How to Recognize a Foolish Leader


How to Recognize a Foolish Leader

No matter who is elected President of the United States in November, he or she will be a sinner. He or she will be fallible and will, like all presidents, make some serious mistakes. We will not elect a messiah-in-chief.

But nonetheless, the right kind of leader, under the wise governing checks and balances constructed in the American constitution, will help guide our nation through the very precarious days that lie ahead of us.

We Face Precarious Days

And the days will be precarious. The economic, social, and military policy decisions that must be made, in both the domestic and foreign arenas, are enormous, delicate, and urgent.

The U.S. national debt as a percentage of our Gross Domestic Product has risen to unprecedented and increasingly alarming levels. The trend is unsustainable and the potential outcome could be disastrous. The recent shifts in our national moral landscape have been seismic, resulting in a tenuous cultural atmosphere of uncertainty and fear. And the global balance of power is in flux as economic and therefore military capacities transform. Meanwhile, very volatile regions are glowing dangerously hot with complex political and religious turmoil. Even misspoken words can detonate an explosively bloody response.

These immense challenges require an American executive with a cool head, an educated mind, a justly principled backbone, a discerning eye, a listening ear, a steady hand, and a controlled tongue. The futures of millions of people will hang in the balance in policies that our next president will advocate or obstruct. And when that President speaks, quite literally death and life will at times be in the power of his or her tongue (Proverbs 18:21).

We Urgently Need a Wise Leader

Therefore, as a nation it is urgent that we seek to elect as wise, honest, humble, experienced, capable, decisive, and resolute a leader as is available to us. And we would be wise to elect a leader, if possible, who truly fears God, since he or she must have an internal moral resistance to the powerful temptations to evil that will come with wielding great power.

If we do not, if we elect a foolish leader, the costs will be very high — higher than most of us yet understand. “We the people” will groan (Proverbs 29:2).

And we won’t groan alone. The peoples of other nations, and likely the most vulnerable in those nations, will groan under the effects of foolish American leadership. And the next generations of Americans will groan. Our children and grandchildren will live with the fallout of words spoken and actions taken in the next few years.

Marks of a Foolish Leader

We know that no matter whom we elect, he or she will not be the ideal leader. However, it is of urgent importance that we avoid electing a foolish leader like the plague. We as a people have the historically recent and remarkable privilege of electing our head of state. If we as a people choose unwisely, it will be on our own heads.

How do we know if a potential leader is foolish? The principle is in this statement that Jesus made: “Every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit” (Matthew 7:17). We must examine the fruit. And the Bible is quite clear on what the diseased fruit of foolishness looks like:

  • The foolish look with haughty eyes (Proverbs 6:17).
  • The foolish engage in slander (Proverbs 10:18).
  • The foolish joke about their wrongdoing (Proverbs 10:23).
  • The foolish make great boasts (Psalm 12:3).
  • The foolish are stubbornly right in their own eyes (Proverbs 12:15).
  • The foolish are quickly annoyed by insults (Proverbs 12:16).
  • The foolish lash out in rash words like sword thrusts (Proverbs 12:18).
  • The foolish express no shame over their folly (Proverbs 13:16).
  • The foolish speak and act with recklessness and carelessness (Proverbs 14:16).
  • The foolish spew folly from their mouths (Proverbs 15:2).
  • The foolish despise instruction and reproofs from those who are wiser (Proverbs 15:5).
  • When the foolish try and speak in a dignified manner it feels artificial (Proverbs 17:7).
  • Rebukes just bounce off of the foolish (Proverbs 17:10).
  • The foolish love to boldly pronounce their opinions (Proverbs 18:2).
  • The foolish have repeatedly been ensnared by their words in their past (Proverbs 18:7).
  • The foolish are often characterized by quarreling (Proverbs 20:3).
  • The foolish frequently disregard wisdom (Proverbs 23:9).
  • When others stoop to engage the foolish according to their folly, they end up looking foolish themselves (Proverbs 26:4).
  • The foolish have a history of repeating their folly (Proverbs 26:11).
  • Those known to be wise are concerned and burdened by the words and actions of the foolish (Proverbs 27:3).
  • The foolish rage or mock when arguing with others (Proverbs 29:9).
  • The foolish love to give full vent to their spirit (Proverbs 29:11).
  • The foolish are quick to speak (Proverbs 29:20).
  • The foolish are often characterized by shouting (Ecclesiastes 9:17).
  • The foolish may consider themselves religious, but their unbridled tongues show that religion to be worthless (James 1:26).

This is not an exhaustive list of foolishness, nor (obviously) is it the only list to consider when electing a leader. This is simply level one. If a potential leader does not pass the assessment of this list, we must consider them disqualified.

Examine the Fruit

What is true of false prophets is also true of foolish leaders: “You will recognize them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:20). So examine the fruit. It is true that all leaders, being sinners, will act foolishly on occasion. What we are looking for is consistent, characteristic fruit, not anomalies. If you find characteristic fruit of foolishness, do not be deceived by words or fear or any form of pressure. Do not elect a fool to a ruling position.

For what is true of false prophets is also true of foolish leaders: They will act wickedly. And “when the wicked rule, the people groan” (Proverbs 29:2).


Related Resources

  • Hillary, Bernie, Donald, and Me | John Piper explains why, at 70, he is energized to dream great things for the kingdom and encourages others not to play away their elder years. And he points to Hillary Clinton (turning 69), Bernie Sanders (turning 75), and Donald Trump (turning 70) who are all aspiring to the hardest job in the world despite entering their 8th decade.

  • Change You Can Believe In | As we engage in political discourse and public policy, we must remember that political activism can only accomplish so much. Our hope is not in government to change our nation, but in the proclamation of the good news through churches and Christian families.

  • Let Christians Vote as Though They Were Not Voting | Voting is like marrying and crying and laughing and buying. We should do it, but only as if we were not doing it. That’s because “the present form of this world is passing away” and, in God’s eyes, “the time has grown very short.”

Thumb author jon bloom

Jon Bloom serves as author, board chair, and co-founder of Desiring God and has penned three books, Not by Sight (2013), Things Not Seen (2015), and Don’t Follow Your Heart (2015). He lives in the Twin Cities with his wife, Pam, their five children, and one naughty dog.