Developing Wise Leaders

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Mar 04, 2010 by Alex Mekonnen | 0 Comments

In my reading of many leadership books, I hardly come across authors whose focus is to make leaders or readers wise. Topics on motivation, assertiveness, power, organizational culture, human behavior, decision making, vision, strategy, planning, etc., are very common. However, the wisdom that the Scripture emphasizes and the teachers of Israel hammer on the minds and hearts of their pupils starting at their young age is hard to come by from the pens and pulpits of Western teachers and pastors. I often wonder whether we have focused on the peripherals and lost the fundamentals of leadership. “Israel’s teachers were persistently passionate in their concern to lead their students in the right path. They argued, badgered, reasoned, illustrated, pleaded, and commended in order to make their points. In short, they cared…Wisdom for them was a matter of nothing less than life or death. It was a way in which children of the covenant with Yahweh to live. And it was the only course in life that made both present and ultimate sense” (Hubbard 1982:43). Being children of the new covenant, living between the now and the not-yet in creative tension, I argue that our need for wisdom cannot be less than the children of Israel. And leaders need a double dose of wisdom in our time.

Wisdom is key for survival and success in life. To those who embrace it, wisdom shields them and leads them to victory in the battle of life; it guards the course of the just, saves from the ways of the wicked, and discretion protects understand- ing guards as we try to live by right choices and decisions (Proverbs 2:1-16). To highlight the importance of wisdom, God described it in military nouns and verbs. To deliver and rescue is wisdom’s chief mission. Without having wisdom to shield, guard, protect, and save us. We often take psychological pills to boost our leadership image and self-confidence to perform our duty. And in the heat of battle, we end up being a Goliath before David.

For those of you who are hungry for wisdom, I encourage you to study the wisdom literature in the Bible, Proverbs in particular. This particular book warns against perverted speech, loose sexuality, ungodly self-reliance, greed, hastiness, lying, laziness, disruptive social behavior, bad company, etc. These ungodly motives and behaviors have been fatal viruses that ruined the leadership careers and families of many. Instead of using their God-given brain and time for a worthy cause such as inventing medicine, alleviating the burden of the poor, giving hope to those who are languishing in hunger and disease. While they can create an opportunity of education for many world illiterates, improve the communication and transportation system in the majority world, be an ambassador of Christ to spread the Good News of salivation and disciple converts into Christ-likeness maturity. Those who hate wisdom waste their life in unproductive, shameful and regrettable way. The Bible calls these people fools. The best epitaph we can find on their tombstone that fits the description of their lives would say: “The evil deeds of a wicked man ensnare him; the cords of his sin hold him fast. He will die for lack of discipline, led astray by his own great folly” (Proverbs 5:22-23). Listen to those who thought they have made it in life and they enjoy the pleasure of this world with lack of wisdom and end up in addiction, divorce, and insurmountable debt. Watch those whose children went into a self-destructive life style and know nothing but making poor choices and bad decisions because of the bitterness and loneliness they developed as the result of being neglected by their own parents who are responsible for bringing them to this world. Spend time with a congregation whose leader committed adultery or embezzled money and the news is caught in international media. And listen to them with empathy to their bitter disappointments and heart wrenching grief. Then and only then, you appreciate the value of wisdom. Wisdom explicitly warns against destructive motives, behaviors, and actions. Wisdom describes her assets this way: “Blessed is the man who listens to me, watching daily at my gates, waiting at the posts of my doors. For whoever finds me finds life, and obtains favor from the Lord; But he who sins against me wrongs his own soul; all those who hate me love death” (Proverbs 8: 34-36). The book of Proverbs contains not only warning but also exhorts knowledge, diligence, wisdom, prudence, discretion, learning, listening, hard work, saving, respecting parents and teachers, trusting God and fearing God.

In contrast to the ABC of things that we learn from home, society, and school, to succeed in life, for the students of ancient Israel, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” (Proverbs 1:7” In the culture we grew up, often fear has a negative connotation. We are groomed “to fear nothing but fear itself.” As David Hubbard explained it “Fear includes worship, it does not end there. It radiates out from our adoration and devotion to our every conduct that sees each moment as the Lord’s time, each relationship as the Lord’s opportunity, each duty as the Lord’s command, and each blessing as Lord’s gift. It is a new way of looking at life and seeing what it is meant to be when viewed from God’s perspective…The point is that obeying God is the ceiling as well as the foundation of life. It should lead to knowledge, and in turn, all knowledge should enhance it” (1982:48). Knowing God and obeying his commands, and willing to apply his teachings in our daily lives and service are “the ceiling as well as the foundation of life.” As foolish and backward as it may sound to a “modern” mind, the leadership program at Denver Seminary is anchored on this eternal truth.

Both the secular and religious organizations are suffering not because their leaders are lacking degrees, money, prestige, even success stories; but for lack of wisdom leaders are killing the trust of those who put them in the very post of influence, power, responsibility, and service. Leaders are entrusted to accomplish their duties with integrity and diligence. Wise leaders avoid perverted speeches so that they may not offend their listeners and lose respect in the eyes of their followers. Wise leaders reject ungodly self-reliance that leads to pride and destruction. Unblemished character, integrity, truth, reputable friends, accountability, happy and contented family members, results that edify followers and glorify their God are the ornaments of wise leaders. Setting exemplary life to others in word and deed, wise leaders exhort people saying: “Whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue, and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these. The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you” (Philippians 4:8-9). Before he expects the above mentioned virtues in the lives of the Philippian Christians, Paul had demonstrated it in his life while he lived among them. His life was a glass house. With authority and credibility, he tells them, “These things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you” (Phil. 4:9). Wisdom has pedagogical character, hence, Paul taught them. Wisdom is not irresistible; it has to be voluntarily received by its people. Wisdom is observable, and teachers have primary responsibility to show it. Wisdom is not mere theory; both teachers and students can and should apply it. There are approved and disapproved workers, and the line of separation between the two divides wisdom and folly (2 Tim. 2:14-26). Through integrated academic curriculum, spiritual formation classes, mentoring, immersing in the globalization program, from the communal life and chapel service, we attempt our best to equip leaders to lead wisely. In all we do in the leadership program, our ultimate goal is to develop leaders who know Christ first before they attempt to make him known. Jesus is the embodiment of wisdom.


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