 21 and 22, we see the 15th round. There will come a time when he makes all things new. No more death, pain, sorrow, sickness. Those alienations will be gone. We have a sovereign God who is bigger than history who allows things to happen for His good treasure. It will be crafted in such a way that it will be accomplished even through the wrath of men. Nothing will defeat his purposes, and we see that is the ultimate outcome. You and I are embedded in the greatest story ever told.

When I teach literature, I like to teach because a great story points beyond itself to the greatest story ever told. The greatest story ever told has four basic acts: creation, the fall, redemption, and the consummation of new creation.

Jesus came not to live but to die. The story is not over and He makes it clear that in the days before His coming, there will be chaos in the world. It will get worse before it gets better. Be of good cheer because He has overcome the world.

I ask this question of people: “How do you fix a broken story?” Everyone of us in this room is a broken story. We all have had setbacks, disappointments, pain, betrayals, dashed hopes and dreams. The only way I know to fix a broken story is to embed your story in His story, the greater story. The greatest story ever told. It begins well and ends well. Comedies start well then chaos ensues and then in the last act, misunderstandings get straightened out. The characters in the beginning are not the same as those in the end, because the pain that they went through creates a character ark and it forges a new character that they otherwise wouldn’t have had. It was beneficial. It’s a picture of the great story that God is telling. There won’t be one person who will go before the throne and say, “But you said,” because we all know that he does all things well.

At the end of the day, if leadership is not sustained by a servant heart, it is for nothing. The currency of heaven is relationships and that is what we are headed toward. If it’s a true understanding of what biblical faith is like, it will manifest itself in how you treat your neighbor. You shall love your neighbor as yourself. It comes down to that.

I have a Wednesday morning weekly teaching, which by the way is being videotaped, and it is free on my website. I just did Part 73 of the Gospel of John. One of the folks who attend that meeting is Horst Schulze, who ran the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company. The deal was that when they were bought out, he had to manage the thing for five years, and then he formed his own chain, the Capella Hotel Group. I chatted with him, and we were talking about business ethics and integrity. I’ve used Truett Cathy’s example of being closed on Sunday. Horst prevented pornography from being available in the Ritz-Carlton chain. Once he left, it’s there. Interesting stuff. Big source of revenue that he turned down. That’s not good business, right? Think again. He has this thing that we discussed and it has what he calls the cannon, and it’s the vision for what they do. He has 24 service standards. It’s astonishing that many relate to how people are treated and given dignity. If we serve them better than they have ever been served, then they will come back. Furthermore, I won’t hire anyone unless they buy into this culture and become part of the team. Lots of people can be functional in success and failures. They do real well at the office and then come home and they are monsters. The way they treat their children. The little things matter at the end of the day. The least, the last, and the lost. Jesus noticed people who were not noticed and who were to be avoided. Jesus stopped for the blind beggar or someone who was paralyzed. He stopped. He reduces His world to that person’s world. In a time-stopping exercise, He looks at them full in the face and ministers to them. In that diving appointment, He sees the work of the Father. He knew He was given the time to manifest the work of God.

One last thing I’ll give you. We are out of time. It relates to people. Chronos and Kairos. You can never put opportunity time in your planner. These are the moments when God will give you an invitation, and often they will be construed as interruptions. What will happen is that God is an invisible master of ceremonies. He will give you an opportunity, if you have a bit of margin, put someone in your mind. Maybe I need to call someone. I have found that the timing was perfect and that it was absolutely essential. Sometimes I am prompted to shoot up a prayer for a complete stranger. I did yesterday while we were driving. You never know what those moments will be. Your greatest moments with the autonomy of God, will not be in your planner. It will be something that God creates. Look for them. Usually they have to do with giving attention to people who are often overlooked or not considered to be worth it. The life of Christ that I see there, He wants to be manifested in our lives as well.