Dr. C. Bradford is a former president of the North American Division and has a reputation for being a wise and dynamic preacher/leader/administrator.


This article is about leadership, a quality that by all accounts is in short supply. It is specifically about Christian leadership, and is written from a Judeo-Christian perspective. In this setting the moral-ethical dimension is elemental. The Bible is our primary source.

There is an intense, almost frenetic search to discover the dynamics of effective leadership. How does it function? What qualities in an individual make a leader? Why do people follow one person rather than another? What is the place of charisma, the gifts? What about the born leader? Is there a "call" to leadership? How do "circumstances" play in the mix? Are leaders made and shaped by events?

Materials and more materials

We are inundated with a plethora of materials and literature on the subject with accompanying workshops, seminars and thinktanks ready to exploit the situation. It is difficult to sort things out. Everyone, it seems, is getting into leadership training and consultation. Some can command handsome fees.

Seventh-day Adventists have not come lately to the discussion. Indeed, the development  Christian leaders has been high on the Adventist agenda for decades. Church administrators have followed trends and developments in the field with keen interest and for many years have shared the best and latest findings with their colleagues in ministry. Our Lutheran friends speak our sentiments when they say, "We can certainly learn from a wide variety of resources in society and in the church but we have a uniqueness that cannot be minimized." (ECLA paper on Leadership Center, Sept 1991).

Leadership defined

Precise definitions of leadership are difficult to come by. We know that it is the ability to influence others to follow a certain course, to adopt a point of view, a way of thinking. It is the influence exerted by human beings over other human beings, societal groups, communities, even nations. Some form of leadership is seen in every culture.

There is a universal need for it. Leadership is the position of a leader, the ability to lead, an act or instance of leading. "A leader is a person you will follow to a place you would never go on your own." Goel Barker, Future Edge, p. 163).

Development of the Biblical idea

Human societies must have leadership, from the nuclear family to the nation. There is a universal need and a universal craving for leadership. Early in human history, according to the biblical account, leaders emerged in the community. It seems that their leadership was based on "natural" gifts, skills, and abilities. Strength and prowess placed men in the forefront.

Key passage

Isaiah 3:1-3 is a significant passage, in which Yahweh validates a number of leadership types. God is angry with His people and threatens to take from "Jerusalem and Judah both supply and support: all supplies of food and all supplies of water, the hero and warrior, the judge and prophet, the soothsayer and elder, the captain of fifty and man of rank, the counselor, skilled craftsman and clever enchanter."

An effective leadership cadre is just as necessary to the life of the community as supplies of food and water. Various leadership types and qualities are cited: the hero (gibbowr), the champion or valiant man. The warrior (milchamah), the fighting man who engages the enemy. The judge (shaphat), the one who pronounces sentence, defends, reasons. The prophet (nabiy) the inspired man, man of insight and vision. The captain (sar), head person, governor, keeper, steward. The counselor (ya'ats), who advises, consults, guides. The elders are recognized leaders in every society. The skilled craftsmen (khaw-kawm), fabricators of materials, are also recognized as leaders. It may seem strange to us, but the clever enchanter (bene), a person who could separate and sort out things mentally, who could distinguish, a person of intelligence, is also included in the roster.

Examples and prototypes

Abraham is the prototypical paragon of all leadership virtues. Yahweh declares, "For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the LORD, to do justice and judgment." (Gen.18:19).

Abraham proved himself to be a man of strength when he rescued his nephew, Lot, from the five kings. "The worshiper of Jehovah had not only rendered a great service to the country, but had proved himself a man of valor. It was seen that righteousness is not cowardice, and that Abraham's religion made him courageous in maintaining the right and defending the oppressed. His heroic act gave him a widespread influence among the surrounding tribes." Patriarchs and Prophet, p. 135. This man Abraham displayed great integrity when he refused to receive the spoils of war because that would be taking "advantage of the unfortunate." He was without avarice. Abraham recognizes the claims of justice and humanity. He is the epitome of the golden rule, "As ye would that others should o unto you, do ye even so unto them."

