One of the most disturbing questions being posed today is, “Where have all the leaders gone?” In the past two decades, the business world has focused more on the subject of leadership than at any other time. Regrettably, as we have viewed the business and economic meltdown, we asked, “Where have all the leaders gone?”
In the political arena, we think the quality of leadership cannot be diminished much more, only to be shocked by the shenanigans of some who held so much promise earlier. One leader of enormous potential has confessed to an extramarital affair, which has imperiled his previously thought to be exemplary marriage. The South Carolina and Argentina connection offered tabloid headlines for their readers but left us saying again, “Where have all the leaders gone?”
Athletes are held in astronomically high esteem and the fans will line up by the thousands to get an autograph from them or a picture with them. But when they act in the most absurd and inhumane ways to people and even to animals, we are forced to again pose the question, “Where have all the leaders gone?”
This is true in the world of Christian leadership as well. We can cite one example after another of pastors and their leaders who fall into the traps of temptation. This bewildering reality leaves Christians distraught and asking the question themselves, “Where have all the leaders gone?”
In the day of Jeremiah, the prophet of God, this question could have easily have been posed. His troubled life spanned one of the most difficult periods in Hebrew history. This was the time prior to the fall of Jerusalem in 587 B.C. and following the infamous Babylonian exile. The trite expression applied: “Everything that could go wrong went wrong.” Jeremiah had to serve God in the midst of all this turmoil and suffering. As he did so, Jeremiah had bouts with doubt and seizures of despondency.
In chapter 12 of the prophecy that bears his name, Jeremiah was in one of the lowest of the low moments in his ministry. There is a dialogue between the Lord and the prophet. God was asking Jeremiah, “Are you go to run away at the first skirmish of opposition? Are you going to default on your call to leadership?” These questions haunted Jeremiah, and they should do the same for us in our day.
Eugene Peterson in The Message renders verse five in a poignant and pointed way, “So, Jeremiah, if you are worn out in this footrace with men, what makes you think you can race with the horses? And if you can’t keep your wits during times of calm, what’s going to happen when troubles break loose like the Jordan flood?” Jeremiah must have been stunned by the inquiries. We should personalize these questions for our day.
Jeremiah was a leader, but like all leaders he was struggling to avoid becoming a statistic and thereby running away from his calling. His experience helps us answer the question, “Where have all the leaders gone?” Consider four ways of responding to this important inquiry and also be open to how the Lord might speak to you as you walk, or better yet, run in Jeremiah’s footsteps.
I. Some leaders have died.
This fact is a sobering reality for us all. As we pass through various stages of life, we can count the number of strong leaders who have left this life and gone to the next, leaving a vacuum of influence which cannot be easily filled. This is one of the basic realities of life.
As a pastor, I felt that sense of loss on a deeply personal level. I stood by the grave sites of real leaders who had made a difference in my life and in the lives of countless others. In my grief, I would ask myself, “Who will take the place of this leader?” There were many times I could not answer that question.
I have served in church life and in denominational life long enough to wonder about that void so many times. Where have the statesmanlike leaders gone? Every generation needs them. Every church and denomination must have them. Without leaders, we become like the children of Israel in the wilderness.
II. Some leaders have become distracted.
As we all know the multiple usages of the cell phone, including talking and texting, have complicated the driving experience to the point of making it very dangerous. Subway and train drivers have been distracted by texting, and major accidents have occurred. The recent plane and helicopter crash over the Hudson is reportedly related to a distracted air traffic controller. That is a very tragic illustration of the perils of distraction.
Distractions can come to leaders as well. When leaders become distracted, the people who follow them suffer the consequences. This can happen to a president, a pastor, a parent or anyone in leadership. Good things can become the enemy of the best things in the life of a leader. A leader lives in a world where everyone wants to set his agenda. That cannot be the case.
III. Some leaders have defected.
A classic Biblical example of defection in the ministry of the apostle Paul was a man named Demas. Demas is mentioned only three times in the New Testament. The last reference is the saddest of notes, “Demas has forsaken me, having loved this present world.” What was the problem of Demas? The world was too much with him.
Billy Graham had a close friend early in his life who was considered to be more gifted and therefore to have had more potential than the now-famous evangelist himself. This young colleague in ministry defected from the faith and became an agnostic. This defection stunned Billy Graham, and it created a crisis of faith for him. Thankfully Billy Graham overcame this challenge, and the rest is history. Some leaders have defected the ranks and we no longer have them.
IV. Some leaders have yet to be developed.
Developing leaders is difficult work. It has to be done in the context of trusting relationships. It must be an intentional personal and corporate strategy. For Christians, developing future leaders is not optional, it is mandatory. This is why I believe in the mission of the State Board of Missions. We have as one of our major priorities developing Christian leadership. Our Leadership Development Team is devoted to this very important ministry.
Baptist Campus Ministry is endeavoring to touch the lives of some 300,000 students on the campuses of colleges and universities. Is there a bigger mission field in Alabama? Our three institutions of higher learning, Judson, the University of Mobile and Samford are all a part of the effort of developing Christian leaders.
Jeremiah was challenged by our Lord to face the challenge of developing leaders. He was being called upon “to run with the horses.” Running with men and women is a big task, running with horses seems impossible.
I believe the Lord was asking Jeremiah, “My friend, do you want to shuffle along in the crowd of the meandering masses, or do you want to gallop with the strongest and fastest of horses?” Leadership is breaking from the pack of people and running with the herd of horses.
Like Jeremiah, we have been called to a life of purpose. We have been called to give of our best to him, even in the worst of times. Opposition will come. Problems will arise. Difficulties will demand our attention. People will get in the way of progress. Running with horses means we have the infused power of Christ in our lives. With Paul, we declare, “I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me.” That is running with the horses. Join the gallop for God today!!!