Need for Courage
Courage - The Premier Quality for Leadership

Courage is the most important quality for a Christian leader.  It separates the good leader from the bad.  If the leader lacks the courage to demonstrate his leadership qualities in a moment of crisis, they  mean nothing.  A leader's momentary act of cowardice can destroy ministries and people's lives.


     Scripture teaches us courage can be either a physical alertness a foot or the mental alertness of a steadfast mind. The steadfast mind's strength comes from fastening upon the Lord God.  This allows time the Word of God time to repair the damage caused by fear.  Once the mind is repaired, it can maintain a bold confidence in the face of adversity, while expecting a good end.
     Jon Johnston defines courage as "the ability and commitment to endure and challenge difficulty or danger with firmness in spite of fear." (Jon Johnston, Courage, Victor Books, p 31) What is the leader's source of courage?  How and when is it proper to demonstrate courage?  These are some of the questions we must answer to grasp fully the meaning of courage.
     The leader's heart condition determines the amount of courage that will be displayed.  His heart must focus upon God and be willing to trust Him despite the circumstances.  Knowing God, His Word, and His will is vain if this knowledge does not translate into action.  Johnston goes on to say, "certainly, courage will involve action.  Once we develop an inner boldness, based upon conviction rather than expediency, we will take courageous action.  Action that sets us off from the crowd and makes us independent of its approval.  Action that is in harmony with the inner selves we have created."

     Today's Christian leader must know what to do.  More important, is our need for a leader who has the courage to act in spite of his fears.  Ben Gurion said, "Courage is a special kind of knowledge: the knowledge of how to fear what ought to be feared and how not to fear what ought not to be feared."   The fear that discourages action will frighten, make one afraid, create timidity and cowardly retreats. Eventually producing inactivity due to mental, emotional, or volitional paralysis.
     Meanwhile, the fear that encourages action is the fear of God. It motivates the leader to act in spite of the presence of his fear.  A good leader acknowledges the twofold concept of the fear of God.  The fear of God is first, reverential respect for the person of God.  Secondly, it is reverential respect of the punishment of God.  A leader, with a proper perception of the fear of God, will love Him and endeavor to please Him in all he does.


      Reverential fear motivates the leader to proceed with caution, because he desires to please God by his obedience. The Bible tells us Noah " holy fear built an ark to save his family" (Hebrews 11:7).  First, the foundation for Noah's courage was the fear God. "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge" (Proverbs 1:7).
     Second, the foundation for Noah's positive attitude was God's promise.  "But with thee will I establish my covenant; and thou shalt come into the ark, thou, and thy sons, and thy wife, and thy sons' wives with thee" (Genesis 6:18).  This knowledge of God's promise was the basis for Noah's ability to trust God. The evidence of Noah's trust was his personal obedience to God's commands. 
     Third, Noah believed the future would be as God said. This provided the bold confidence necessary to build the ark while living among people who did not believe God.  Courage for today's Christian leader is more than a verbal acknowledgment of truth.  This means visibly acting out God's truth while living in a hostile environment.

