Leadership: A biblical understanding

LASEBIKAN-PHDThe Ibadan Grammar School 4TH Venerable Alayande Memorial Lecture Held on Thursday 31st March 2016 at Emmanuel Alayande Hall, Ibadan Grammar School, Ibadan.
That Nigeria is in quest of leadership these years after her independence is not an issue in doubt. The bizarre reports that constantly came into the news about our most dignified honourables in our society who abused their various offices have become a thing of concern. The rate of the collapse of integrity and moral rectitude is alarming. Corruption is a person. It has assumed the huge status of an influencer so powerful that nobody can resist the instruction it gives. The situation is so bad that you wonder whether the actors involved ever grew up as school children taught and disciplined within the framework of a school like Ibadan Grammar School. To these actors who are our political leaders, there does not seem to be a boundary between good and evil or they didn’t just know it. After all, Jean-Jacques Rousseau once said in his writing Emile

Lacking all sense of right and wrong, a child can do nothing which is morally evil, or which merits either punishment or reproof.
Only as a child is taught will he grow up to manhood. It seems these political gladiators were untaught from their childhood, not knowing the difference between right and wrong. These ones are of their best untrained and uncivilized, not knowing that leadership means responsibility. We must not be carried away by cry of “political vendetta” in which the pot is calling the kettle “black” ultimately, politicians are birds of the same feathers. The truth is that our politicians have lost it and they qualify little to occupy their leadership positions.

It is a truism that the quality of our leaders is an indication of what our nation is. Ralph Waldo Emerson therefore notes correctly in his work Essays: Society and Solitude that: The true test of civilization is not the census, nor the size of cities nor the crops – no but the kind of man the country turns out.
We therefore seem to be failing the test of civilization in this country because we fail to understand the concept of leadership. What is more worrying is the fact that leaderships problem is everywhere. The church is not an exemption.

In this paper, our attention is called to the issue of leadership and the challenges that attend to it. Leadership is a critical matter in human society. If not, God himself would not have placed premium on it and the Bible would not have provided so many incredible principles of leadership. The Bible is full of so many examples of strong leadership thereby indicating that for any society to succeed and be fulfilled, it must have a leadership that is goal oriented and purposeful in approach. When in Proverbs 29:18 the Bible says “Where there is no vision, the people perish”, it is a challenge on the leadership because as Garry Wills says ‘Leadership is mobilising others toward a goal shared by the leader and followers’. So leadership is goal oriented. It is purposeful. It is strategically influential and beneficial. It is visionary. As J. Oswald Sanders says ‘Leadership is influence’.

In other words, to be a leader is a great challenge because its end purpose is to lead that community to a safe harbour of success. Leadership therefore cannot afford to be insensitive, haughty, high minded, self centred and self promoting. Rather, it should be people oriented. It is servanthood. Leadership that does not put into considering the welfare of people it leads has no divine leading.
Take a look at Proverbs 29:2 which says:

When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice: but when the wicked beareth rule, the people morn. (King James Version).
When the righteous increase, the people rejoice, but when the wicked rule, the people groan. (English Standard Version).
The synonyms of this verse are Proverbs 28:12
When the righteous triumph, there is great glory, but when the wicked rise, people hide themselves.and Proverbs 28:28 which also says:
When the wicked rise, people hide themselves, but when they perish, the righteous increase.