The life of Moses is also highly instructive. He is the incomparable leader, of unquestioned ability and power. "A goodly child" he rises quickly to prominence in the court of Egypt. This adopted son and foreigner masters the Egyptian curriculum and becomes heir apparent. "Moses was educated in all the wisdom of the Egyptians and was powerful in speech and action." (Acts 7:22).

In Exodus 17 and 18, Moses learns valuable lessons of team building, organization and interdependence. He is seized by the vision of the unlimited human potential and anticipates the day when all the people of God will be fully empowered for participation in service. "I wish that all the Lord's people were prophets and that the LORD would put his Spirit on them!" Num. 11:29. The great leaders of Old Testament times were big-hearted, unselfish persons who put the welfare of the people above their own. Abraham argues with Yahweh about His decision to destroy Sodom. "Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked?" (Gen. 18:24.) Moses asks God to spare the disobedient Israelites even if it meant taking his name out of the book of life: "Please forgive their sin-but if not, then blot me out of the book you have written." (Exod. 32:32).

The judges

The time of the judges was a transition period between Joshua and the establishment of the monarchy. "Lack of leadership is the problem and the complaint. To go on at all, the group must have a leader, and so a willing soul, however limited, is chosen to fill a place of great responsibility." (The Interpreter's Bible, Vol. 2, pp. 754, 755).

The chroniclers saw the hand of God in this. The theme of the book of Judges is the appearance of a succession of heroes to deliver the people. Yahweh showed His care for the tribes by providing them with leaders, imperfect though they were. Without leadership the nation suffers. Anarchy is the worst possible state.

"They were in great distress. Then the Lord raised up judges . . . whenever the Lord raised up a judge for them, he was with the judge and saved them out of the hands of their enemies . . ." (jud. 2:15, 16, 18).

It is to be understood that prophets and seers inquired of the Lord on behalf of the people, as emergencies arose, and leadership decisions were made according to divine instructions. On the surface, the arrangement seems to be quite unstructured and unsatisfactory, but the nation survived. Israel's history of that era is recorded in the names of the judges: Othniel, Ehud, Deborah, Gideon, Abimelech, Jepthah, Samson. Samuel was the last of the judges. This system of governance calls for a great deal of maturity and selfcontrol on the part of the people. But the hungering for visible leadership exercised through a strong central government proved to be well nigh incurable. The people demanded a king "such as all the other nations have." (1 Sam. 8:5).

Yahweh acquiesces. The mind of the people, where they are in their growth and development at the time, are realities that must be considered in the style of leadership. The context cannot be ignored!

There emerges in the prophetic writings a profile of the ideal king. He is to inculturate the principles of mispat and tsadek in all his activities, especially as principal administrative officer of the nation. "He is God's representative and the chief patron of Israel's religious life." (Birch, Let Justice Roll Down, p. 219).

Israel's monarchy was to be different from the nations round about them. "Two points express what is distinctive of the Israelite ideal: the king is absolutely subordinate to Yahweh and in everything dependent upon Him for His covenant blessing; and the king's essential task is to be the instrument of Yahweh's justice and covenant blessing among men." (Sigmond Mowinckel, He That Cometh, p. 94).

The study of the Torah was to prepare the king in heart and mind to carry out his duties. "When he takes the throne of his kingdom, he is to write for himself on a scroll a copy of this law, taken from that of the priests, who are Levites. It is to be with him, and he is to read it all the days of his life so that he may learn to revere the LORD his God and follow carefully all the words of this law and these decrees and not consider himself better than his brothers and turn from the law to the right or to the left. Then he and his descendants will reign a long time over his kingdom in Israel." (Deut. 17:18-20).

Under this concept, king and people were bound up together in covenant relationship under God. The king was not to oppress God's people or take economic advantage. His subjects were to be regarded as brethren. David comes closest to this ideal and in fact, as Brevard Childs points out, as Israel's history developed, "his final role as the ideal, righteous king emerges with great clarity." (Old Testament Theology in a Canonical Context, pp. 118, 119).

These leaders displayed compassion and nobility. David's spirit of magnanimity is contrasted with Saul's mean-spirited ways. "Afterward, David was conscience stricken for having cut off a corner of his robe. He said to his men, The LORD forbid that I should do such a thing to my master, the Lord's anointed, or lift my hand against him; for he is the anointed of the LORD. With these words David rebuked his men and did not allow them to attack Saul. And Saul left the cave and went his way." (1 Sam. 24:5-7).

