Leaders are Forged

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I was recently reflecting publicly on the importance of developing strong leadership skills among men in the church (also in myself). In the conversation below a friend dropped this comment: “Leaders are not built, they are forged.” The comment was made in the context of men who lead in worthy causes, such as pro-life, church, etc. What I have written below is a collage of wisdom I have received from various leaders in my family, the workforce, the church, and academia. And of course, primarily Scripture.

I find it interesting that certain secular writers I have listened to – like Jordan Peterson and Mark Manson – value the growth qualities of suffering in some ways more than many Christian leaders. But remember that the Scriptures are chock full of the call to joyful suffering in service to Jesus Christ.

The value of enduring suffering is one of the more important values that I have learned from my parents. A man does the hard thing before the easy thing. A man doesn’t take the easy route, but the faithful route. A man works faithfully and he works hard. He picks his battles carefully. He gives a hit and takes a hit. He rolls with the punches. Men are given broader shoulders so that they can carry heavier loads. An important lesson that we must learn in our age of entitlement and ease, is that to grow and serve greater, a man must endure suffering. If he walks away from the suffering, from the conflict, he loses an opportunity to grow and to help those around him to grow. One pastor encouraged me: “Always take the red pill.” Essentially, a man is called to love God, love his neighbour, and to work his butt off. Much more could be said from the Book of Proverbs.

One thing that I should emphasize is that the Apostle Peter calls the Christian to suffer – not for his own stupidity – but for being a Christian (I Peter 4:16). This is because suffering is not meaningless, but it is part of our warfare on the forces of Satan. As Peter says earlier: “For this is why the gospel was preached even to those who are dead, that though judged in the flesh the way people are, they might live in the spirit the way God does.” (I Peter 4:6)

This also outlines the necessity for men who repent and who repent quickly. It is in the conflicts of life that a man should open his Bible and see how God speaks to his own sins against his brother and against a Holy God. It is from the Scriptures that the Holy Spirit teaches a man to be self-honest and to take responsibility for how he has responded wrongly to evil and the evil that he has done. It is also from the Scriptures that the Holy Spirit works courage in the heart of a man to do what is noble and right and good no matter how much pain and suffering it will involve (i.e. the fierce joy of Christian martyrdom).

The image of being forged is excellent because it moves us away from the image of fame and empty power to the scalding hot furnace where razor sharp weapons are made and silver is tried. While some men may seek to destroy, God can use their destructive purposes to build leadership qualities among His people. One of the Psalms uses this imagery: “For you, O God, have tested us; you have tried us as silver is tried.” (Ps. 66:10) It is used in the book of Revelation as an image of the need for God’s people to repent: “I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see.” (Rev. 3:18) We might also consider the promise of the Refiner in Malachi 3:3: “He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, and they will bring offerings in righteousness to the LORD.” Do we love this idea of being refined in the forges of suffering?

Consider the testing point of King David’s kingship when he was on the run from King Saul. Or maybe Nehemiah who had to stand before the great king and ask for permission to go back to his homeland, following which, he takes flack from numerous surrounding kings. I think of the Apostle Paul who is stoned and thrown out of the town and promptly scrapes himself off the ground and charges into another city to preach the gospel and get beat up again.

The Apostle Paul passes on this wisdom of hardness or toughness to his student Timothy (and Titus). There is not a lot of fanfare or psychologizing. The Apostle Paul simply calls on Timothy to share in suffering as a good soldier of Jesus Christ (II Tim. 2:3). They are allies in suffering. The analogy extends to him serving the one who has enlisted him (vs. 4). As an athlete he must compete according to the rules (vs. 5). As a hard-working farmer who aims at receiving the first of the crops (vs. 6). Timothy is supposed to act in this way so that he can pass on the message of the Apostle Paul to other men: “You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also.” (vs. 1-2) Another Pastor gave Pauline advice when he said: “we need men with hard heads and soft hearts.”

All of these men of Scripture are refined by suffering, sometimes through fierce conflict. And similarly, we are called to be faithful to our Lord’s orders today.

Think about this toughness from a military angle. Lord Nelson wrote before the Battle of Trafalgar: “England expects that every man will do his duty.” General Stonewall Jackson warned his men: “Never take counsel of your fears.” He also wrote: “Captain, my religious belief teaches me to feel as safe in battle as in bed. God has fixed the time for my death. I do not concern myself about that, but to be always ready, no matter when it may overtake me. Captain, that is the way all men should live, and then all would be equally brave.”

There is a mental toughness that is developed in the thick of battle where a man learns to trust in His Maker and follower orders from his King, also through repentance and forgiveness. The aim is not to get the fleeting accolades and flattery of foolish men who boast in worldly strength that passes away with sickness and death. Its aim is that when we have passed through the billows and forges of life (Psalm 66:12), to receive the deep and abiding praise of Jesus Christ because we have been found in Jesus Christ: “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.” (Matt. 25:23)

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