Read an Excerpt
THE PERFECT LEADER
Practicing the Leadership Traits of GOD
By KENNETH BOA
David C. CookCopyright © 2006 Kenneth Boa
All rights reserved.
* * *
I Am Who I Am
After surveying thousands of people around the world and preparing more than four hundred written case studies, James Kouzes and Barry Posner identified those characteristics most desired in a leader. In virtually every survey, honesty or integrity was identified more frequently than any other trait.
That makes sense. If people are going to follow someone, whether into battle or in business or ministry, they want assurance that their leader can be trusted. They want to know that person will keep promises and follow through with commitments.
Promises and commitments are significant, even though, in our day of Machiavellian ethics, it seems that they have become optional. We often seem more concerned with convenience and performance. We give lip service to the importance of character, but we have the idea that when things get tough, the rules can be changed and commitments and covenants may be discarded at will.
But the Bible makes clear just how important covenants are. Throughout the Scriptures, God focuses on the fact that he is a God who makes and keeps his covenants, that he can be trusted (1 Chronicles 16:15; Psalm 105:8). God can be trusted because he is trustworthy. That is the point: it always comes down to the issue of character, not just words. Biblical integrity is not just a matter of doing the right thing; it is a matter of having the right heart and allowing the person on the inside to match the person on the outside. This is how God is. This is how his people should be.
Perhaps a good word to describe this trait of integrity is "consistency." There must be consistency between what is inside and what is outside. God is totally consistent. His actions and behaviors always match his character and nature. And his goal for his children is nothing less. Christ's desire for his disciples is that they be disciplined people. In the words of John Ortberg, "Disciplined people can do the right thing at the right time in the right way for the right reason." Just like God.
The God Who Never Changes
Is there anyone we can trust? People let us down again and again, because there is often a discrepancy between what they claim to believe and how they actually live. But God will never let us down, because he never changes. His promises are as good as his unchanging character: "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever" (Hebrews 13:8).
Jesus does not change. The living God does not change. Neither his love, nor his truth, nor his goodness are governed by external circumstances or conditions—they never vacillate. Therefore, God's character and the promises he makes are supremely worthy of trust and commitment. He does what he says, and his covenant love is always dependable.
This consistency and trustworthiness is fundamental. What else can we lean against? What else can we trust in? What else can we pursue with reckless abandon? So many of us have been burned by relationships, by people going back on their word, claiming that they said something when they did not say it, or that they did not say something when they did. It can make us cynical if we are not careful. But when we come back to the character of God, we realize that he is the unchanging standard.
Because it is impossible for God to lie (Hebrews 6:18; Titus 1:2), he is the ultimately reliable source of hope. His changeless character is the foundation of all of his promises. Whatever he says he will do is as good as done, and when we hope in his promises, this hope becomes an anchor for the soul, both firm and secure (Hebrews 6:19). Unlike many executives, God's yes is always yes, and his no is always no (James 5:12). When God says yes, it stays yes; when he says no, it stays no. This reliability has both negative and positive ramifications. Negatively, there is no getting God to change his mind through bribery or whining. Positively, when God makes a promise, he can be counted on to fulfill that word.
The sting remains of broken promises from bosses—raises never given, promotions never realized, benefits never provided. The writer of Proverbs accurately diagnoses much of our present malaise when he says, "Hope deferred makes the heart sick" (Proverbs 13:12). Much of the heartache we experience is directly related to the unreliability of people.
But God's actions flow perfectly out of his character: "He who is the Glory of Israel does not lie or change his mind; for he is not a man, that he should change his mind" (1 Samuel 15:29). There is no possibility of manipulating or bribing or bargaining with God, because he will never compromise his perfect integrity. God himself has testified, "I the LORD do not change" (Malachi 3:6). God's perfect and constant character allows us to trust in his promises and timing.
God is integrity. He does not merely act with integrity; integrity is his character. But what about us? The biblical virtue of integrity points to a consistency between what is inside and what is outside, between belief and behavior, between our words and our ways, our attitudes and our actions, our values and our practices.
