Richard Stearns: The Case for Values-Driven Leadership

People often say a crisis builds character. But crises actually reveal character, specifically the character of leaders. I think what 2020 showed us was the importance of character and what the world looks like when leaders without character, who do not embrace what I would call godly values of leadership, are in charge. We see the fallout. We see people hurt. We see a side of our society that is kind of ugly. And so 2020 was a test in many ways.

These are times when you have to be as wise as a serpent and as gentle as a dove as a pastor. It’s very important for pastors to cast this vision for Christian living, and to remind people of that one job we all have as Christians: to be followers of Jesus Christ. That doesn’t look like a political march. It looks like caring for my elderly neighbor. It looks like caring about how kids are doing in the middle of the pandemic. It looks like serving my community.

The vision we need to cast right now, especially in a time when many of us are not together at church, and we’re so politically divided, is that of Christ and his kingdom. What could our church be that would be so attractive to people outside the church that they would want to know more about it? That they would want to be part of what we are showing the world? That vision casting maybe can lift us out of our political conflict. You know, politics is never going to accomplish the Great Commission. The gospel and the love of Christ will.

I used to say at World Vision that when you show people the love of Christ, you draw people to the cross of Christ. When you show people your politics, you don’t draw them to the cross of Christ, whether your politics are liberal or conservative. And when you show people anger and resentment and an argumentative nature, you don’t draw people to the cross of Christ. I think right now one of the most important things pastors can do is lift up that vision of the church that can change the world, and lift people’s eyes above the pandemic, above the politics, to see the greater good, the bigger goal, the thing Christ calls every one of us to participate in.

Faith is our North Star of leadership. I think for church leaders, it’s trying to be faithful to the teachings of Scripture, to the value and character qualities that are lifted up in Scripture to become more Christlike, and to ask that question: What would Jesus do in the middle of this crisis?

There are 17 leadership values that become anchors for us: integrity, humility, perseverance and courage, for example. The beauty of values-driven leadership is it doesn’t require you to master some esoteric skill set that may be beyond your ability. It’s not about developing new competencies. The janitor or the CEO can be a person of integrity, of humility, of courage and perseverance. They can both be loving people who care for others and shepherd their flock. These values are free, and they make a huge difference in whatever sector you’re leading in. If you’re a pastor or a corporate CEO on the Fortune 500, these qualities matter. They affect people’s lives, and they matter to the organizations and to the corporate cultures you create. They will make you a person everyone wants to work for, a person every company and organization wants to hire, because organizations thrive when leaders create healthy cultures and help release the giftedness in all the people who work toward that organization’s goal.

We live in a success-marinated culture. Success is almost like a biblical value in America. If you’re not successful, that says something, right down to your Twitter feed. If you don’t have as many followers as somebody else, what’s the matter with you? I think this value of success has crept into the church, into the mindset of the people in the pews. Success can really become idolatrous to an individual, whether they’re a pastor or they work in a school or at a company. But God is not impressed with your success, with the title on your business card or the size of your salary. Most of the things you are likely to achieve in your career are not going to be impressive to God. God is impressed with your character, with your faithfulness. And you may be successful, but that’s not your goal. There’s a huge difference between making faithfulness your goal versus success your goal.

Mother Teresa redefined success: “God did not call me to be successful, he called me to be faithful.” For Mother Teresa, faithfulness was success, and success was faithfulness. There’s another famous Mother Teresa quote: “I am a little pencil in the hand of a writing God, who is sending a love letter to the world.” What a great way to think of yourself as a Christian leader. It helps keep your ambitions in check. I want to be ambitious for God, not for my own benefit. I want to be ambitious for the gospel, and I want to be faithful. So that whole notion of success, which we inculcate in our children from the time they go to kindergarten, to the sports teams they compete on, to the college they choose to go to, has got to be in reverse order. You want to be faithful and you want to be successful in being a follower of Christ. And if you’re successful in that, nothing else matters.

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