The principles that guide us.
Biblical Over Cultural
Jesus introduced the biblical-cultural distinction when He spoke of Gentile leadership, which was clearly a reference to the Roman way of governing and leading. Rome practiced top- down leadership in which their leaders exercised authority over their followers by lording it over them in order to hold them down. This is in contrast to Jesus, who became the lowest of the least in order to raise His followers up.
This distinction lies at the heart of biblical leadership and helps define the kind of leadership Jesus practiced and the kind of leadership He wants to practice through us. One of the most powerful demonstrations of Jesus’ leadership occurred when He was on His knees as a slave washing His disciples’ feet. Peter resisted what Jesus was doing because he thought culturally rather than biblically—crown rather than cross. From His knees looking up at Peter, Jesus exercised direct authority over him, making it clear to him that unless he changed his thinking, he had no future with Jesus. By exercising authority from His knees, Jesus shows us that biblical leaders pursue God’s agenda no matter what agenda their followers want them to pursue. And Jesus did this from a position of weakness. Amazing, yet this event shows us the innate power in weakness when a leader thinks biblically instead of culturally. The only way leaders can transform followers into Christ’s kind of leaders is to lead biblically as slaves rather than culturally as masters.
Leaders Over Leadership
Leadership defines what leaders do, but it is the leader who does the leading. The quality of the one who acts always impacts the quality of what is done.
The quality of leadership depends entirely on the quality of the leader. Leadership is the fruit of a leader. Most of the culture's focus in leadership development is on leadership practices; rather little is on the leader. Yet the leader is the most important element in leadership. As we see it, when the fruit-bearer is unhealthy, the fruit borne is also unhealthy, and this accounts for the universally recognized leadership lack in the world today.
We recognize that many today focus on leadership, but few make the leader their primary focus. While everyone who talks about leadership, both secular and spiritual, acknowledges the importance of the leader’s character, few explore thoroughly what this means. This is core to our aim.
Formation Over Development
The words "development" and "formation" are similar, yet worlds apart. Development often implies a more-or-less controlled process with a projected result. Nothing is controlled or guaranteed when it comes to the maturation of leaders. We choose the word “formation" because it is a vital biblical term. God formed Adam (Gen. 2:7), God formed Israel (Isa. 43:1, 7, 21; 44:2, 21, 24), God formed Jeremiah (Jer. 1:5), and Christ is being formed in us (Gal. 4:19).
In each use of the word God is personally involved in the process. He is the one who is doing the forming. With Adam He gets down and dirty; with Israel He puts Himself on the line against the greatest power on earth; in Jeremiah’s case He plans a particular role for him. And in our lives He is working to mature us in Christ. It’s significant to realize that “form” gives rise to the term “potter”—giving imagery to God sitting at His wheel forming us into the leaders He is creating us to be. We see the concept of formation conveying God’s personal involvement in leaders’ lives as He works through each aspect of their experience to make them the men and women He wants them to be. Therefore, leader formation is not what we do to develop leaders, but what God is doing to form leaders. This is why we must learn to understand how God uses human agency to turn leaders into the vessels He wants them to become, and to teach them God’s ways in their lives.
Heart Over Heads & Hands
All leaders have three dimensions: head, hands, and heart. Of the three, the heart is the most important, as we see from even a cursory study of Scripture (I Kings 1112; Pro. 4:23; Jer. 17:9; Mark 7:21-23, 6:52, 8:17). The hands do what the heart wants, so the heart determines both competence and character. The heart is the core essence of our lives, the control center of our beings, and the determinative element in our character and our competence. Skills are essential for leaders, but not sufficient. Unless the heart is pure, the skills—no matter how masterful—will act in destructive and harmful ways, because an impure heart pollutes the head and the hands. There is no way around this reality.
This is why we focus on the heart primarily, and the head and hands secondarily. If the heart is right we know the hands can be trained to do well in accordance with the gifts God has given. Anyone with leadership gifts can be trained to do what a leader does; only those with a godly leader’s heart can be trained to glorify God.
Character Over Competence
Competence is essential for leaders, but not sufficient. An incompetent leader leads to mission failure. No one wants to follow a leader who doesn’t know where he’s going, can’t overcome her fear, or needs to have so much control that the followers are turned into spectators. When leaders lack competence, it damages productivity, follower con?dence, and the bottom line.
A leader without character leads to personal and spiritual damage. When a leader practices dishonesty, deception, a competitive spirit, or harmful control, these character failures will bring a leader down, and their followers will go down with them.
It is natural for leadership development to prescribe and train against issues of competence —they are easy to diagnose and often matters that solve themselves through awareness and training. On the other hand, character lies below the surface, and diagnosis and prescription can often reveal insecurity and past pain. As an organization, we do not belittle competence, but we are called to concentrate on character—calling leaders to be whole, healthy, and consistent in all aspects of their lives—for the sake of those they lead.
Foundational Over Functional
When we build a skyscraper on the foundation for a chicken coop, we are courting disaster. That building is going to collapse. The same is true for leaders who build their leadership on a foundation that is not adequate to support their accomplishments. When leaders won’t face their character or their hearts, won’t confront their fear or their anger or their guilt or their bitterness or their lust or their procrastination or their pride or their personal ambition or their unforgiveness or their desire for vengeance or their drive for success or their emptiness, their leadership will collapse. It’s as inevitable as the laws of physics, as certain as God’s Word. For this reason, we seek to guide leaders into the labyrinth of their own flesh to help them understand how it undermines their gifts, and to show them how the Spirit can deliver them from the disaster they bring to themselves when they work to cover their flaws with fig leaves.
This does not belittle “functional" as essential for leaders. After all, a foundation dug deep into the earth without a building on it is just an empty hole.
Pilgrimage Over Results
Results matter. Leaders must pay attention to results. But the formation of a leader takes place over a long period of time, and early results may be less than promising. While we hope to see excellent results through leaders’ lives, we are more concerned that they understand what God is doing in them through their pilgrimage than the results they may be achieving at a given point in time.
It is important to understand that failure (if it is not devastating) is often more beneficial to a growing leader than success over the long haul. For this reason, we see the pilgrimage process as far more important than the results, especially early in the leader’s formation or at critical times in a leader’s life. We want the leader to understand the principles God is inculcating into his or her life, because most often this is more beneficial than any short-term success a leader may have.