What a contrast between these leaders and Ezekiel's shepherds. "Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy and say to them: This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Woe to the shepherds of Israel who only take care of themselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock? You eat the curds, clothe yourselves with the wool and slaughter the choice animals, but you do not take care of the flock. You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost. You have ruled them harshly and brutally." (Ezek. 34:2-4).

Unfortunately, in Solomon the ideal was soon abandoned. The abundance of material blessings upon the kingdom raised Israel to dizzying heights. The king was overcome by half and the covenant was broken. Solomon's reign became known for its excesses in the same manner as the surrounding nations. To keep up this conspicuous consumption lifestyle, exorbitant taxes were levied on the subjects (they were no longer looked on as brethren to the king), and seeds of destruction were planted that led to the division of the kingdom. "Those who guide this people mislead them, and those who are guided are led astray." (Isa. 9:16.) Hubris is always followed by nemesis!

Leadership criteria as defined by the Prophets

The prophets speak of justice and righteousness (integrity) as the core of leadership qualities, sine qua non. The Hebrew mispah refers to justice or the judgment pronounced by the shofet (judge). This justice also "relates to the claim to life and participation by all persons in the structures and dealings of the community especially to equity in the legal system." Bruce C. Birch, op. cit., p. 259.

Tsadek is usually translated "righteousness." Its root is to be or make right (in a moral or forensic sense), to cleanse, to clear oneself. "However, it seems that justice is a mode of action, righteousness a quality of the person . . . Righteousness goes beyond justice. Justice is strict and exact, giving each person his due. Righteousness implies benevolence, kindness, generosity." (Abraham J Heschel, The Prophets, p. 201).

The prophets combine righteousness with mercy. "He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God." (Mic. 6:8).

The prophets charge Israel's leadership group: royalty, nobility, judges, elders, priests, tribal leaders and prophets to model these qualities in their administration. Indeed, "Israel's life as a concrete social reality is to reflect the qualities already modeled by God in Israel's experience." (Birch, op. cit, p. 1 77). "Old Testament prophets had a litmus test for measuring their nation's true relationship to God. It was this: how do those in power treat those who are not?" (Kit Watts, Adventist Woman, Vol. 12, No. 4-5, Sept./Oct., 1993).

The prophets are not an aberration in Israel's history. They are integral to the continuing leadership group that is necessary to the health and prosperity of the community. The prophet's message of justice and righteousness is incorporated into the Temple service of worship to continually remind the whole nation, leaders and people of their responsibility for maintaining the right. "God presides in the great assembly; he gives judgment among the 'gods': How long will you defend the unjust and show partiality to the wicked? Selah Defend the cause of the weak and fatherless; maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed. Rescue the weak and needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked." (Ps. 82:1-4).

Wisdom literature

In the wisdom books there is a great deal of practical counsel for leaders. Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon and several Psalms are included in this genre.

The sages are pragmatists, in the best sense of the word. They warn against excesses, "It is not for kings, O Lemuel, not for kings to drink wine, not for rulers to crave beer, lest they drink and forget what the law decrees, and deprive all the oppressed of their rights." (Proverbs 31:4, 5).

Wisdom literature is realistic, down to earth, pedestrian. If the leader wants to be successful, he must be aware of the concrete situation. He needs to be in touch with what is happening among the people. The wise men take the great prophetic pronouncements, reducing them to maxims that can be easily called to mind conventional wisdom. "They propounded rules as indicators that there is a unified moral principle in life." (R. B. Y. Scott, Anchor Bible, Volume 18, p. xvi.)

The authority to which the sages appeal is "the disciplined intelligence and moral experience of good men." (Ibid., p. xvii.) They were concerned with skill in living, the ability to live in harmony with an ordered moral universe. Leaders need to give attention to wisdom, common sense. "A clever man's wisdom makes him behave intelligently." (Proverbs 14:8).

Dr. C. Bradford is a former president of the North American Division and has a reputation for being a wise and dynamic preacher/leader/administrator.

Dr. C. Bradford is a former president of the North American Division and has a reputation for being a wise and dynamic preacher/leader/administrator.