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Recently I had a discussion with some friends about some public leadership fails in the news. I could name them, but you likely already know who they are. Our conversation turned to a general topic of leadership and things we’ve observed. What struck us was how these things evolve from little, seemingly insignificant decisions that form the culture out of which unhealthy leadership grows. In other words, nobody wakes up one day and says to himself, “I’m going to strive to be an authoritarian leader who wreaks havoc on the people I serve.” It just doesn’t happen that way. Leaders start with good intentions. They start as “normal” people. So how do leaders fail? I think there are five basic mistakes leaders make:
1) Leaders Fail to Build Healthy Accountability Structures for Themselves Early On
So nobody wakes up one day and says, “I’d like to be a jerk who doesn’t listen to anyone.” Instead, it begins slowly, early on, when leaders fail to intentionally build honest voices into their lives. By “honest voices” I mean friends, mentors, family who are given permission to tell us when we are out of line. We always think this needs to happen when we “make it big” but that’s a mistake. We should do this when nobody knows who we are. And it begins by receiving healthy criticism from people we love instead of adopting a “haters gonna hate” mentality. It’s important to do this early on because once we “make it big” (whatever that means), we’ll be less resistant to criticism. Leaders who surround themselves with sycophants who fawn at their every move–this builds the culture that breeds authoritarian leadership. So, it’s important for us to have one or two people in our organizations, in our circle of friends, in our families who can tell us, at times, “Dude, you were a jerk to that person” or “Hey, I don’t think this is a good move.” David had Nathan. Who is your Nathan? I think we should not only do this intentionally, but organizations should be structured with this kind of accountability. This is why ecclesiology (church governance and structure) matters. This is why organizational structure matters. The “I’m a CEO/King and nobody tells me what to do” model breeds leaders who fail.
2) Leaders Fail to Move Beyond Personal Grudges and Hurts
I’m a fan of reading biographies, particularly biographies of political leaders. These are the books I bring to the beach (I know, it’s pathetic). In my reading across a wide variety of leaders, I’ve found a singular trait that characterizes leaders who could best be described as “tyrants.” This is the inability to forgive. Look closely at dictators who have ravaged countries and continents. Almost every one of them was operating off a hurt early in their lives that they never got over. I’ve seen this with presidents, CEOS, and pastors. If part of the motivation for assuming leadership is the opportunity to “prove everyone wrong” or “strike back at those who hurt me”, this is a recipe for an authoritarian leader. Leaders who forgive are leaders are able to use their past as a catalyst for serving others and helping them through their hurt and pain. I think of Joseph, who rose to leadership in Egypt and instead of using his power to get vengeance on his betraying brothers, left justice in the hands of God and instead offered forgiveness (Genesis 50:20).
3) Leaders Stop Serving the Mission and Start Serving Themselves
This one is closely related to the first point. Unhealthy leaders begins when organizations allow or foster a kind of “leadership bubble” where the goals of the organization are simply to advance to the leader’s personal interests. This can get complicated, because a good leader will have a reputation and a brand, so to speak, that will bring attention and honor to the organization he serves. But good leaders build a deep and wide organization and are unafraid to let others in the organization get attention if need be. Unhealthy leaders constantly monitor what is being said about them and wake up every day worried more about themselves than about serving the organizations they’ve been entrusted with. Good leaders are humble, confident, winsome in their approach. And they are motivated not by building their own platform but by serving those God has called them to serve.
4) Leaders Stop Growing and Listening
Most people think this is a function of age, that older leaders stop thinking they need to grow and change and learn. But I have not found this to be true. I’ve met young leaders who think they are the experts in everything and I’ve met older leaders who surprise me by their desire to grow. This is more of an ego/pride thing. Success is a difficult thing to handle, more so than failure. And without the patient work of the Holy Spirit sanctifying us we all tend to drift toward lethargy and pride. Good leaders constantly seek out new opportunities, new relationships, new coalitions that will help them grow as a leader and as a person. Bad leaders refuse to listen, grow jealous of other’s expertise, and guard their reputation so strongly that they can’t ever admit they don’t know everything. I’m reminded of the maxim in Scripture that God “resists the proud but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6).
5) Leaders Think That “This Couldn’t Happen to Me.”
What strikes me most in our conversations about failed leadership is that almost none of us think it could happen to us. I think this is dangerous. It’s very possible that someone tweeting/blogging/talking about some famous and terrible leadership crisis today could be the subject of a similar crisis in five years. The more we cringe and feign disgust at the examples we keep reading about, the more likely it is that we’ll repeat the same mistakes. This is because the instinct that says, “How could this guy do this to his church. I would never do that” is the very instinct that leads to our downfall. We should all treat others’ mistakes like Paul treated the failures of Israel in the Old Testament. We should “take heed, lest we fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12). I’m amazed at the pride we all have when someone falls and falls big, at the celebration of their demise and the virtual chest-beating we do on social media. This shows that we’re just as susceptible to making the same mistakes. Instead, like Paul, we should treat every sad story of leadership failure as a cautionary tale.
