Dr. Mark Hamilton
Calling all leaders! Calling all leaders! Have you heard the call? Due to the current vacuum of cultural leadership, the call is going forth as more and more organizations, schools, and communities are attempting to fill this vacuum by creating programs of leadership to train our future societal leaders. Yet there is an interesting paradox emerging here. It seems that as the number of leadership programs increase, the concern about leadership in our culture expands and the leadership vacuum becomes greater. Could there be any correlation? Why isn’t our multitude of leadership programs solving the problem? Is it possible that all these programs of leadership development are recognizing the problem yet failing to provide an adequate solution? Is something missing here?
In my small sphere of life, I am surrounded by a number of leadership programs. The university where I teach has a program for student leadership training, the local community has a well-publicized community leadership program, and the seminary down the street has just erected a multi-million dollar building to house programs to cultivate leaders in the church. This is not unfamiliar since you, too, are probably surrounded by the same types of leadership programs. Why is the problem not being solved? What could these programs be neglecting? Something seems wrong; can anything be done to correct this?
This is not a new problem. Leadership is often in short supply. In ancient Greece during the time of Socrates and Plato much of the cultural leadership was dominated by those called Sophists. Sophists were experts at the craft of leadership. They were educated, clever, articulate teachers who cultivated arguments for argument’s sake often for the purpose to make money. They were generally skeptics, not really believing in anything, except their own ability to impress people with their rhetorical skills, their charisma, and their ability to lead. How many of our so-called leaders today fit this description? But Plato observes that the Sophists are like the blind leading the blind and that since they really know nothing of any real value they cannot actually lead people, for right leadership must be based upon truth. Plato understands that true leadership must begin with knowledge of truth. How can one lead without having a foundation or reference point to use as a standard for truth and values!
History shows us that leaders must be people of conviction; they must believe wholeheartedly in truth and values. But the emphasis cannot just be on their own subjective ability to believe. Both Hitler and Churchill were men of great conviction with unbelievable charisma and leadership skills. What separates them from one another then is their relationship to and understanding of truth and their sense of virtue and values. Hitler had an ugly skewed view of truth and virtue, whereas Churchill understood truth and virtue within a Judeo-Christian tradition.
IPP is a new organization committed to the ideal of seeking out and raising up Christian leaders to work in the political realm beginning in Ohio and extending outward. We understand the contemporary crisis of leadership in our day but have a very different understanding of how to solve this problem and of what makes great leadership. What makes us different is the vision and starting point for leadership. We want statesmen not politicians. We believe that leadership, the leadership of a statesman and not a politician, does not begin with charisma, popularity, articulate speech, or any other innovative methodology, but that it begins with conviction, specifically conviction about the truth of God. Leadership begins with the content of what one believes. A good leader must first of all be grounded in truth, specifically the truth about God. A true statesman or Christian leader must have a clear theological understanding of who God is and of God’s providential rule over all nations and leaders. “A statesman fears God and understands, first and foremost, that his duty is to God (Exodus 18:21; Deut. 1:17; Romans 13:1-4). A politician only fears the possibility that he will not be reelected.”1 In our uncritical, embrace-all-ideas, inclusivistic, and relativistic postmodern age this is quite unattractive to many people, but it is at the heart of Christian leadership.
In the early years of America, there was a jurisdictional separation between church and state (meaning the state was non-sectarian and often did not allow clergy to hold offices). But simultaneously these states and communities limited political officeholders to “Christians” who would need to adhere to an oath such as the following from Delaware’s constitution. “Article 22. Every person who shall be chosen a member of either house, or appointed to any office or place of trust…shall…also make and subscribe the following declaration, to wit: I___________, do profess faith in God the Father, and in Jesus Christ His only Son, and in the Holy Ghost, one God, blessed for evermore; and I do acknowledge the holy scriptures of the Old and New Testament to be given by divine inspiration.”2 Oaths of this type were found in many state constitutions.
Why was this type of oath necessary? Obviously they were trying to recognize and guarantee the Christian nature of the state, but they were also making a bold statement about leadership. They understood that the best leadership is by those who are confessing Christians because they know and understand the truth about reality, about themselves, about law, about the nature of the universe and about the proper role of government. They are affirming that a government leader must be one who fears and serves God, and is a person of truth and committed to doing good. Throughout scripture the idea of leadership is accompanied by two clear qualities, the ability to teach which is inseparable from knowledge of God and knowing the nature of truth, and by virtue or the moral character of the one leading. Programs that teach leadership skills, which educate potential leaders about resources in communities, or which encourage assertiveness have value to them. But they can only really build leadership if the person is already grounded in Christian truth and living a life of solid Christian character.
Leadership in contemporary America is greatly lacking and something must be done to reverse this trend. If we are truly going to have qualitative improvement in leadership, then we must have qualitative improvement in the ones leading. This begins by finding, supporting, and cultivating people to become leaders who are deeply rooted in Christian truth, who understand God’s rule over the nations and his providential hand in history, and who are exemplars of godly character. This is the vision of IPP.
1 Mike McHugh, “Statesman Versus Politicians,” The Christian Statesman, Vol. 145, No.4, p.14.
2 Gary Demar, America’s Christian History, American Vision Inc., 1995, p.65.