Tuesday, November 04, 2008

The Leadership America Needs

by Rick Warren

America needs leadership. As we head into one of the most talked-about elections in American history, we’ve heard about a lot of different issues. But we’ve talked very little about one of the defining issues of elected government – leadership.

I don’t know a lot about politics. But I do know a lot about leadership. I’ve been studying leadership for 35 years. I’ve read hundreds of books about it. I’ve been training leaders for 28 years. Saddleback teams have trained well over 500,000 leaders in business, government, and the church in 160 countries in the last 28 years.

Sure, I’ve been a leader. But the biggest reason I know something about leadership is the Bible. It is the greatest book ever written on leadership. The kind of leadership America needs right now is the kind of leadership God blesses. The Bible says a lot about the kind of leadership God blesses, but let’s focus on three primary characteristics: integrity, humility, and generosity. If you read the last issue of the Toolbox, you’ll recognize those three characteristics. In the last issue, I focused on the need to develop those characteristics when we find success in our ministries. This time, I want to look at the upcoming U.S. election through the lens of those characteristics.

1. God blesses leaders who live with integrity.

The Message paraphrase says, “Love and truth form a good leader. Sound leadership is founded on loving integrity” (Proverbs 20:28).Above all else, a leader needs his or her credibility. If you have no credibility, you have no trust. If you have no trust, you have no leadership. All leadership is built on trust. If people trust you, they follow you. If they don’t trust you, they don’t follow you.

Where do leaders get that trust? All trust comes from integrity. All of our leaders used to be known for integrity. We talk about the honesty of Abe Lincoln. Today, many leaders are much more interested in image than they are in integrity. Image is what people think you are. Character is what you really are. Character is what you are in the dark.

Some people say that it doesn’t really matter what a leader does in his private life. It matters if you want God’s blessing. What you do in your private life always affects your public life. In fact, that’s the definition of integrity – your public and private life is the same.

Integrity does not mean perfection because nobody’s perfect. God has never used a perfect person – except Jesus. God only uses imperfect people. You don’t have to be perfect to have integrity. You have to be honest.

We don’t need more visionaries in America. We don’t need more smart leaders. We need leaders with character. We need leaders who aren’t interested in image, but are willing to say: “What you see is what you get.”

2. God blesses leaders who serve with humility.

Jesus gave us a whole new standard for leadership. In Mark 10:43b (NLT) Jesus said, “Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant.”

Jesus said you measure a leader’s effectiveness not by how many people serve him, but by how many are served by him. Most people genuinely start off wanting to make a difference with their lives – that includes government leaders. But slowly service becomes serve us. It becomes how do I feather my nest? How do I consolidate my power? How do I get re-elected? How do I get people to serve me instead of them being served by me?

Why is humility important? The Bible says in James 4:6b (NIV), “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Grace comes through humility, and disgrace comes through pride. The fundamental problem with pride is that it makes everything all about us. It’s the root of every other problem in our lives – and it’s the antithesis to good leadership.

The Bible tells us that God opposes the proud. That means every time a leader thinks he’s “hot stuff,” God opposes him. Every time. And when God opposes a leader, he’ll lose the battle. Every time. The Bible says be humble or you’ll stumble.

We need leaders in our country who’ll be humble.

3. God blesses leaders who share generously.

Generosity matters to God because it makes us like him. Everything you have is because of the generosity of God. You would have nothing if it weren’t for the generosity of God. You cannot say I’m a loving person and not be a generous person. They are synonymous. Generosity is love in action.

Psalm 112:9 discusses generous leaders: “They give generously to those in need. So their good deeds will never be forgotten. They will have influence and honor.”If you want to be a leader of influence and honor, you must learn the principle of generosity.

Jesus said it like this: “Much is required from those to whom much is given, for their responsibility is greater”(Luke 12:48b TLB). A few months back when I interviewed John McCain and Barack Obama, I talked to them about this. America has been the most blessed nation in the world. I believe we have to be a blessing to other people. It is our responsibility. We have not been blessed just so we can enjoy it. We have been blessed to bless the rest of the world. We need leaders who understand the principle of generosity – we’re blessed to be a blessing to others.

We need to be generous with our money, but we also need to be generous with our influence as well. The kind of leader we need for America will do what Proverbs 31: 8-9 says: “Speak up for those who cannot speak up for themselves; ensure justice for those who are perishing. Yes, speak up for the poor and the helpless, and see that they get justice.”We need a leader in America who sees how much we’ve been blessed as a country and wants to use our influence to speak for those who have none.

The purpose of influence is not to build one person – or one nation’s power – it’s to speak up for those who have no influence. We are to judge our leaders on what they do with the influence they are given.

Tomorrow we’ll have an opportunity to pick a whole slate of leaders in our country. I’m not just talking about the presidency. We’ll have a chance to pick local, state, and national leaders. How can we prepare for that election?

First, we need to pray, and we need to encourage others to pray. I hope you’ve been doing this already. Pray for the candidates. Pray for yourself. Ask God for wisdom.

Second, check the candidates out. Check out their character and competence. Know where they stand on the issues that are important to you as a Christian.

Then you need to vote. And make sure as many of your church members as possible get out and vote. If you don’t vote, you are giving up the privilege that people died to make possible. I’ve been all around the world. There are many places around the world where the people would die to have the freedom to vote. We need to take advantage of the freedom we have.

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