The Challenge of Leadership 3

By Andrew McColl

What are the dangers for good leadership? Clearly, they are very often the opposite of the desirable attributes.


The first danger of leadership is egotism. In history, the classic case is Lucifer, who boasted that “I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High” (Isa.14:14).

Lucifer had a position of responsibility and authority under God, and with that came a certain amount of importance and prestige-perhaps even splendour: he was called the “star of the morning, son of the dawn” (Isa.14:12).

God does this with leaders. They have a role to perform, and sometimes they have a position of respect and authority. What do they do with it?

God had elevated Lucifer to a high position with a task to accomplish, but he saw this in a self-centred context, as an opportunity for self-promotion and self-glorification; perhaps even an opportunity to receive worship. He would have known that the glory should have been reserved for God alone, but this was his fatal conceit: he wanted it for himself.

It is significant that this is the very nature of the original temptation given to Adam and Eve. Satan promised them, that “you will be like God…” (Gen.3:5).

Egotism knows no bounds. We don’t have to look far in political history in almost any nation to see individuals whose ego really had the better of them. And invariably, it brings them down in some way, and very frequently others are harmed in the process.

What is the best response to the temptation to egotism? In Moses’ day, God instructed that if ever Israel chose to utilise kingship, that king would need to write down a copy of the law of God, so that “it shall be with him and he shall read it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the Lord his God…that his heart may not be lifted up above his countrymen” (Deut.17:20).

Paul warned each of us “not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think…” (Ro.12:3), and to “do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves” (Phil.2:3).

If we are humble and wise enough, others can help us in this, when we are prepared to refer our decision to others. Naaman was willing to accept the suggestion of a little servant girl from Israel, who knew what he needed to be cured from his leprosy (II Kings 5:1-14). But the fearful thing about Nabal, was that in a crisis his servant described him as “such a worthless man no one can speak to him” (I Sam.25:17). The Bible says, “let the righteous smite me in kindness and reprove me; it is oil upon my head; do not let my head refuse it…” (Ps.141:5).

II.Failure to Take Responsibility:

Perhaps one of the most common dangers for any leader is the failure to take responsibility for his actions. After he had sinned, Adam excused his actions to God: “the woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me from the tree, and I ate” (Gen.3:12). This was true; but Adam had conveniently omitted from his response that he had disobeyed God in the process of eating from the tree. He implicitly passed some of the responsibility back to God, and to Eve. “My fault? No way!”

Thus blameshifting has become an integral part of man’s justification of his rebellion against God. It’s always somebody else’s fault. The Christian leader must avoid this. He must say, as David did, “against You, You only have I sinned and done what is evil in Your sight…” (Ps.51:4).

To some degree, this was Eisenhower’s attitude. Before the D-Day invasion of June 1944, he reputedly carried with him in his breast-pocket a note designed to be read on the radio in the event that D-Day failed: "The troops did all that heroism and devotion to duty could do. If any blame and fault attaches to the attempt it is mine alone." This attitude is refreshing, and needed. Leaders who are being freely able to acknowledge their faults are always appreciated.

But more than that, it is critical that someone not only is willing to take the credit for success, but also the responsibility for failure. Why? Well, we all know that we are human, and can fail at any time.


James warns us that “where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing” (James 3:16).

To some degree, ambition is legitimate for the believer. Paul encourages us that “if any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do” (I Tim.3:1). The dominion of Jesus Christ in the world, which we have been called to share in (see Ps.110:1-3; Mat.28:18-20), is a great and glorious undertaking requiring our willing participation.

If a person has a desire to serve God in a high office, that can be a perfectly legitimate thing, but this must be coupled with a willingness to accept seemingly mundane, subordinate tasks, until God’s promotion is evident. The person who is always chafing at the bit, who is impatient to get to the best job in the company, only shows that he is not really ready to be promoted.

So you want to be the President or the CEO? Fine, but what if today, God wants you to be sweeping the floor and taking out the rubbish? We all must learn to “bloom where your planted,” because the Bible teaches us that “godliness actually is a means of great gain when accompanied by contentment” (I Tim.6:6).

Indirectly, Jesus warned the disciples about an unhealthy level of ambition in Mat.20:20-28. After the mother of the sons of Zebedee came to Jesus, requesting that her boys get the top jobs in His kingdom, He said that “whoever wishes to be great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave.”

Of Joseph, the Bible says that “unto the time that his word came to pass, the word of the Lord tested him” (Ps.105:19). This remarkable man was more interested in obeying God than being promoted; in fact, he sacrificed a desirable position as Potiphar’s steward, rather than sleep with Potiphar’s wife, and was willing to leave his ultimate promotion to God.


Saul was anointed by God to be king over Israel, but when David came on the scene and was successful against the Philistines, the Bible says that it “displeased Saul” (I Sam.18:8). He was threatened by David’s success, and only had one solution: kill him.

This showed that Saul was an insecure person. He was insecure because he knew he had failed to obey the Lord, that God through Samuel had pronounced judgment on his kingship (“…the Lord has rejected you from being king over Israel…”- I Sam.15:26), and now he was unhappy, jealous, frustrated and depressed.

What are the best cures for a leader struggling with insecurity?

a) Trust in Jesus Christ the Lord, that He has all things under His providential control, including our state and status in life. God “…puts down one and exalts another” (Ps.75:7), according to His predestined plan.

b) Be glad for the successes of others. The Bible tells us that “love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous…” (I Cor.13:4), and that we are to “rejoice with those that rejoice…” (Ro.12:15).  If others have had an unexpected promotion or blessing, we can and should be happy about that, even if we seem to be missing out. So what? Ours will come in due course, if we are faithful to God. As Sarah, Rebekah and Rachel discovered to their joy, God can open the womb of the barren.

V.The Fear of Man:

The Bible warns us that “the fear of man is a snare, but he who trusts in the Lord will be exalted” (Prov.29:25).

People who are excessively conscious of what people will think of them will always be intimidated by those people. Their ability to obey Jesus Christ will be constrained by their perception of “what people will think of me.”

Jesus spoke of this. He said that “whoever is ashamed of Me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when he comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels” (Mk.8:38).

This was one of king Saul’s major weaknesses. When Samuel confronted him concerning his unwillingness to completely slay the Amalekites at God’s command, and destroy all that belonged to them, he admitted that “I feared the people and listened to their voice” (I Sam.15:24).

Does that give leaders a licence to ignore the wishes of people? On the contrary, the elders who had served Solomon in his life and now were to serve Rehoboam, knew that ill-feeling had grown under Solomon because of his high taxing regime. “Jeroboam and all the assembly of Israel came and spoke to Rehoboam, saying, “your father made our yoke hard…” (I Kings 12:4).

The elders thus encouraged Rehoboam, saying that “if you will be a servant to this people today, and will serve them and grant them their petition, and speak good words to them, then they will be your servants forever” (I Kings 12:7). The king’s demise happened because he “did not listen to the people” (I Kings12:15). 


Being a leader has its challenges, as does all of life. The challenges of leadership are a part of God’s plan, to refine and purify us, so that we can cope with greater responsibility, and serve God and His people more effectively. That’s what every potential leader should want. Don’t you want it too?

 1. David Burchell, The Australian, “Regrettably, Christine Nixon was no Eisenhower,” 31/5/2010.

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