The Process of Integration
It is self-evident that a hypocrite is unqualified to guide others toward attaining higher character. No one respects a person who talks a good game but fails to play by the rules. What a leader does will have a greater impact on those he wishes to lead than what he says. A person may forget 90 percent of what a leader says, but he will never forget how the leader lives. This is why Paul told Timothy:
Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress. Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers. (1 Timothy 4:15–16)
In this life, we will never attain perfection. But we should be making continual progress toward the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:14). We will never attain it this side of eternity, but there should be visible progress, evident to others. Notice the two things Paul exhorted Timothy to watch: his life and his doctrine. In other words, Paul was telling Timothy, "Give careful attention to your behavior and your belief. Make sure they match. Constantly examine yourself to see whether your walk matches your talk."
Bill Hendricks encountered an illustration of this principle in the go-go days of the real estate market of the 1980s. He met a developer who claimed to have woven what he called "biblical principles of business" into his deals. But when the market went sour, he skipped town and left his investors to pick up the pieces—and pay off the debts.
Another of Bill's friends stood in sharp contrast to the first. He too was a land developer. He too talked of integrating biblical principles into his business. And when the market crashed, so did his empire. But unlike the man who ran away, this land developer, as a matter of conscience, worked out a plan to pay back his investors.
Money tends to bring out what's really inside. When it comes to financial matters, we discover what a person is made of. Which of those two men would you rather follow? Which one demonstrated integrity? David wrote about the man "who keeps his oath even when it hurts" (Psalm 15:4). He is the man who "will never be shaken" (v. 5). There is simply no substitute for a person of consistent Christlike character.
That doesn't mean that any of us will ever be sinless in this life. In fact, the New Testament doesn't call for flawless leaders; it calls for those who are models of progress in their faith. So why then in Jesus' Sermon on the Mount did he call his followers to "be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Matthew 5:48)? Clearly in this physical existence we cannot claim to be without sin (see 1 John 1:8).
Actually, what Jesus is calling us to is the process of being perfected, rather than completing our perfection (this side of eternity, anyway). It's the sanctifying work of God's Holy Spirit in the life of the believing leader that does the perfecting. We all will continue to stumble in many ways, but our desire should be about cooperating with God to see progress toward the integration of our claims and our practice. Because it's only the perfecting process of God (the truly perfect leader) at work in us that can accomplish any real progress.
Secrecy and Small Things
The best way to discern whether or not we are making progress is to ask ourselves, "How do I live when no one's looking?" It is easy to look like a person of integrity when people are watching, but do we live our private lives with the same level of consistency that we live our public lives? So much of our lives is consumed with what might be called "image maintenance." We spend vast amounts of energy trying to get people to think about us the way we want to be thought about. John Ortberg suggests, "Human conversation is largely an endless attempt to convince others that we are more assertive or clever or gentle or successful than they might think if we did not carefully educate them." Jesus' words in Matthew 6:1 are hard to get around: "Be careful not to do your 'acts of righteousness' before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven."
It is possible to live one life publicly and another life privately. That is not integrity; it is an invitation for God's discipline. We are to live with consistency in public and in private, because our Father "sees what is done in secret" (Matthew 6:4). Since this is the case, being faithful in small, secret things is a big deal. It may be that God is far less concerned with our public personas than he is with our private characters. He may be more concerned with how we manage our personal checking accounts than he is with how well we administer the books of a huge business concern. It is in the small, secret places of self-evaluation that God's grace changes us and shapes us into the image of his Son (2 Corinthians 3:18).
In the end, we become what our desires make us. Who we become reveals what we really desire. If we desire the praise of others, then we will become a certain kind of person. But if we desire the praise of God, then we need to make integrity a priority in our lives. As we sense the overwhelming holiness of our Creator, we will understand how unraveled we are. But as we focus on the grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, we will recognize that even though we may feel undone, we are not undone because he has made us whole. His grace is sufficient, for his power is made perfect in our weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9).
