“Your talent and giftedness as a leader have the potential to take you farther than your character can sustain you. That ought to scare you.” -Andy Stanley
Character matters for leaders. The above quote alludes to the fact that many times what brings down Christian leaders is not so much that they could not do their jobs well or competently but rather that they did not have the requisite character to do their job with integrity. Right now you can probably name three or four prominent Evangelical leaders who have had their ministries crash and burn around them THIS YEAR. Character is crucial.
Jeff Iorg begins his book The Character of Leadership by saying “In my twenties, I was determined to change the world. In my thirties, I tried to reform the church. In my early forties, I discovered I was the problem” (p. 1). Dr. Iorg has all the right experience to write a book on this subject: he was a pastor for many years (including planting a successful church in the Pacific Northwest), a denominational leader for the Southern Baptist Convention, and currently is the president of Golden Gate Baptist Seminary . But he has also learned many leadership and character issues the hard way and seeks to pass on what he has learned in these decades of experience.
This is not a book about how to DO leadership. It is about how to BE a leader. (p. 2)
Dr. Iorg shares that the main ways he has seen God shape himself and other leaders has been using 1) the Bible 2) the leader’s circumstances and 3) disciplined discernment. “God is committed to shaping you into the image of Jesus. He uses his Word to set the standard and allows circumstances to turn up the heat. Discernment, asking the right question and allowing enough time to pass for perspective to reveal God’s purpose, is essential to understanding what God is doing” (p. 17).
How then does Dr. Iorg approach the subject? And does he succeed in his approach?
The book is structured around nine character traits or qualities that Dr. Iorg has identified as markers of a Biblical leader: Integrity, Security, Purity, Humility, Servanthood, Wisdom, Discipline, Courage, and Passion. Each chapter following the introduction treats one of these character traits except the last, which functions as a conclusion to the book.
Each chapter is filled with Scriptural references, personal stories, and possible methods for developing the characteristic. The use of Scripture is solid: there’s no proof-texting here. Too many books on leadership or the Christian life take Bible verses or passages out of context or import meaning into them for the sake of the book’s agenda—this is not one of them. The personal stories are interesting, insightful, and transparent. They are not all (or mostly!) stories of successes. Rather, they reveal a portrait of an imperfect man following hard after a wonderful Savior. The suggested methods for improvement are both realistic and challenging, recognizing that character growth is a lifelong process and yet not succumbing to defeatism on the one hand or quixotic fancies on the other.
Though there is much I could share that I learned from or appreciated in this book, I will only share two here. The first has to do with the overall nature of leadership and the other has to do with maintaining passion.
1. all positions of leadership are transitionary
In the chapter on integrity, Iorg gives some much needed perspective for leaders to keep in mind as they steward their ministry. “1. You are only the current occupant of your leadership role. 2. You are always a temporary employee. 3. You are a transition person for your job” (34). Even if you stay at your current position your entire life, one day you will no longer fill that position and someone else will come along and fill it.
Perhaps it’s because I am stepping into several one-year positions of leadership at my church and the seminary, but these points really resonated with me. Wherever I go, I will simply be the person God has entrusted this ministry to at this time for his current and future purposes. This is a simultaneously freeing and inspiring viewpoint. It’s not “all up to me” for any of us. So go and do what God’s calling you to do, confident in his purposes and power!
2. proper rest is crucial for maintaining ministry passion
Accurate and Biblical teaching on proper rest is just not very common. Hence I was very excited that Dr. Iorg advises that passionate ministry comes from laying it all out on the line for people…and from being sure to maintain healthy rhythms of rest and retreat. “This is not a contradiction” he shares on page 225; “it is a healthy cycle that leads to emotional health, indefatigable commitment, and deep passion that will sustain your ministry over a lifetime.” A much-needed word for many to hear.
The Character of Leadership is an excellent resource for those looking to actively participate in the process as the Holy Spirit sanctifies us as believers and builds our characters as leaders. This is not a how-to manual on leadership so much as an encouragement in Christlikeness. Iorg succeeds in what he aims to communicate and leaves the reader encouraged yet challenged.
4 stars out of 5.
Jeff Iorg, The Character of Leadership: Nine Qualities that Define Great Leaders. Nashville, B&H Publishing Group, 2007. 234 pp. Paperback.
Buy it: Amazon
Thanks to B&H Publishing Group for the review copy!
 Golden Gate is the seminary I myself currently attend.