Our text here and the corollary texts indicate two types of leaders namely, the Righteous and the Wicked and the attendant consequences of their leadership styles. A leader either causes people to thrive or groan.
In wicked leadership, people suffer deprivation. There is suffering which leadership ignores because the leadership feels secure. The people mourn and groan because nothing gives them joy in that administration. Their rights are denied them and their privileges are taken over by the leadership as in the case of Ahab, King of Israel depriving Naboth of his vineyard. This he did with impunity.
While trying to exonerate himself from the accusations of his friends, Job in the book of Job identifies 30 sins of the wicked in Job 24:2-22. Some of them are as follows:
* They remove the landmarks to cheat in land matters
* Violently take away flocks and pastures from their owners
* Drive away the ass of the fatherless
* Take away the widow’s ox for a pledge
* Turn the needy out of the way
* Drive away the poor and needy from the society
* Plunder the riches of the people
* Plunder caravans very early
* Plunder desert travellers
* Plunder fields of others
* Plunder vineyards of others
* Rob the poor of their garments
* Steal unprotected children and sell them to slavery
* Take pledges from the poor and keep it so that they go naked
* Rob the poor of their sheaves so that they go hungry
* Taking bribe (gifts) to do injustice
* Commit idolatry
* Set snares for the just
* Blesses the covetous
* Deceives others
* Manifests cruelty
Finally, Isaiah 3:11 declares
“Woe unto the wicked, it shall be ill with him, for the reward of his hands shall be given him”.
So for the wicked to bear rule, it will be calamitous for that society because all that the wicked does is everything that benefits himself alone even if everyone else dies that was how the bible focussed on Pharaoh who would not mind if the whole of Egypt suffered and died from various plagues affecting his country. The point is, he must keep the post and office as Pharaoh. Insensitivity it was.
Leadership is service to the people not a means towards exploiting the people. But what we see in our generation, particularly in Nigeria is that Leadership is a means of getting the better of the masses. One begins now to understand the definition of politics as given by Ambrose Bierce 1842-1914 in his book The Devil’s Dictionary where he says:-

Politics is the conduct of public affairs for private advantage
That is very much so in Nigeria or else, how do we explain the fact that each Senator takes N800million per annum of which Constituency Allowance is N500million the effect of which we cannot see in many of our various communities. Here is a country where we believe that money is everything. Even in the church, money rather than Christ is the centre of our lives.

William Chaucer in The Knights Tale talks of Radix malorumestcupiditas i.e. “Money is the root of evil” illustrating with the story of three friends who killed one another to take possession of the money they found by accident. At the end of the day, none of them got the money. But Apostle Paul puts it better in 1Timothy 6:10, that “the love of money is the root of all evil”. The love of money has titled the balance in favour of money in our nation. Priests lobby to be posted to rich locations, all for money. So while the Legislators keep approving huge salaries and allowances for themselves, Bank Managers and Directors keep exploiting the financial innocence of their customers to enrich themselves, Doctors abandon patients to die as they demand for increased pay while University Lecturers leave students untaught to fight for a better package. Meanwhile, Security Agents who are meant to provide safety for the common man on the road are now busy collecting money into their pockets while kidnappers are having a field day to make their own escapade. Where do we go from there?

The Bible in Ecclesiastes 5:10 describes man’s insatiable appetite for money:
He that loves silver shall not be satisfied with silver nor he that loves abundance with increase. This is also vanity.

Why is it that Nigerian leaders swindle this nation, deprive the poor of their rights and run to foreign countries to stack their loot? Are they building or ruining this nation? The writer of Ecclesiastes captures the problem of Nigeria very much that he calls our attention to the great vanity we pursue outside God. Vanity has entered this nation and decay as we never witnessed before has set in. It was a legendary Roman named Cato who in his writing In Support of the Oppian Law decried the type of luxury which even the unemployed wishes to live today in this nation when he said:-

Luxury and avarice – these pests have been the ruin of every state
This nation is going towards a ruin unless God arrests the situation. Only a return to the Lord can save us. This selfish quest by these people, whom we have elected to serve us but who are turning round to sap us, needs to stop. Their life and life style has championed the present course of insecurity in this nation.

Our theme for this meeting is quite appropriate in view of our experience as a nation. Nigeria’s case is a pathetic example of a society in decay. Tribalism or ethnicity is very divisive. It is quite exploitative. Unfortunately, our politicians perch on the wings of this to fly. Nigeria today is divided more than ever before. It seems the political strategy of creation of more states and local government which aimed at getting development to the grass root has in the long run made us more aware of our differences than our similarities. It only helps us into fragmentation and consequent disintegration. What on earth has happened to Nigeria in 56 years of independence? Why has the suffering of the masses been visibly promoted in this nation? Yet, every underlay of the country’s soil is laden with rich mineral resources. We are not a poor nation after all.

