A Man as Leader
Martin Luther once said, “Young fellows are tempted by girls, men who are thirty years old are tempted by gold, when they are forty years old they are tempted by honor and glory.”1 Luther understood that for many men, leadership is a temptation before it is a calling. Many of us associate leadership with higher pay, more respect, and a nicer office at work. Even in the church, we can link leadership with honor rather than character. Once, at a conference in a small town, I asked my host, obviously a respected leader, what made people respect a man in his town. He replied, “A man knows he’s got it made when he has a good truck, a cabin on the river, and the office of elder in the church. . . . Of course, if he can kill a deer with a bow at fifty paces, that helps too.” Valued skills, possessions, and positions are the currency that buys us social respect. But Luther knew, as we do, that Jesus defines leadership differently:
You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. (Matt. 20:25–28)
Jesus demonstrated that true leaders serve—and suffer. Like Jesus, leaders will be blamed for things they did not do wrong. King David suffered attacks simply because someone wanted to “thrust him down from his high position” (Ps. 62:3–4 esv). Leaders suffer pointless envy and irrational hate. Jesus said, “They hated me without a cause” (John 15:25 esv).
On the other hand, leaders are praised for work they did not perform. Their people favor them, serve them, and show frightening levels of devotion; consider the men who risked their lives to get David a drink of water from his favorite well (2 Sam. 23:14–17)!
Still, leadership is hard. The work never ends. Leaders constantly plan and prepare. They field endless requests for assis- tance or endorsement. Whenever they propose a new initiative, those who favor the status quo line up to oppose them. Yet they are responsible to forge consensus, to make the right course of action seem obvious, and that can take a long time.
Even in the business world, leadership ought to be—perhaps it must be—hard work and service first, long before it ever leads to glory. Before he became famous, Sam Walton used to dress in blue jeans and a flannel shirt and walk, incognito, into his Wal-Mart stores to buy shampoo and toothpaste to evaluate the service. Walton understood that to lead you have to serve, and to serve you have to forego glory.
Beside its interest in servant leadership, the Bible stresses character-based leadership. The key text for that is 1 Timothy 3, Paul’s description of a church elder. Of course, leadership in business and society is much broader than authority in the church. Nonetheless, Paul’s principles apply to every kind of leadership.
1. Martin Luther, “Table Talk,” in Luther’s Works, trans. Theodore Tappert (St. Louis: Concordia, 1967), 158.
Excerpt taken from pages 167-168 of The New Man: Becoming a Man After God’s Heart by Dan Doriani, copyright 2015, P&R Publishing, Phillipsburg, NJ.