     Noah trusted God concerning a future danger.  He had the courage to act.  He built an ark.  Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego exhibited courage in the face of danger.  They encountered the fearful prospect of being cast alive into a blazing furnace.  Even though Nebuchadnezzar gave them one last chance to recant, they courageously responded that they did not need t defend themselves because "...our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king. But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up" (Daniel 3:17-18).
     Why were they able to act so courageously?   Was it because they were they fearless?  No, they acted in spite of their fear.  They walked with God.  The source of their courage was God's past help.  God meet their need when they refused the king's food.  God answer their prayer when they prayed for an interpretation of the king's dream.  They trusted God.  Their trust in God was greater than their fear of man and his blazing furnace.  Their trust was motivated by a holy fear, the fear of God.
     First, their fear of God created the desire to pleased God.  Second, the fear produced by the blazing furnace was not sufficient enough to penetrate their trust in the God. It was a matter of values.  Pleasing and trusting God was more important than escaping the blazing furnace.  Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego knew the danger of the blazing furnace was temporary.
     Today's leader, like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, must display the courage not to sacrifice the future on the altar of the immediate.  He must be able to discern between what is eternal and temporary and have the courage to choose the eternal.  As a leader, he knows "our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory" (2 Corinthians 4:17).  Therefore, he can help others fix their eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen because what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
     A competent leader will contemplate the personal affect his life will have on those he is called to serve.  Will the affect be positive or negative?  Every leader needs to remember Paul's leadership principle.  Paul was so consumed with being Christlike that he had the courage to say that "which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do…” (Philippians 4:9)  Today, few leaders exhibit Christlikeness, while there are many Christians who follow those leaders who don't.  Christlikeness in a leader stems from possessing Noah's "holy fear."
     Being possessed by an unholy fear makes one a cowardly leader.  Every decision has the potential to produce positive and negative consequences.  Cowardice paralyzes a leader because his only focus is on the negative consequences of a decision.  One excellent example is the lack of purity among many of today's evangelical believers.  This lack of purity has nothing to do with the Christian leader's lack knowledge. Controlled by cowardice he responds with silence and inaction.  "To sin by silence when they should protest makes cowards out of men." (Abraham Lincoln)  This silence is the product of fear because the leader fears losing his position, church members, contributions and the acceptance of his peers.  The leader has also lost his fear of God.
     Years ago, I was asked to consider being the pastor of a small community church in Vermont.  I was already the pastor a Baptist church some eighteen miles away.  The church's interest in me was due to the Baptist background of their last pastor.
     One night I met with the church leadership. During the meeting one man said, "I hope you're not like our last pastor.  One Sunday he preached a strong message on sin and the consequences of sin." "I want you to know,” I interrupted, "I preach on sin and its consequences."  "Oh, that wasn't his problem.  When he finished preaching, he said, 'This isn't for you good people but for all the people out there.'"  Yes, he knew the truth.  Fearing the consequences, he lacked the courage to apply the truth to his hearers.
     Having lost sight of God and His Word, cowardly leaders fail to see the potential for good in negative situations. They are blind to the truth that all things are for God's glory and the believer's good.  God had Israel's good and His glory in mind when he spoke to Isaiah. “Go, and tell this people, Hear ye indeed, but understand not; and see ye indeed, but perceive not. Make the heart of this people fat, and make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and convert, and be healed. Then said I, Lord, how long? And he answered, Until the cities be wasted without inhabitant, and the houses without man, and the land be utterly desolate” (6:9-11).
     The willingness to preach and teach God's word, even when confronted by negative responses, is not the sign of a courageous leader.  True courage is more than hiding behind the pulpit.  An example of genuine courage is when a leader willingly confronts an individual involved in sinful behavior.  Any other response signals a loss of confidence in God's word.  It is also proof the leader has forgotten who is in control.  It is God, not man, who is in control.  This is the difference between courage and cowardice in a leader. Courage is essential because of the minority status of the Christian leader.  Even in the heyday of the Moral Majority, the Christian leader held a minority status.  Twenty-five years ago Hudson T. Armerding said, "anyone called of God to Christian leadership should recognize that he or she will be working with a minority in our society. Awareness of the meaning of our minority status is essential to effective leadership...In today's world evangelical Christians are a minority." (Hudson T. Armerding, Leadership, Tyndale House Publishers, p 11)  If anything, during the last twenty-five years, the evangelical community has lost ground, not improved their status.
     The Christian community's response to its minority status has been either to become comfortable in the world around it or to withdraw into a distinctively evangelical sub-culture.  Today's leader must courageously challenge these extremes.  He must properly communicate God's Word enabling believers to live godly lives in today's world. Today's believer needs a leader who will prepare him to deal with opposition, persecution, and today's secular, sensual society.
     The pressure to conform is considerable.  Everywhere the believer turns, he faces another battleground.  He is constantly battling the society around him over issues - abortion, euthanasia, mercy killing, assisted suicide, AIDS, alternative life styles, divorce, pornography, alcohol, heterosexual and gay sex education found in almost every school curriculum, child's rights, immorality, and ad infinitum.
     Every time the believer presents a Biblical solution, he is portrayed as a radical unloving right-wing fundamentalist, and a danger to society.  Today's leader must be able to prepare the believer to stand up under this pressure, to inspire them to persevere in the face of mounting opposition, and to encourage them when they become battle weary.
     During one dark moment in World War II, Winston Churchill said, "It would be foolish, however, to disguise the gravity of the hour.  It would still be more foolish to lose heart and courage or to suppose that well-trained, well-equipped armies numbering three or four million of men can be overcome in the space of a few weeks, or even months, by a scoop, or a raid of mechanized vehicles, however formidable....Centuries ago words were written to be a call and a spur to the faithful servants of Truth and Justice: 'Arm yourselves, and be ye men of valor, and be in readiness for the conflict; for it is better for us to perish in battle  than to look upon the outrage of our nation and altar.  As the Will of God is in Heaven, even so let it be.'"  (Winston Churchill, Be Ye Men of Valor, May 19, 1940)  Churchill had the courage to recognize the battle would be long and the ability to inspire a nation to continue the struggle.