In any society, what man needs is simply the basic necessities of life, good network of roads, water and electricity and enabling opportunity to be gainfully engaged whether in public or private sectors so he can maintain himself. Unfortunately, any administration that maintains the leadership at the expense of the masses is an oppressive government that champions mediocrity and promotes societal suffering. Any leadership that continues to squeeze the masses for its own benefit is a wicked leadership.

Hear how God describes the nature of the merciless leaders and wicked Magistrates who evolved in Israel at that time.
Your princes are rebels and companions of thieves. Everyone loves a bribe and runs after gifts. They do not bring justice to the fatherless, and the widow’s cause does not come to them. (Isaiah 1:23)

Suffering has no origin in the plan of God for humanity. Genesis is the book of origins or beginning and we are made to know the mind of God for humanity. The story of God’s effort on man is revealed in Genesis 2:7-17 where God took definite decisions to delicately and dedicatedly take care of man.
1. God planted a garden
2. He formed the man
3. He put the man in the garden
4. He made trees to grow in the garden. They were pleasant and good for food.
5. He made rivers to run through and parted into several parts in the garden
6.He gave man power for a proper re-ordering of life.

It means there was not supposed to be hunger or thirst in a man’s life. By putting man in the garden to till it, it was to ensure that man would have an organisational ability to sustain the garden for his own good. As it were, God supplied everything for man’s need. Therefore, leaders who rule and the people mourn are a disgrace to the dignity and purpose of God because at creation God made a predetermined and purposeful effort to make sure his creation was good. Such wicked leaders certainly wound the image of God in our lives.

We must learn from Solomon who as King had an awareness that he was reigning and ruling on God’s behalf because the people belonged to God for he had asked God for wisdom in the governance of the people saying:
“Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, that I may discern between good and evil, for who is able to govern this your great people?” (I King 3:9).

Those in leadership must know and be reminded that they are there because God allows them to be there and should do their work in the fear of the Lord because as Paul puts it in Romans 13:1 “There is no power but of God, the powers that be are ordained of God”. The challenge to our Civil Leaders is that they should fear God, knowing that everything in life is temporary in spite of their esteemed position and wealth. The Psalmist in Psalm 49 vs 12 says: “Man in his pomp shall not remain, he is like the beasts that perish”.
In Psalm 37:35-36 he also says

“I have seen the wicked in great power and spreading himself like a green bay tree, yet he passed away and lo he was not. Yea, I sought him but he could not be found.”

Finally, as we look at this topic, it is very important that we note that the Holy Spirit will start to challenge us by asking if the theme is not also a challenge to us as individuals in our respective offices. There is a divine expectation of leadership. Proverbs 27:23 says “Be thou diligent to know the state of thy flocks and look well to thy herds”. When a leader pretends that he does not know the problems of those he is supposed to serve, then he is not fit for the office.

The topic we consider now is a challenge to all of us to examine how we use our office because we shall give an account of our stewardship to God. The people we lead, whether as civil or spiritual authorities are God’s people and we need to be careful how we handle them.

William Penn in an Article ‘Fruits of Solitude’ says “If men be good Government cannot be bad”. Leadership therefore is very important in the society because its proper or faulty use can make or mar the society. Leadership is not for fools. It is for those who have conscience for ideals and determination to excel. Leadership has to be thoughtful, creative, dynamic and affective. The leader must be someone who inspires. He should be a mobilizer who can influence the followership and because he is goal-driven, he will have the appeal that makes people follow him. Indeed, “If men be good Government cannot be bad”.

Leadership has nothing to do with being a “boss” or simply driving people. An unapproachable, irritable, insensitive individual who is hot-headed has no business in Leadership because he will have no consideration whatsoever for the plight of his suffering masses. Many people are in leadership who are “mindless” but a leader must be one who is driven by passion to make society better. He is ready to experience pain and suffering if it will lead to the attainment of better goals for his society.

Bishops of the Church of Nigeria visited an African country a few years ago and we were told something about their former leader. I quote what was said about him:
He was a big problem to us. When he was at home, he oppressed us, and when he was away, he embarrassed us.
This was said of that leadership because he had no capacity for leadership. Actually, he was a liability to that country.

