Character and Competence

When I look at figures from the Bible and other admirable Christian leaders throughout history, there really seems to be two distinct characteristics that define them: character and competence. This may be oversimplifying it, but I’m not sure the basic truth can be overlooked. Any man or woman that God has used in positions of leadership (be it high-profile or low-profile) possessed both strong character and competence in their God-given tasks.

Look at Joseph, for example. Joseph was faithful to God for many years despite being hated by his brothers and being horrendously mistreated. If anyone had the right to complain about life not being fair, it would be Joseph. Yet his integrity remained intact despite every obstacle that came his way. God was gracious enough to raise Joseph up to save Egypt and literally the entire surrounding world in the face of severe drought. Additionally, Joseph demonstrated a knack for leadership, organizing the entire Egyptian empire in such a way that it became the most powerful nation on earth. Joseph had both character and competence.

Others come to mind as well. Nehemiah was a man who stood firmly for God while successfully leading a complicated building project. Joshua walked with God and functioned as a gifted army general. Esther demonstrated great trust in God on her way to saving an entire race from genocide. Paul was as passionate a Christian as there ever was and oversaw an amazingly successful church planting movement. Outside of the Bible, figures like Saint Patrick and Charles Spurgeon also come to mind. And, of course, Jesus tops them all as the sinless Savior who instigated the largest and fastest-growing movement in the history of the world.

The point is that effective leaders have both character and competence. They don’t need to be perfect (thankfully!), but they do need to have a genuine and growing walk with the Lord. And, they must also possess certain abilities that help them achieve the tasks to which God has called them. To have either one without the other kills the effectiveness of a leader.

It should be noted, however, that character precedes competence. They are not on an equal plane. If a leader has all the needed skills but has no character, they are not ready for Christian leadership. It seems that the typical pattern is that humble people are the ones God raises to positions of leadership, even if they don’t initially have all of the skills. God is the one who equips each leader with what they need to do his will, and the first thing any leader needs is the power of God. That comes through character.

In one sense, we are all leaders. God has a calling for each one of us to fulfill. Don’t just think of leaders as those with big names, big ministries, big educations, and big resources. Any humble servant God can use to effect change. I fact, he desires to do so!

A few questions for reflection:

  • What are the tasks to which God has called me? List some of them.
  • Do I spend more time sharpening my character or my competence? How can I rightly focus on character first?
  • While focusing on my character, how can I also develop my level competence? What resources do I need to tap in order to be more effective?
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