     The Christian's warfare is against a formidable foe.  Winning one or two battles does not win a war.  We need a leader who, like Churchill, can inspire his followers in the midst of the battle.  Otherwise, the Christian community will lose its identity.  It will be slowly absorbed into the faceless crowd around us.  This kind of inspiration can only come from a leader who walks with God.  A leader who has whose faith and godly life dares him to challenge the tenets of the godless society all around him.
      The Bible is full of role models - men and women who dared to challenge the godliness society in which they lived.  Consider the Apostle Paul who facing total disaster had the courage to say, "Sirs...I believe God" (Acts 27:25). What about the apostles who could not be silenced?  They expressed courageous faith when they answered their persecutors, "we ought to obey God rather than men!" (Acts 5:29) Then there was Elijah, who dared to challenge the followers of Baal?  Consider Esther's courageous actions after being reminded by Mordecai, “who knoweth whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this?" (Esther 4:14)
     Contemplate the nameless who were "tortured, not accepting deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection: And others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment: They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented; (Of whom the world was not worthy:) they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.  And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise” (Hebrews 11:35-39).  It was a faith that testified to their courage.
     The Christian community's greatest influence on the world came when it was most separated from the world.  "So throughout the entire New testament a sharp line is drawn between the Church and the world.  There is no middle ground.  The Lord recognizes no good natured 'agreeing to disagree' so that the followers of the Lamb may adopt the world's ways and travel along the world's path." (A. W. Tozer, The Divine Conquest, Christian Publications, p 113)
     To influence the world for Christ, the Church needs leaders who consider God's approval of greater value than the accolades of men.  The Church is in difficulty today because its leaders lack spiritual discernment.  Is this not the reason for Paul's prayer in Philippians?  " And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment; that ye may approve things that are excellent; that ye may be sincere and without offence till the day of Christ; Being filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ, unto the glory and praise of God”  (Philippians 1:9-11).
     Ponder the spectacle produced by this lack of discernment.  "So today we have the astonishing spectacle of millions of dollars being poured into the unholy job of providing entertainment for the so-called sons of heaven. Religious entertainment is in many places rapidly crowding out the serious things of God.  Many churches these days have become little more than poor theatres where fifth-rate ‘producers' peddle their shoddy wares with the approval of evangelical leaders who can even quote a holy text in defense of their delinquency.  And hardly a man dare raise his voice against it." (A. W. Tozer, The Root of Righteousness, Moody Press, p.33) Where are the leaders with the courage to raise their voices?  Where are the leaders who are willing to march to God's drumbeat not the world’s?  Where are the men and women who are ruled by conviction not convenience?


     Leaders are followers.  They are not to be followers of men, nor their philosophies, but of Jesus Christ.  "And he said to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me" (Luke 9:23).  Again Jesus said, " And he saith unto them, Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men. And they straightway left their nets, and followed him.” (Mt 4:19,20)  All good leaders understand the stewardship principle of authority.  No matter how much authority you have, you are always under authority.  The centurion understood this principle.  He said to Jesus, "For I also am a man set under authority, having under me soldiers…” (Luke 7:8)
     Everywhere we turn, we find leaders who do nothing more than play to the crowd. They build a following, not on the honest interpretation of scripture, but on what sells.  Their concern is for the teaching, the gimmick that will produce a large following?  They are charlatans, motivated by greed.  The cost of doing what is right is to great a price to pay.


     Good followers are good learners.  Before the leadership of the early church was thrust upon the Apostles, they were first followers.  As followers of Jesus Christ, they learned many leadership lessons.  Their first lesson in courage came when they forsook all and followed Jesus.  It was a beginning.  In following Jesus, they witnessed the demonstration of all the good qualities of leadership - love, kindness, humility, honesty, sympathy, wisdom, purity, tactfulness, gentleness, and grace under pressure.  Of all the valuable lessons Jesus taught the Apostles, the one that best prepared them for what was to come was that leadership and hardship are synonymous.


