Over the past few months, we’ve seen the rise of a particular phrase in our popular public discourse. You’ve probably heard it bandied about, or perhaps have even used it yourself. It’s the phrase, “unfit for leadership.” Both presidential candidates have been the subject of that clause, and the more I have heard it used, the more it has struck me that we may have stumbled into one of the greatest opportunities we, as Christians, have to offer a clear definition to our culture of what it means to actually be fit for leadership.
We have become desensitized as a culture to the call to virtuous leadership. Our distrust of politicians has been well-documented recently, but beyond politics the once mighty rivers of trust we had in religious, civic, and other institutional leaders have slowly evaporated into weak, trickling streams. Ours is the culture of Wikileaks, where the new expectation for leaders is that of course they all lie! The slow erosion of trust started with Watergate, was exacerbated by the Catholic Church’s clergy abuse scandal, and cemented through more recent events such as doping in sports, Bill Clinton’s infamous “it depends on what the definition of is is” explanation, and the now-regular release of troves of behind-the-scenes emails and other sensitive documents.
One of the most difficult tasks for Christians as we live in the world and seek to be witnesses to the kingdom of God is focusing on our main objective despite disorienting events around us. When we focus so intensely on the culture and the problems with it, we can become dizzy with the toxic fumes we’re inhaling. That’s why we have to have to fix our eyes on Jesus (Hebrews 12:2). To redefine the noted leadership scholar Ronald Heifetz, who called for leaders to know how to balance being on the dance floor and going to the balcony, we as Christians need to know how to be engaged with our world but also when we need to get away from the hubbub and be revived by personal time with Jesus.
When we see our cultural climate more clearly, I believe, we will not only see its great difficulties and challenges, but we will also see the great opportunities for the gospel to advance. One of those opportunities is the chance we have now to utilize the public conversation surrounding those being “unfit for leadership.” We have a chance with our actions and our words to point to the Christian confession of leadership. Instead of merely pointing out how a particular candidate is unfit for leadership, we can actively show people what true leadership is all about.
If we want to recover a sense of trust in our leaders, we need to be people who are trustworthy. That doesn’t happen by large, grand gestures, but rather through the slow, steady plodding of making every decision under the umbrella of the lordship of Christ in your life. Do you have a central ethic that guides your decisions, or are you tossed about by the winds and currents of circumstance?
If we want to recover a sense of character in our leaders, we need to do more than strive to be people that don’t make mistakes. We need to show the world what true forgiveness, mercy, and restoration are like. Our call is to be holy as God is holy (Leviticus 19:2, 1 Peter 1:16), but when we fail, as we do every day, our call is to seek to be people of forgiveness, grace, and restoration.
If we want to recover a sense of wisdom in leadership, we absolutely must be people who know what biblical wisdom is. We cannot tolerate the cancerous strain of pragmatism that so infects American Christianity. Biblical wisdom begins with the fear of the Lord (Proverbs 1:7), which involves both our minds and our hearts in a daily, costly submission of our entire being to God. There is no efficient way to get this kind of wisdom. You can’t life-hack your way to it. You can’t make God a to-do list item. You have to let him be in charge of your to-do list. Biblical wisdom is gained through daily submission to God, and in this endeavor we need heroes and mentors who are further down the path than we are.
What a time to be called to our culture. Of course there are challenges aplenty, some so sinister they tempt us to despair. But in Jesus’ name we have the great honor of seeing beyond the challenges into the opportunities to give witness to our Savior through our leadership. Our marching orders are clear: be faithful until He calls us home.