The purpose of this series is to help singles think through how to be single in the church, those who are married but don’t have kids to continue to pursue each other and those who are married to excel at parenting by the grace of God.
Have you ever heard someone say, “They just don’t make things the way they use to?” This statement is usually made about cars, houses, washing machines, and other equipment. This example also applies to marriage, since it seems today people don’t take marriage as seriously as they used to. At the root of marriage being attacked and redefined, in my view is people not taking the covenant of marriage seriously.
Recently, my wife’s grandfather passed away at the age of 83. He and my wife’s grandmother had been married for fifty-five years. Marriages lasting that long are almost unheard of today. It’s a miracle if they last ten to twenty years. My wife and I were blessed with opportunity to spend substantial with her grandmother during the time her grandfather was in the hospital before he passed away. As we talked with her she shared with us four lessons on marriage and how to make it last.
A Lasting Marriage Starts With The Right Perspective
First, the key to a lasting marriage starts with the right perspective. My wife’s grandparent’s got married rather young according to today’s standards. My wife’s grandparents resolved early on that marriage is meant for a lifetime. You and I live in a culture that emphasizes instant gratification and convenience. If you don’t like a product you throw it away and buy another one. Most companies have a money back guarantee, so you can get your money back if you don’t like it. This is not how God designed marriage to operate. Genesis 2:24 states, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” My wife’s grandmother held to what the Bible teaches and stayed by her husband’s side until the day he died. There were days, she admitted, that he drove her crazy but she took her promise seriously and remained faithful to the end.
Understand The Value of Personal Space
Second, she told us that, “sometimes you just need to be by yourself.” Being one flesh doesn’t mean spending every moment together. Every couple needs personal space.
Sometimes, as my wife’s grandmother admitted, a married couple needs some time alone. Time alone allows you and I relax and enjoy our respective hobbies. My wife’s grandfather was a farmer. Her grandmother was a housewife. She spent her day cleaning the house and making sure the home was in order. She admitted to us that she loved being a housewife. This allowed her time alone to think and pray. You may not have time at work to think and pray, but everyone needs some time alone. I encourage you to find a hobby that allows you time alone to reset.
View Your Spouse as a Blessing
Third, she told us, “In marriage, if things go fifty percent your way, consider yourself blessed.” We are selfish creatures and we all want our own way. When I first heard this advice, my first thought was “not everything is worth fighting for.” Married couples will not always agree. There will be times when you do not get your way and times when you do. It’s not worth trying to force your way onto your spouse. Learning to work through issues in your marriage is crucial to having a healthy marriage. Paul says in Philippians 2:4, “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” When we seek to serve our spouse, we are seeking to love them like Christ.
Focus on the Big Picture
Fourth, she reminded us “One day problems in marriage will seem small.” This statement is absolutely true! The problems you face in marriage right now will not always be a problem. Understanding and applying this truth will allow your marriage to have staying power. Many marriages allow trivial problems to drive them to divorce. Resolving to stay together and work through issues in our marriages instead of retreating from them will result in a stronger marriage. My wife’s grandmother admitted that through the years her marriage had its problems. After fifty-five years of marriage though she told my wife and I that none of that mattered, as they loved one another. Here’s the key for our marriages: Focus on the big picture. Don’t allow small problems to drive a wedge between you and your spouse. In other words, don’t make the problem bigger than it needs to be. Communicate with one another and work on your issues head on with God’s help and if needed the help of your local church.
Learn from those who’ve been married a long time
There is much to be learned from those who’ve been married for a long time like my wife’s grandparents. They have the battle scars of life, which testify that they made it through difficulty. If you are single, I encourage you to seek out a godly man or woman who has been married for at least twenty-five years and ask them questions about marriage. If you are engaged, seek out a godly couple that has been married for at least twenty-five years and ask them questions about marriage. There is wisdom is listening to those who have made it through the fire. If you are married and are contemplating divorce I encourage you to seek the counsel of a godly counselor. Do not give up and remember, the problems you face today will one day seem small.
This post is dedicated in honor of my wife’s grandmother, Maxine Jones. Thank you for the godly example of a faithful marriage. May Courtney and I heed the advice you have given us with your life!
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As noted by theologian Dr. John Frame, the Westminster Confession of Faith “completed in December, 1646, is the last of the classic Reformed confessions and by far the most influential in the English-speaking world.” Furthermore, its influence within the Reformed community and the adoption of its contents as informative to how a great many denominations view and approach matters of theology requires us to take the necessary time to understand how this confession was formed, what it contains, and why it matters. Since the Westminster Confessions deal with matters of foundational theological truth, a book addressing these confessions from that perspective certainly makes sense. Dr. J. V. Fesko, in his book The Theology of the Westminster Standards: Historical Context and Theological Insights efforts to provide the reader with informative insight into the issues the Westminster Divines sought to engage as well as how these confessions remain important for us today.