      The leader who stagnates is the one who allows himself the luxury of being comfortable.  Personal growth is essential for good leadership.  The world is changing.  While the message does not change, yesterday's methods may not work today.  Today's methods may not work tomorrow.  Behind every growing, maturing ministry is a growing, maturing leader. The more access a leader gives the Holy Spirit to his life and ministry, the greater his potential.
     Any leader, lacking the courage to grow, will be constantly changing ministries.  He will be the victim of a vicious cycle.  First, he will spend time and energy on outdated methods.  Secondly, his negative personal character traits will be reinforced.  Third, he will blame the lack of ministry success the failure of others to change.  Fourth, his discouragement will create an atmosphere failure.  Fifth, he will give up on the ministry, both mentally and emotionally.  Oh, there will be charade of activity while the leader looks for another ministry.  Sixth, by the time he leaves, the ministry is filled with an air of negativism. Finally, he moves on to another ministry.
     Lacking the personal growth necessary to be a good leader, the cycle will repeat itself again and again.  This leader will destroy or cripple countless ministries before he quits or retires.  Among his peers, who will have the courage to confront him? (Galatians 6:1)
     The teachable leader lets God change him and his ministry.  One warning, change for the sake of change is not evidence of growth.  The more teachable the leader, the better prepared he is for the responsibilities of leadership.


     This may sound contradictory.  In the past some of our ideas were rejected and other ideas failed.  Were they bad ideas?  Was the timing wrong?  Was the place wrong?  A discerning leader will know the difference.  A good idea, offered at the wrong time or in the wrong place, is an idea waiting for a courageous leader to find the right time and place to implement.


     Jesus taught the Apostles leadership meant servanthood. These future leaders were taught servanthood preceded leadership.   Servanthood does not end where leadership begins.  Paul said Jesus, "made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men" (Philippians2:7).  Jesus said, "Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many" (Matthew 20:28).  The evidence of servanthood is serving those under your leadership.  Have we forgotten who it was that washed the disciples feet before they celebrated Passover?  The leader's faith in the God, who has called him, gives him the courage to serve.


     There are two practical steps we must take before we can be the courageous leaders today's Christian community needs. First, we must come to grips with what God expects of us. About six years ago, a pastor friend said, "in today's society knowing the mind set of Christians to bounce from church to church, it was almost impossible to run a church biblically anymore."  Afterward, the Lord reminded me of Moses and his problems with the children of Israel.  In Hebrews, we are told Moses was “was faithful in all his house, as a servant…" (Hebrews 3:5)  That's it, have the courage to be faithful.  God will take care of the rest.  Refuse to compromise the truth.  Refuse to abdicate your God given leadership position.