The Dis-integration of Isaiah
When the prophet Isaiah had a vision of the glorious and awesome Creator of the universe, he was overwhelmed by the holiness of God:
In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the LORD seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphs, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another:
"Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory."
At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.
"Woe to me!" I cried. "I am ruined [undone, KJV]! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty."
Then one of the seraphs flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, "See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for." (Isaiah 6:1–7)
R. C. Sproul comments on Isaiah's encounter with the holiness of God:
To be undone means to come apart at the seams, to be unraveled. What Isaiah was expressing is what modern psychologists describe as the experience of personal disintegration. To disintegrate means exactly what the word suggests, "disintegrate." To integrate something is to put pieces together in a unified whole.... The word integrity ... [suggests] a person whose life is whole or wholesome. In modern slang we say, "He's got it all together."
Isaiah said, "I'm undone. I'm torn apart," which is just the opposite of integrity. To have integrity is to be integrated, to be whole, to have it all together in a sense, to be consistent. Isaiah found himself torn apart, and this condition forced him to realize his own deficiency. When faced with the awesome holiness of God, Isaiah became aware of his own uncleanness.
When we live our entire lives before the face of God (corem deo) and practice a constant abiding in his presence, we realize that being people who do not manifest integrity is inconsistent with the dignity and destiny to which we have been called. As believers, we are to "live a life worthy of the calling [we] have received" (Ephesians 4:1), because, now, Christ is in us. He wants to live his life through us (Galatians 2:20); we are not only his representatives (2 Corinthians 5:20), as members of his church we are, in some mysterious way, his body (Ephesians 1:23; Colossians 1:24).
Now, that is impossible unless he dwells in us, but therein lies the solution. In fact, this is the genius of the Christian life. Christianity is not a religion; it is a relationship. Christianity is not a list of rules and regulations. Instead, it is the presence and power of a person who indwells us and promises never to leave us or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5).
As fallen men and women, we realize how disintegrated we are when we come face to face with God's perfect integration. And, like Isaiah, that confrontation forces us to recognize our deep need for personal reconstruction. Isaiah realized the depth of his own sin in the process of catching a glimpse of God's perfect holiness, and he acknowledged those areas in which he had turned from his commitments as a priest and a prophet. But his commitment and his life as a faithful prophet demonstrate for us the possibility of framing a life of integrity with God's help.
The Hypocrisy of the Pharisees
If we fail to face up to our inadequacy, we fall into the trap of the Pharisees: hypocrisy. Hypocrisy is the opposite of integrity. In Matthew 23, Jesus repeatedly accused the Pharisees and teachers of the law of hypocrisy. Six times in this chapter, he used the stinging word "hypocrites" (vv. 13, 15, 23, 25, 27, 29). Originally, a hypocrite was an actor who put on a mask to assume a false identity while he played for the audience. This accusation would have been particularly offensive to the Pharisees who hated all forms of Hellenization (Greek influence and culture), including the Greek theater. In essence, Jesus was calling them the very thing they hated.
Anyone who has ever labored under the false notion that Jesus was some kind of quiet, nice man will have trouble with these verses:
Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are....
Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men's bones and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness....
You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell? (Matthew 23:15, 27–28, 33)
This Jesus is not, to use Philip Yancey's expression, "Mr. Rogers with a beard!" Jesus' language reveals the depth of his righteous anger. Notice that each verse that includes the word "hypocrite" begins with the words "Woe to you." This word "woe" (Gr., ouai) can contain pathos, anger, warning, and derision; and it may include all of these at the same time. In this passage, Jesus lambasted the Pharisees for saying one thing and doing another. Not only was their lack of integrity substandard for would-be followers of Christ, as religious leaders they were guilty of misrepresenting God the Father.
Excerpted from THE PERFECT LEADER by KENNETH BOA. Copyright © 2006 Kenneth Boa. Excerpted by permission of David C. Cook.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.