Tests of Leadership (1): Facing the Pressure

There are no easy days for leaders. While some are easier than others, a leader that truly seeks to understand and undertake his/her role will always find and face pressures. No matter how easy a leader makes his job appear, he knows that to let down his guard could end in disaster.

It could come at any time, from any source. Your right-hand man may be your most proven and trustworthy companion and colleague. The presence of God may be thick around you and His miracles fresh in your memory. A good leader stays on his toes, prepared mentally for what might happen, even if it doesn’t.

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Don’t get me wrong. I’m not advocating leadership paranoia or strong-arming control of everyone and everything around you. It is a realistic mindset that honestly reminds oneself, “I am not in control, but I will face what comes, as it comes, ready to do the right thing.”

The lesson is found in the Scriptures, showing the failures and successes of the leaders of God’s people.It even goes so far as to prove that one success does not guarantee an absence of failures in the future. One all too real scenario plays out before us not too long after the people of Israel were freed from slavery in Egypt.

In the Mountain’s Shadow

Excitement, disappointment and awe must have filled the previous days and weeks for God’s chosen people. One day they were about the work that generations of Hebrews lived and died for in the service of the Pharaohs of Egypt. When an old face returned to them with promises of freedom their hopes were dashed by the orders of a king with a hard heart.

To encourage their faith God spoke again through this dusty shepherd prophet, and He promised freedom following some great troubles for Egypt. God would prove Himself to be the one true God to a godless people. And His people would know that He was the One Who delivered them, the only Master deserving of their service and worship.

Plagues fell on the land by God’s outstretched hand, striking the Egyptians and sparing God’s people. Death, darkness and disease filled every home except theirs. Finally, after death too an unimaginable toll throughout the land, Pharaoh set the people free. As they left they received gold, silver and livestock from the Egyptians who were suddenly glad to be rid of their labor force.

But the roller coaster ride wasn’t over for Israel, it was just getting started. Camping out by the Red Sea they found themselves pursued by the Egyptian army and chariots. That same sea parted as a way of escape and then closed again on the army with deadly force. Finding themselves without food in the wilderness, God blew in some quail. When the only water they found was bitter, God made it clean and clear. In their first test as an army they won a victory by His mighty hand. During the day they followed the pillar of cloud and by night its fires lit the camp and the way before them. Until they came to their first big stop on the road to their new home: the mountain of God.

Along the journey the people had gained a reputation for being grumblers and complainers. If only one tombstone could be laid for this faithless generation this would have been their epitaph. They lived by that spirit the rest of their days, causing trouble and incurring the judgment of God.

What came to pass in the shadow of the mountain was no surprise to God. It was there He began to call them “a stiff-necked people” (Exodus 32:9). If their leaders had seen the signs and prepared their own hearts and minds, some events may have turned out very different.

The happenings recorded for us in Exodus 32 show how quickly an unprepared leader can crumble. Temptation comes in various forms. What seemed right to human eyes turned one leader astray. Another passed one frustration but fell to another. In the end the people found God’s forgiveness, but only after sin led to death.

The Constant Press

What is it that these leaders faced before Mount Sinai? It is the same pressure that every leader faces. This one source of stress and uncertainty is the reason leaders must have hearts that are focused on the goal and keep that focus continually.

The answer to the question is one word: followers. Whether it is a church, a team of volunteers, or a department in a large corporation, every leader faces the constant pressures related to having followers. A leader is always outnumbered, and the majority have a tendency to demand their own way. The large the group of followers is the more ideas and desires come up from the various factions within it.

An important lesson for followers and leaders is that many of the decisions that need to be made for the whole are not meant to be settled by popular opinion. There are times when the Word of God and its teachings plainly say, “This is the way, walk in it” (Isaiah 30:21). Though it may be unpopular it is the right path to take, the right word to be said, or the right action to perform.

Too many groups don’t want true leadership. They don’t want to entrust their lives to another person’s choices and vision. To them, a leader’s purpose is to fulfill the completion of the follower’s personal desires and to bear all the heavy responsibility while the followers enjoy the benefits. Such individuals are not really followers.

When a true leader, who knows God’s commands and follows the leading of His Spirit, stands up and directs those he is responsible before the Throne of God for leading, the crowd often cringes and pulls back. Because their hearts are set on their personal wishes they cry out, “The way of the Lord is not fair” (Ezekiel 18:25). Unfortunately, the histories of too many churches have chapters that end with the familiar fate of pastors and leaders who fell victim to the constant pressures of those who claimed to be followers.

* * *

As we will see a few following posts, the dangers for Moses and Aaron should have signaled a clear and present danger. Yet many of those danger lay unseen, and even the familiar pitfalls prepared to rise and challenge godly leadership. Not even those God-ordained and God-proven authorities led without struggle. May we as leaders learn from their successes and their failures as we strive to faithfully walk before and direct those God has entrusted to us.

Talk Back

As a leader, what are some pitfalls and temptations that you have faced? Did you handle them well or did you mess up? What dangers lie before you today?

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