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Written by: C. W. Booth

September 7, 2007

Successes or Failures: God-chosen Leaders?

Books I have read recently on leadership (secular and Christian) all spin one common thread, people only follow "successful" leaders. Each book wanted to teach, instruct, and pass along the authorís wisdom of how to be a successful leader--be that success in business or for God.

In the Christian books, they hold up various successful patriarchs of the faith as examples of successes so that we may learn how to emulate them and do leadership right. Moses is a popular success story, as is Abraham. But are the authors who reference such men correct in calling them leadership successes? Well, yes and no.

Moses was a spectacular failure in most of his leadership initiatives. Though he grew up in Pharaohís court, he resorted to murder (ie taking the life of an Egyptian was not within his valid area of authority and so he committed a breech of Egyptian criminal law) to accomplish his goals in his own timing. As a result, he had to go into a forty year exile in the wilderness and become a shepherd, leading around only sheep. By this time he was 80 years old; his youth had been squandered, he had become a fugitive, and nothing of substance had yet been accomplished.

When God appeared to Moses at age 80 and told him to go to Egypt to free the Jews, old-man Moses argued back. He noted his speech was not silver-tongued and that he was not the man for the job. The books on leadership normally denounce such behavior as lacking self-confidence, a key ingredient for "successful" church leadership. Further, we take note that Moses really was old by the norms of any culture, and the authors argue that leadership is most often a young manís game. Finally, at this time, no one was following Moses, except perhaps Aaron, and the acid test for whether you are (or should become) a leader is to assess how many followers you already have. Makes one wonder why authors are so quick to cite Moses as a "good example" of successful leadership when he does not fit their own criteria to be a spiritual leader.

Moses did go to Egypt of course, with only one follower in tow, his brother. On numerous occasions he attempted to negotiate the release of the Jewish slaves, only to be fully rejected and ridiculed. Even the Jews turned against him because his efforts had resulted in their work load being increased. Successful leadership? If one were to adopt the advice offered by leadership authors, Moses would have been tapped on the shoulder by his seniors, told to find a nice easy chair, and permit younger, more qualified men brimming over with confidence and who hold proven track records of success, take over the negotiations.

But God is not constrained by our notions of success. He used Moses not because he was a successful leader, but in spite of the fact that he was not, or more properly stated, He used Moses because Moses was unsuccessful. God uses the weak, broken, and unsuccessful of this world to send a message to it. Godís message, "I alone do what I want for My own purposes, and it is not the man who accomplishes anything by force of his will, but I accomplish all I desire by force of My will and My power."

Moses did eventually lead the people out of Egypt, and they followed, but not because of Mosesí superior skill set, but because God had used His miraculous power to break the Egyptians. The people did follow Moses out of Egypt, but then, what else were they going to do?

As they entered the wilderness, Moses was unable to keep the people from straying, over and over. Even when they got to the promised land, Moses could not convince them to enter and take it, resulting in their wandering for another forty years. Moses of course, being a prophet and law giver, did learn to become a genuine leader during those additional forty years of walking. Yet, he was forbidden to enter the land because of his own leadership failures (striking the rock instead of speaking to it so as to demonstrate Godís power, an act which ruined a prophetic symbol of the Christ to come).

God uses failures. He glories in His use of failures. He takes the foolish and ineffectual people of this world and turns them into mighty spiritual successes in spite of themselves. By His power, and for His glory. Are you a failure in the eyes of this world? Take heart, when you are 80 years old, God may yet choose to direct you in a way that will make a large impact for His kingdom, or perhaps he has already used you secretly, in a way that you cannot yet know. Personally, I take great comfort in the story of Moses, the unsuccessful old man whom God used in spite of his shortcomings and "unsuccessful" leadership style.