     Second, we must deal with our fears and faults.  There isn't any place for excuses, for blaming others.  After reviewing my own personal leadership performance, I would suggest five common fears all leaders need to overcome.
     One, have the courage to admit one's faults, and deal with them.  Thomas Carlyle said, "The greatest of all faults is to be conscious of none."  For the leader to be effective, he must deal with his own faults.  The danger in focusing only on the faults of others is pride.  A leader's willingness to make changes keeps him from being a stumbling block.
     Jesus said, "Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?  How can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?  You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye" (Matthew 7:3-5).
     Two, have the courage to venture into the outside world to share your faith.  It is easy to live within the church's fortified walls spending time on sermon preparation, administrative functions, counseling, board meetings, and church activities.  The leader's venture into the outside world needs to be more than being part of a midweek visitation program.  It is venturing into uncharted waters, where people struggle with their everyday problems.
     Roland B. Allan spoke of these encounters as opportunities for the "spontaneous expansion" of the Christian church.  I constantly ask myself, "How long has it been since I spontaneously shared my faith?"  Facing the same dilemma then as we do now, the early disciples prayed for courage.  " And now, Lord, behold their threatenings: and grant unto thy servants, that with all boldness they may speak thy word." (Acts 4:29)  Luke records God's response, "... and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they spake the word of God with boldness."  (Acts 4:31b)
     Thirdly, have the courage to do right even if everyone but God deserts you.  Every leader must ask God for the courage to say and do right, regardless of the consequences.  He must avoid the temptation to "call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!" (Isaiah 5:20)  I am often tempted and have yielded to the temptation to seek solutions to problems that benefit self not Christ.
     Obnoxiousness must not mar our zeal to do what is right. Having wrong attitudes or mannerisms will negatively impact on our ministry.  The impact will be greater than any impact that comes from doing right.   We need courage to say and do what is right for those we serve.  Lacking this courage, our decisions will eventually cause the ministry to suffer even though there may be some short-term benefits.
     An unhappy missionary pastor wanting to get out of his present ministry faced a dilemma.  One of the deacons was involved in the sexual abuse of children.  Knowledge of this matter was limited to some people outside the church.  The church was near self-support status.  He feared dealing with the matter would increase the time before it would reach self-support status.  Not wanting to stay in the present ministry any longer than necessary, he chose not to deal with the matter.
     Yes, there was the short-term benefit of self-support status for the church.  The missionary was able to move on to another ministry.  His lack of courage to deal with a problem for selfish reasons produced long-term problems.  The problem is now in the open.  The man is in jail.  The church's reputation in the community is at an all time low.  The church members are devastated.  Why?  A leader motivated by selfish ambitions lacked he courage to do what was right. This kind of courage demands a strong faith in God.
     Fourth, have the courage to control the flesh.  Constantly, the leader must ask, "Do I have the courage to deny myself for God's glory?"  Joseph said it best.  "How then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?" (Genesis 39:9) The leader's love for God should motivate him to put aside fleshly passions to glorify God and advance the interests of others.
     How do I react when a friend gets the bigger church, the position I seek, or the recognition I feel I deserve?  Do I have the courage to respond with genuine Christian love?  Love "suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not…vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things." (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)  Envy will not survive in the presence of true love. 
     Fifthly, have the courage to trust God with your life? Competent leaders have learned to accept their God given gifts, abilities, and limitations.  They have learned to view their circumstances and those of their friends from God's perspective.  Francis A. Schaeffer said, "As there are no little people in God's sight, so there are no little places." (Francis A.  Schaeffer, No Little People, IVP, p 18) Competent leaders learn to be satisfied with equality in God's sight, even though their friends see life different? If they cannot, the effectiveness of their leadership will suffer.
     In the past when God wanted to work in my life, my response was to be a Ford (the automobile) Christian. Remember Ford's advertising slogan, "Ford has a better idea." Not having the courage to face an unknown future, I would suggest a better idea.  I had not learned to trust God's divine appointments.  If I couldn't trust God, how was I going to be able to teach others to trust God?  I needed to learn God's way was not just a better way, but also the best way.  By faith, Abraham was "was called to go out to the place which he would receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was." (Hebrews 11:8) The evidence of true courage comes from complete trust in God and His ways. Every time Abraham decided he had a better way, he created problems beyond his control.
     When there was a famine, Abraham went into Egypt instead of staying in the place of God.  There he and Sarah obtained, Hagar, an Egyptian handmaid.  When Abraham and Sarah could not trust God to keep His word, they turned to Hagar for the son of promise.  Instead they got a son, Ishmael, whose descendants would be a perpetual problem.  As leaders, how many self-made problems do we face due to our unwillingness to trust God?  As a result, the situations we face are far more disastrous, even dangerous, than any situation that comes about by trusting God.


     Ask yourself as I have asked myself, "Am I so confident in God and his plan for my life that I have the courage to be the kind of leader God can use?"  If not, the time will come when true Christianity will be gone. Take time and look around.  Do you see what Tozer saw?  "Evangelical Christianity is now tragically below the New Testament standard.  Worldliness is an accepted part of our way of life.  Our religious mood is social instead of spiritual.  We have lost the art of worship.  We are not producing saints.  Our models are successful businessmen, celebrated athletes and theatrical personalities.  We carry on our religious activities after the methods of the modern advertiser.  Our homes have been turned into theaters.  Our literature is shallow and our hymnody borders on sacrilege.  And scarcely anyone appears to care." (A. W. Tozer, Of God and Men, Christian Publications, p.36)
     E. M. Bounds said, "Men are God's method.  The Church is looking for better methods; God is looking for better men." (E. M. Bounds, Power Through Prayer, Zondervan, p 11) The Church needs better leaders - men and women with the courage to be, say, and do all that God wants them to be, say and do.

                                                                                                                                      Robert Flatt
© 2000
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