For starters, this is a very in-depth book. Fesko does an excellent job of situating the discussion within the historical time period of when the Westminster Assembly met. No work within history is written in a vacuum to include the development of the Westminster Confessions. Thus viewing these confessions and approaching them as did the original authors is important. Throughout this book, Fesko does a great job of establishing the setting that drove the addressing of a particular issue following that discussion with how the confession influenced later theologians and how we are to understand and apply the issues elaborated in the confession in our lives today. Thus he moves from history to the present day in a way that provides a depth of understanding necessary when studying such an important confession of faith as the Westminster Confessions.
Some have averred that the Westminster Divines rooted their entire theological approach upon the writings and thoughts of John Calvin. Fesko pulls the proverbial rug out from under that assumption noting that the Westminster Divines engaged a large number of theologians, both in a positive and negative light in the formation of the confessions. In his chapter on the historical and theological context of the Westminster Assembly, Fesko shares a lengthy list of names and the number of times that particular theologian was cited by the Westminster Divines. If anything, this list reveals “the need to illuminate the Westminster Standards by the surrounding theological sources and conversation partners of the period” which was not limited as asserted by some to merely the beliefs and writings of Calvin.
After providing a solid historical context for the reader, Fesko then engages the specific elements outlined in the Westminster Confessions. He does so in a style reminiscent of systematic theology as he takes a specific theological topic such as the doctrine of Scripture, Justification, Sanctification, and the Church (to name just a few of the subjects he addresses) and then notes how those various theological subjects are noted in the confessions. As he did with the initial chapter on the historical background of the confessions, Fesko provides in the subsequent chapters the broader historical context thus providing the reader with a helpful glimpse into the ecclesiological and often cultural issues of the day that impacted the Westminster Assembly’s viewpoint on these doctrinal issues.
For example, in his discussion on the covenants, Fesko aptly notes the reality that critics of the doctrine of the covenants such as J. B. Torrance claim “God’s dealings with man are always, even pre-fall, on the basis of grace, whereas in a covenantal structure theologians construed the relationship between God and man contractually, legally.” In response to such an assertion, Fesko comments “the Confession embodies the teaching of the Reformers, though in a more nuanced and developed form. Moreover, Calvin was not the only theologian contributing to the development of the Reformed tradition.” Fesko then provides the reader with a journey through the covenantal structure found in Scripture as well as noting the works of numerous theologians throughout church history who write and affirmed the doctrine of the covenants. This historical and theological journey helps the reader better understand once again that Calvin was not the sole underwriter of the Westminster Confessions and that the confessions are rooted in sound theological doctrine.
Fesko also does his due diligence to note aspects of theological debate to include various statements made in the confessions. For instance returning to the discussion on the doctrine of the covenants, Fesko notes “the Confession represents the common opinion on the connection and association of the moral law, the covenant of works, and the Decalogue given in the Mosaic covenant.” He rightly notes that even amongst the Westminster Divines there was debate about just how the covenants related to one another with various viewpoints being presented to include at least five different perspectives on how the covenantal structure is outlined in Scripture. Each of these perspectives continues to share some degree of popularity even today. What this demonstrates is that the Westminster Assembly and the particular confessions they developed on the covenants “embody the broad strokes of the Reformed tradition…The divines acknowledged what early Reformers such as Tyndale, and later Rollock, contended, namely, that God did not speak to man apart from covenant, whether Adam in the garden, Israel at Sinai, or the new covenant in Christ.” Based on that fact, they felt the need to address the issue of covenants and in doing so, they acknowledge their importance in the confessions and rightly so.
This is just a small sampling of the level of historical and theological detail Fesko provides the reader in this very insightful and helpful book. The doctrines addressed in the Westminster Confessions are truly some of the fundamental elements of the faith. While they are certainly the product of human creation and thus by no means perfect in every detail, what Fesko demonstrates in this book is they remain an important tool for studying Scripture. As he rightly notes in the conclusion to this book, “Once we have competently grasped the theological content of the Standards, we are better equipped to understand the Scriptures and enter into theological dialogue with our forebearers.” This book enables the reader to do just that, namely to better understand why the Westminster Assembly developed the Westminster Standards (Confessions) and why they continue to be important for us in our study of Scripture.
I highly recommend this book and especially for Bible College and Seminary Students. It is a book I know I wish I would have had access to in a number of classes, both church history and theologically related. Given the breadth of information provided by Fesko, this will be a tool and resource I will return to many times in my future studies.
This book is available for purchase from Crossway Books by clicking here.
I received this book for free from Crossway Books for this review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
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