For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, "I WILL DESTROY THE WISDOM OF THE WISE, AND THE CLEVERNESS OF THE CLEVER I WILL SET ASIDE." Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, so that no man may boast before God. But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, so that, just as it is written, "LET HIM WHO BOASTS, BOAST IN THE LORD." (1 Corinthians 1:18-31)

Let no man deceive himself. If any man among you thinks that he is wise in this age, he must become foolish, so that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness before God. For it is written, "He is THE ONE WHO CATCHES THE WISE IN THEIR CRAFTINESS"; and again, "THE LORD KNOWS THE REASONINGS of the wise, THAT THEY ARE USELESS." So then let no one boast in men. For all things belong to you, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or things present or things to come; all things belong to you, and you belong to Christ; and Christ belongs to God. (1 Corinthians 3:18-23)


[Note: the above essay was originally posted as a blog entry which I wrote and put online September 7, 2007. As such, it was subject to public commentary as is customary with blogging. As a practical matter, I normally delete the comments entered on the blog site when building this essay archive. If you wish to read the comments posted by others about the essays, you are invited to go online, read them, or post your own comments.

However, on a few occasions the comments and perhaps my own responses to the comments are so core to understanding the essay, or the implications of the essay, that I have chosen to incorporate them, as I have done below.]

Comments to the September 7, 2007 post entitled: Successes or Failures: God-chosen Leaders?

Begin Comment 1:

Good point with Moses.

A favorite Scripture of mine along those lines is Daniel 2:20-21 "Daniel answered and said, 'Let the name of God be blessed forever and ever, For wisdom and power belong to Him. And it is He who changes the times and epochs; He removes kings and establishes kings, He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to men of understanding.'" So wisdom, knowledge, power, and position are all in HIS control. If we possess any of those things may we humbly thank Him for it, and wisely use it. As Nebechardnezzar learned "He does according to His will in the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth, and no one can ward off His hand" (taken from Dan. 4:35)


Posted 9/8/2007 3:27 PM by Denise

End comment one


September 22, 2007

Of Pearls and Swine

Have you ever heard another Christian say, "Oh, donít waste your time trying to witness to a member of that organization; they are utterly closed to the gospel, and you know that Jesus says not to throw your pearls to swine"? Or perhaps you have given voice to those words yourself. But did Jesus really say that?

An excellent womenís Bible study program is called "Precepts." My wife and I are good friends with one of the trained instructors who conducts the advanced studies. She says that a motto of the program is, "Context is king," not dissimilar to one of my personal favorite expressions, "Context, context, context."

"Do not judge so that you will not be judged. For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' and behold, the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye. Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces. (Matthew 7:1-6)

The injunction that Jesus gave about not throwing pearls to swine is in the context of rebuking a fellow believer for sinning. The gospel (the good news that Jesus is the Christ) is not the pearl (Matthew 7:6). Pearls, in context, are our gentle rebuffs directed at fellow Christians, to help them see how they can repair damaged relationships with each other or with God. Those pearls are for Christians only, which are those persons who will not mock such gentle, and even subtle, attempts to call attention to their improper behavior. Such corrective comments are truly pearls of wisdom, and are for the ears of Christians alone.

By contrast, Christís salvation is for "all" to hear and is intentionally cast to the unsaved. It often, very often, takes years of encounters before someone is converted. Provided that such folks do not become hostile, persevere in your testimony of the gospel to them. If someone persecutes you (threatens or attempts bodily violence, financial revenge, or legal action), then you may wish to leave (Matthew 10:23). But the world will almost always respond to the gospel initially only with mocking and antagonism because they are at war with God and consider the preaching of the cross to be foolishness, as we all did prior to salvation. The natural man is at enmity with God and we must expect an unpleasant response until the person becomes convicted by God and repents unto salvation.

If we were to withhold the gospel on the grounds that some people are inherently more difficult to reach than others, more closed than others, or that some people initially respond with anger or mocking, how empty would be the streets of heaven. Everyone, every human creature, needs to hear the gospel. Every person, every one of Godís elect before they are saved, is akin to the unclean swine, fully undeserving of Godís forgiveness, but a recipient of Godís love nonetheless.

On the other hand, do not bother to try to ask the unbeliever to live like a Christian. They cannot and will not. Pointing out to an unbeliever that they should be giving money to the church, reading their Bible, and refraining from telling lies about their fishing trips is throwing your pearls of rebuff before swine. Save your rebuffs for fellow believers. The unsaved have little need of them, and will never see their value. Rather, they first need to hear the gospel and have their natures converted from that of swine to those of sheep.

One final question for those who are already born-again. The last time a fellow Christian came to you and gently corrected you for an observable sin in your life, did you treat that rebuke as if you were being offered a valuable pearl, or did you play the role of a swine? Just a questionÖ


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