Leadership is not meant for egocentric and self-pursing individuals whose ambitions are laden with self profitingactualisation; rather a leader is one who is willing to give all for the sake of those he leads. There was a Pharaoh who could not be bothered if his people got destroyed as long as he held on to power. Ahab the King was self-satisfied to oppress his ward, Naboth, as long as he could take over the poor man’s property. Yet Esther the Queen stood supremely as a woman in privileged position but whose conviction transcended personal benefits. It could have been sufficient for her to continue to enjoy the benefits of the office, being the King’s wife but she put her life on the line by seeking deliverance for her people. So a leader is driven by courage and compassion to make a difference. The call to leadership is therefore a challenge to respond to the needs around.

In further support of that, Queen Esther’s response to Mordecai when she heard of the danger facing her people in Esther 4:15-16 suggests yet another leader for whom position was not as important as service to her community. Hear this:-
Then, Esther bade them return Mordecai this answer: Go, gather together all the Jews that are present in Shushan, and fast for me, and neither eat nor drink three days, night or day: I also and my maidens will fast likewise; and so will I go in unto the King which is not according to the law; and if I perish; I perish

That is leadership that is ready to be sacrificed so that God’s people can be transformed. Such is willing to go through the crucible of pain and suffering. In Nigeria however, leaders are ready to shift the pain and suffering unto the people they lead.

In Genesis 41, we read about the Pharaoh that knew Joseph who also acknowledged the gifts in Joseph and used them to the benefit of his nation. In the time of famine, they had enough to eat and to spare. As a result of this he became the richest and most influential ruler in the world and his influence permeated to reach even the poorest of the poor in his nation. This was all because he gave Joseph, a non-native, a stranger in the land to use his gifts to benefit the people of Egypt. Hear what the Bible says:-
And the famine was over all the face of the earth: And Joseph opened all the storehouses, and sold unto the Egyptians; and the famine waxed sore in the land of Egypt.

And all countries came into Egypt to Joseph for to buy corn; because that the famine was so sore in all lands. (Gen. 41:56-57)
That was a Pharaoh who was more concerned about the welfare of his people than his own personal office. He did not even think that sharing power with Joseph could be a risk. It was about blessing his people and relieving them of their sufferings rather than enjoying the best of his kingly office. That Pharaoh was certainly a model.

Then came the Pharaoh that knew not Joseph. He had no regard for God and had no respect for human life. He tormented God’s people and even instructed and legalised the murder of innocent children. Exodus 1 & 2 tell us that oppression and intimidation became the order of the day. These evil deeds reverberated upon his own people but he winked not. His heart became seared and passive to the suffering of his subjects. He ended up falling victim to his own whims and caprices. He ended up killing himself, the cream of his army by drowning in the Red sea, thereby impoverishing his own country economically and militarily. Indeed, “When the righteous rule, people rejoice, but when the wicked are in power, the people groan”.

Leadership is about attitudes, the willingness to give rather than to receive, afterall, the word of God says in Acts 20:35 “It is more blessed to give than to receive”

The attitude of a leader will show forth in the response of his people since we don’t expect the followers to grow beyond their leader or be fundamentally different from him. When the leader is honest, he lays a good foundation for honesty in the lives of the people. The converse is the case when the leader is dishonest. Today, as a nation, we swim in the ocean of scandalous dishonesty and corruption and often, this society fingers a particular former Head of State as being responsible for initiating and entrenching corruption and the culture of settlement.

It would seem to me that the Psalmist identifies the nature of the ideal leader when in Psa. 7:1, 2 & 4 he says:
1. Give the King your judgements, O God, and your righteousness unto the King’s son.
2. He shall judge your people with righteousness and your poor with judgement
4. He shall judge the poor of the people, he shall save the children of the needy and shall break in pieces the oppressor.

The leader must have a servant’s heart to do not as the “gentiles” do. Courageous, honest, strong, powerful, value driven as he may be, he should be even-tempered, kind-hearted, merciful, patient, considerate, compassionate, humble, gentle, discerning and forgiving. If David as King was not a man with such qualities, imagine what he could have done to Saul and his family. Could Mephibozeth have had the privilege of sitting with him at table? Could Shimei have survived the vituperations he poured upon David as David fled from the assault of Absalom his son? In 2 Samuel 16, 5 – 14, he cursed David with impunity and to his face but David was patient and understanding.

