Qualities Essential to Leadership (Part I, continued)

In the last post in this series we considered two of the five qualities that J. Oswald Sanders says are essential to leadership: Discipline and Vision.  Today we consider Decision, Courage and Humility. Decision

When all the facts are in, swift and clear decision is the mark of the true leader...Once a spiritual leader is sure of the will of God, he will go into immediate action, regardless of consequences...The true leader will resist the temptation to procrastinate in reaching a decision, nor will he vacillate after it has been made.

Presbyterians are notoriously slow in making decisions.  The church is not a business, nor is it a mission agency in the formal sense of the term.   Mission agencies are hierarchical organizations governed either by denominational oversight--Mission to the World, for example)--or boards of directors.  For this reason, it is much easier for these agencies to innovate and create than it is for the church.  Mission agencies also recruit their members according to talents and commitment to the mission.  The church doesn't recruit members.  The church takes in folks with all ranges of talents and value and commitments.  Thus it should be.  We are the body of Christ.  But, all that adds up to taking longer to make decisions (except in obvious moral or doctrinal areas where the decision has been made by Scripture).  When it comes to church leadership there are two common challenges.

First, there is a blended leadership structure in our particular church.  The Session leads the church.  But, there are individuals who are in public leadership positions as well.  The individual church leader (not only the Senior Pastor, but also key leaders in other positions) in a Presbyterian context has only that measure of unilateral decision making granted him or her by the Session (board of elders).  Again, thus it should be.  The key is for everyone to be on the same page.  The Session or the congregation or the Senior Pastor should not expect decisive leadership to be given beyond the boundaries of the authority that has been formally recognized.

Second, even if a church leader is granted the formal authority to be decisive, the leader is not in an organization where those who are under his leadership can be compelled to follow.  The CEO may fire subordinates, as may the Mission Agency president.  But, the local church leader cannot do this; indeed, they should not desire to fire those under their leadership.  (These folks are the flock of God, not employees or mercenaries.)    Quite often a local church leader may be ceded the authority to make a decision, only to find that after it was made that the decision resonated with very few and the results were minimal.

So, make sure the lines are drawn clearly, then everyone listen and pray hard.  When our desire to be decisive as leaders is mixed with courage, humility and prayer things tend to work out well.  Courage is not only needed to storm the gates of hell.  Courage is also vital to dealing lovingly with the heart issues that bog down the church.  Humility desires to keep Christ and his Kingdom at the center, and never to beat or drive the flock of God as if they are mercenaries or employees.  Prayer is the nursery in which all these virtues of the leaders take root and grow under the blessing of the Spirit.

I'll sign off by letting Sander's words stand alone on courage and humility:


Contrast these two records: "The doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews"(John 20:19) and "They saw the boldness of Peter and John" (Acts 4:13).  These were the same disciples confronted by the same Jews at an interval of only a short time.  Whence this new courage?  Inspiration gives the answer: "They were all filled with the Holy Spirit."  And when the Holy Spirit is ceded control of the whole personality, He imparts "not the spirit of fear, but of power..." (II Tim. 1:7).

The courage of a leader is demonstrated in his being willing to face unpleasant and even devastating facts and conditions with equanimity, and then acting with firmness in the light of them, even though it means incurring personal unpopularity.  Human inertia and opposition do not deter him.  His courage is not a thing of the moment, but continues until the task is fully done.


In the realm of politics and commerce, humility is a quality neither coveted nor required.  There the leader needs and seeks prominence and publicity.  But in God's scale of values humility stands very high.  Self-effacement, not self-advertisement, was Christ's definition of leadership.  In training His disciples for their coming positions of authority, He told them they must not be pompous and overbearing like the Oriental despots, but humble and lowly like their Master (Matt. 20:25-27).  The spiritual leader will choose the hidden pathway of sacrificial service and the approval of His Lord rather than the flamboyant assignment and the adulation of the unspiritual crowd.