We hear a lot these days about leadership skill. Scores of books describe it. Expensive seminars espouse newly discovered principles of it and portray examples of successful practitioners. Presidential candidates accuse each other of lacking it. Journalists talk as though they would recognize it if they saw it, but haven’t lately. Likewise, pastors and churches seek managerial ability with high expectations of the transformations it will produce. I know of one seminary that has crammed the whole of theology and Church History into one class in order to have more room in the curriculum for “practical” management classes. “Churches do not care about the doctrine of the Trinity,” I was told, or words to that effect. “What churches want is someone who has people skills and knows how to handle money.”
The depression-era Marx brothers film entitled “Horse Feathers” portrayed visionary leadership in-depth. Groucho played the forty-ninth president of a fifty-year-old college. He inspired the students and faculty with his inaugural address by recalling his successes in his previous position: “My last college was a total failure when I went there. I was flat on my back. We put our axes to the grindstone and our shoulders to the wheel. Six months later — I was flat on my back again.”
A fine tribute to what leadership skill can accomplish with diligence and cooperation. Are there no limits to its potential? What a contrast President Groucho provides to such unvisionary leaders of the past as King Jehosaphat. 2 Chronicles 20 tells us that, faced with big trouble from Edom, Jehosaphat assembled the whole country together to fast and seek the Lord. Publicly enumerating his troubles before God, he concluded, “We are powerless before this vast multitude that comes against us. We are at a loss what to do, hence our eyes are turned toward you”. (2 Chronicles 20:12) That is no way to get elected or remain in office.
Too bad that Jehosaphat didn’t know our newly discovered leadership principles. All he had going for him was that the Lord heard his prayer and delivered him out of all his troubles. At the end of his days it was said that Jehosaphat “unswervingly did what was right in the Lord’s sight”. Small consolation.
So, “let’s put our axes to the grindstone and our shoulders to the wheel” and see how far our own efforts will take us.