The challenge of leadership is big and our leaders must know that it demands appropriate response other than selfish aggrandizement. Very often, leaders see leadership in wrong perspective and as:
· Pursuit of power and prestige whereas it is pursuit of love and service to others
· Opportunity to improve wealth and status instead of improving the welfare and life of people they serve.
Wrong leaders see others as enemies and competitors who must be eliminated instead of being encouraged. No matter who is President in the United States, his predecessor still works with and for him. The optimum desire of a leader in Nigeria is to be glorified and if possible be deified when indeed God never shares His glory with any man. In fact, Proverbs 25:27 says “to seek one’s own glory is not glory.”
When a leader’s ambition is to make a name, he belongs to the tradition of Babel. He is not right with God. Leadership is put in place to take care of followership, not to acquire wealth or greatness but to serve. That is why Wiston Churchill, a second world war Prime Minister of Britain said in a speech:

“The price of greatness is responsibility”
Leaders have to be responsible than carefree. They must be accountable. Unfortunately, so often, there is no one around them to warn them or conscience-prick them unto good things but only sycophants who have their own agenda. That was why Horace, the philosopher said:
“This hard to find a man of great estate that can distinguish flatterers from friends”.

Oh that leaders, Civil and Spiritual would have discernment among other leadership gifts to escape the enticing but destructive flair of the unrighteous whose self-gain is their strategy.

Ultimately, God is looking for leaders, be it civil or spiritual authority, who will have and keep standard. Nehemiah stands out as an ideal leader whose rule of the thumb was the standard of God. He has left us with a model for life.

Certainly, Nehemiah was an unusual leader whose type is very hard to find in our generation. He loved his nation. He was committed and unselfish. Though there were difficult people in his own time, he chose to be very different, patriotic and zealous for good works. In Nehemiah 5, Nehemiah took definite steps that were to help his society take a better shape:
1. He identified the problem and inquired about Jerusalem
2. He prayed – confessed the sins of the past – He had concern (key) 1:4-6
3. He assessed the situation (on the wall) – Strategic survey (2:11)
4. He met and shared vision with the people (2:16, 17) and was not deterred by opposition.
5. He encouraged the people to rise up and build.
6. He organised into families the work, an all member ministry.
7. He censored the nobles and rulers who oppressed the poor and changed them.
8. He did not participate in their sin. He feared God.
9. He refused to enrich himself from the coffers of the government.
10. He shied away from placing a burden on the people.

Nehemiah had a people centred government and verses 14 – 18 speak volumes:
Moreover, from the time that I was appointed to be their governor in the land of Judah, from the twentieth year to the thirty-second year of Artaxerxes the king, twelve years, neither I nor my brothers ate the food allowance of the governor. The former governors who were before me laid heavy burdens on the people and took from them for their daily ration forty shekels of silver. Even their servants lorded it over the people. But I did not do so, because of the fear of God. I also persevered in the work on this wall, and we acquired no land, and all my servants were gathered there for the work. Moreover, there were at my table 150 men, Jews and officials, besides those who came to us from the nations that were around us. Now what was prepared at my expense for each day was one ox and six choice sheep and birds, and every ten days all kinds of wine in abundance. Yet for all this I did not demand the food allowance of the governor, because the service was too heavy on this people.

Nehemiah combined prayer with action. He mobilized the people for the rebuilding of Jerusalem, but he set a personal example of a selfless leader whose goal was to better the life of his people. He looked away from himself to the people he served, just as Christ did.

A unique feature of Nehemiah as a leader was his own confession “that he feared the Lord” (Neh. 5:15). Can we opine then that these leaders of ours are ungodly? It is unbelievable that in a nation that reels with innumerable pastors and churches of all shades, such perpetuation of evil can be that horrendous. It is nothing short of lack of the true knowledge of God. Measured against the idea of Albert Schweitzer (1875-1965) who says in his work The Decay and Restoration of Civilization:

“A civilization which develops only on its material side and not in corresponding measure on its mental and spiritual side is like a vessel with defective steering gear.”
One has no doubt in concluding that leadership in Nigeria is a dilemma and its practice is not bible compliant.



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