By Harry L. Reeder III
Leaders whom we are to imitate must have lives worthy of imitation; therefore a Christian leader must have godly character. It's the foundation of the other two elements. Leadership content and competencies are meaningless without it. Unfortunately, I have seen ministry leaders who are theologically knowledgeable (content) and/or personally charismatic and effective (competent) destroy churches and organizations because of a lack of Christian character. Godly character is driven by the grace of God, focused on the glory of God, empowered by the Spirit of God, and defined by the Word of God - all the while propelled by the love of God. Character counts.
Circumstances do not determine your character; they reveal it and become the occasion to refine it.
Here's a classic example:
General Robert E. Lee, a devout believer who felt compelled to defend his state in the Civil War even though he opposed secession and despised slavery, was left with practically nothing but hardship when the war ended. His home, Arlington Plantation, which overlooked Washington, D.C., from the Virginia side of the Potomac River, had been confiscated by the federal government and turned into a military cemetery. His wife had become an invalid. One of his daughters had died. He had suffered a series of heart attacks that left him in questionable health, and he had no foreseeable income. A prominent insurance company offered him a huge salary simply for the use of his name as an endorsement, but Lee declined, replying that his fame as a military commander had come at the cost of many soldiers' lives and he would not take advantage of them. Furthermore, Robert E. Lee explained, "my name is not for sale at any price."! I often think of that whenever I encounter a mindless celebrity product endorsement. Instead, he accepted a comparatively small salary of $1,500 a year as president of Washington College - now Washington and Lee University - a small, obscure Southern college in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley. There, he committed himself to instilling young people with a character-based education rooted in Christian ethics, which he believed could help restore a broken nation. Meanwhile, he sought to set a personal example of reconciliation and reunion.
Lee's character made him a success in his peacetime calling and earned him the respect of the entire nation - North and South - and it was demonstrated on multiple occasions even before he took the job at Washington College. After he surrendered his army at Appomattox in April 1865, signaling to all other Southern commanders that the war was over, Lee returned to his wartime home in Richmond. He worshiped each Lord's Day at St. Paul's Protestant Episcopal Church, pushing his wife to worship in a wheelchair. Worship services at St. Paul's were racially integrated, but the seating was segregated, with white worshipers seated on the ground floor and black worshipers seated in the church balcony. Sunday worship ended in communion, and the practice was for each group to sing hymns while the other group took communion - black worshipers singing while white worshipers were administered the Lord's Supper, then whites singing while blacks partook of the table.
Richmond was occupied by Northern troops at the time, and one June Sunday in 1865 two Northern soldiers attended worship to make sure that the pastor prayed publicly for the president of the United States - which he did. They also had another purpose in mind. When time came for communion to be administered, the two soldiers came forward leading a former African-American slave, obviously intending to evoke an incident. As they led the black man to kneel at the communion rail, the entire congregation - white and black - froze in place. A tense silence gripped the congregation. No one knew what to do until Robert E. Lee rose from his seat, walked with measured military cadence down the marble-floored aisle, knelt beside the black man, and put his hand on his shoulder. Then the two - black and white - were administered communion together by the pastor. Afterward, the entire congregation came forward from both floors and received the Lord's Supper on a glorious day in the life of St. Paul's Church. Several worshipers recorded the incident in their personal journals. What could have been a disastrous confrontation was transformed on that day into a celebration of the love of Christ regardless of race - all because of the Christ-centered character of one man.
Circumstances do not dictate character; but reveal it and become the occasion to refine it.
The Leadership Dynamic (A Biblical Model for Raising Effective Leaders)
by Harry L. Reeder III