Last time we started a conversation on voting as Christians. This week, I want to continue that conversation, but widen it out a bit, too. The question I’d like to consider is: What are the most important qualifications for a leader?
The question definitely applies to voting, but it applies to more than that. I believe we, in general, have a faulty system for choosing leaders. The problem is not necessarily the system itself, but our criteria are lacking not only sound judgment but also attention to statistics.
I’ve had this conversation a number of times with people, and we tend to come up with different answers. Some believe that the most important qualification for a leader is that they have leadership capability. But what does that mean? When pressed, their definition of leadership capability is that a person commands respect, manages people, casts a vision, and commands a following. These are important things in a leader, perhaps. But you and I both know a lot of people meet these qualifications, and they lead us into terrible things. History can offer up a parade of people who qualified as a good leader under this definition, but their legacy is one of destruction and harm.
I’ve written entire papers on the qualifications for leadership, given the that I just finished a doctorate on church leadership. There were a lot of qualifications in those papers. But somewhere there has to be a priority list. Particularly when we are choosing between candidates with a lot of different qualities and beliefs.
Of course, we first turn to scripture. How did God choose leaders? It’s interesting that when Israel demanded its first leader, God gave them someone very much like the definition of a good leader that I spoke about above. Saul is described as a handsome man who commanded respect, an imposing man, and one of wealth to whom people looked up. Literally. He was big.
It was a disaster.
On the other hand, when God chose his first leader, David, scripture tells us that he didn’t look for the things that human beings look for. He chose someone everyone else overlooked. Why? We find it is because David had a heart after God. What does that mean? It means that he wanted to know God and follow him as best he could. It means he was humble, knowing his place before the Lord of the universe. Yes, David was very strong, and very courageous. But these were secondary qualities to the fact that he wanted to obey God and do the right thing in every circumstance. That he did not do so was later quite evident. Power corrupted him, and he did terrible, terrible things.
Still, his heart in the beginning was one that chose right, and in the end, his humility when confronted with his own sin shows that he remained a man who wanted to please God, despite the middle part that nearly destroyed his kingdom and family. We can learn good leadership qualities from both aspects of David’s life.
One is obviously humility. David chose to admit that he didn’t do everything right. He chose to accept that he didn’t know everything. He willingly leaned on other people to correct him and to guide him. The kings in the Old Testament who refused guidance were the ones continuously referred to as those who “did evil all their days.”
It’s simply a good leadership quality to know your own weaknesses and to surround yourself with people who know what you do not.Tweet
We see a leader in the New Testament doing this as well. The Roman army captain who came to Jesus to ask for healing showed that he understood God was above him and he needed to retain his humility. Because of this, Jesus healed his servant (Luke 7). We should look for humble leaders who can lead us holistically in this way.
God chose Moses as perhaps his greatest leader partly also because of this humility. It says in Leviticus that Moses was one of the most humble humans alive (Numbers 12.3). That’s a pretty amazing commendation. This isn’t a prerequisite for leadership that we think about very often. We tend to look more at the confident, even overconfident person and think—oh what a great leader. They will really be strong and tough for us. But God considers humility a number one qualification. This is counterintuitive to the way we tend to do things. Yet it makes so much sense. Humble people rely on teamwork, and all business models agree that this is a much better way to succeed.
Why else did God pick both Moses and David? Well they were strong. They had both made a living as shepherds, which means they did learn to be tough, protective, and physically capable. It certainly does come in handy as a leader to be tough. You get a ton of arrows shot at you, and if you can’t handle it, you don’t do well. So it’s an excellent quality to have, although again, we tend to equate strength with brashness, boldness, and masculinity, none of which it needs to be. You can quietly protect your sheep, as Jesus did, without all the fanfare. Personal strengths is very important. We come by it in many different ways. Some earn it by being tested physically, some by being tested mentally, spiritually, or emotionally. Strength has many faces.
To be a shepherd, however, one must also be compassionate and caring. A shepherd, as we know from Jesus’ stories, goes after lost sheep. He heals them. She cares for their wounds, calms their nerves, and makes sure they have everything they need for survival. This means that a good leader, according to God, also considers compassion and care as some of the most important qualities to embody. Moses, in particular, is constantly interceding for his people, begging for mercy and offering to take the blame for their misdeeds. He is pretty incredible, really.
A good leader leads the way in difficulty. She or he goes first when things are hard. Moses was the first one who walked into the Red Sea. He consistently showed his people that he was willing to take the first step in the vision he was trying to leave them toward. David did the same with his band of men. When he didn’t go first, when the others were at war, is when he made his most fatal error. A good leader won’t let others take the fall.
Integrity and humility go hand-in-hand, and it appears that in Scripture they override policy and personality every single time.Tweet
Finally, continuing to look at both David and Moses, we see that a good leader is one who we can trust because she or he has integrity. Yes, both men really messed up. Yes, they both exhibited terrible judgment at times. Yes, our elected officials will as well. They will have policies with which we do not agree. But are they people whose integrity has been generally proved over time? Have we seen a track record, like we do with Moses and David, of choosing what is right over what is expedient? Do we see a willingness to listen, learn, and adjust? Integrity and humility go hand-in-hand, and it appears that in Scripture they override policy and personality every single time.