We’re back with Dr. Albert Mohler, President of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, and the author of the book, The Conviction to Lead: 25 Principles for Leadership That Matters.
Dr. Mohler, in the book you wrote this: “In the secular world, leaders worry about the judgment of stockholders and stakeholders. Politicians worry about the verdict of history. As Christian leaders we know that we will face nothing less than a divine judgment on our leadership.” Strong words. Explain this. How important is the final judgment in the life of Christian leadership?
Well, it goes back to what we were talking about. In terms of why what we do here in this life is important, it is not important because of the end of all things. If it were the end of all things we would be in trouble because we would have to find all life and meaning and rescue and redemption and salvation in this life and it is not here. But this life is important. And so what we do in this life has a dignity to it and a purpose to it that explains why, for instance, the career we have, the profession that we have been called to, the particular responsibilities given to us is important. And the vision of where these things are going is that, for instance, the secular world says we are doing this in order to get to the next, to the next quarterly report, to the next annual review, perhaps to the next 10 year plan.
The Christian does not have no concern at all for those things, but the Christian understands that we are citizens of a heavenly kingdom, that our most important existence is not in this life. We are not going to try to get all of our joys in this life, satisfaction is found only in Christ and that will be given to us only as Christ brings his kingdom in fullness. But in the meantime we can do great good. And we are called to do great good and we can change lives. We can influence many. And what a great and glorious thing that God has given us this opportunity.
Yes. Amen, that is glorious. . . . To influence many, leaders must use authority and power. Authority and power of course are loaded terms today, and really anyone with authority or power is held in suspicion. How does a leader lead, knowing that the folks he may be leading are suspicious of him merely because he’s leading?
Well, we live in an anti-authoritarian age to only a very limited extent. It is interesting that, yeah, Theodor Adorno and others who back, especially after the Second World War said, “We have to get rid of all authority. Authority itself is bad because it is always misused.” And the problem is we can’t live without it. God has made us also and to desperately need structure, to need authority. That is true in the Church and it is also true in the society at large. Romans 13 tells us that God himself has put governing authorities in power because there is something worse than a tyrant and that is anarchy.
And it turns out that human beings actually long for that kind of authoritative leadership. Now that doesn’t mean that is the wrong and abusive understanding of authority and that is where Christians also have to understand that our stewardship is always on behalf of another. And so any authority we have is a delegated authority. And we have it always as long as we have it and we have the stewardship of it so long as we have it.
And so it is kind of like, you know, fatherhood, Tony. You know, the last thing we need are fathers who don’t father. And certainly there are horrible models of authoritarian fathers who didn’t love their children, were abusive to their children, and we recoil in horror at that. But the last thing we need, then, on the other hand are fathers who stood around, you know, looking at four year olds and saying, “Ok, what would you have us to do today? You know, what would you have to be our goal in life? You know, how would you discipline yourself?” That just doesn’t work, and we know it. And so everywhere you find a great leader, you find the exercise of authority. But we are all judged on that exercise of authority and, of course, the most important authority is that of influence.
If it comes down to the fact — just like if the father is always having to say, “You do this because I said so,” we have got a problem. Now the child should do it because the father says so. But more than that, the child should want to do it because the father has influenced the child so that the child has intuitions and inclinations to eagerly do what the father suggests. And so, you know, I think when we look at words like authority and it gets tied to leadership, we have to understand that honesty compels us to say there is no leadership without some form of authority, because, by the way, there is when you have people talk about authority, they are often thinking merely about positional authority. But there is the authority of influence. There is the authority of charisma. There is the authority of personality. There is the authority of opportunity. So we just have to be honest and say wherever you find a leader there is some kind of authority. The question is whether it is being exercised faithfully or not.
Yes, amen. The title of your book is The Conviction to Lead. Leaders have conviction and that means they need some level of self-confidence, for a lack of a better word. Where do we draw the balance between bold confidence, or self-confidence, and a humble correctability on the other hand?
Well, another great question, but I think it is implied in the title of the book, The Conviction to Lead. I am doing my very best to redefine leadership in terms of conviction that is shared with others and then leads to right corporate action. And, you know, the fact is that if the Christian leader understands that the conviction to lead means to lead with conviction then we understand that this is not being done in our own name. This is not self-confidence because we are so confident in ourselves. We are absolutely confident in truth. We are absolutely confident and one of the things I point out is that convictions aren’t merely the things you believe, they are the beliefs that possess you, that define your life.
And if you lead that way you are going to understand that our first confidence is in truth and that means for the Christian our first confidence is in the God of all truth, the God who revealed truth and in Jesus Christ, the way, the truth and the life. And, thus, our confidence is in the fact that we really do know the one true and living God, and we really do know the purpose of life, and we really do know what it means to find salvation in Christ and then to follow him as his disciple. We really do know right from wrong. We really do know a value system that the world does not understand.
And based on those convictions we do have a certain amount of self-confidence. The last thing you need is a leader that gets up there and isn’t sure, but, again, the issue is: We should be sure of the convictions. That should produce the confidence.