The (surprisingly) worst leader

It’s leadership recruitment season for many ministries. Whether you’re lining up growth group leaders or a treasurer for 2016, no doubt you have given some thought to finding men and women with the three (or four, or five) “Cs” – character, conviction and competency (and maybe commitment and chemistry if you’re picky).

Here’s a thought experiment for you. Let’s take a look at two of those qualities – character and competency – and put four possible combinations of those two qualities up on a table:

Good character Bad character
High competence Person 1

High competence,
Good character

Person 2

High competence,
Bad character

Low competence Person 3

Low competence,
Good character

Person 4

Low competence,
Bad character

Now obviously the best case scenario is the top left, person 1: high competence and good character.

But which do you think the worst case scenario is? Who do you rule out straight away? Surely it’s person 4 (the the low competence, bad character option) right?

Actually I think the worst case scenario is person 2 (the top right box, the one with high competence, but bad character). You see, the top right box describes someone who is basically a super-villain: highly competent and destructive. The incompetent bottom right person is incompetently evil – they are not going to do nearly as much damage.

So it’s not surprising how much character is front and centre of Paul’s mind when he gives advice to Titus on recruitment:

The reason I left you in Crete  was that you might put in order what was left unfinished and appoint elders  in every town, as I directed you.  6 An elder must be blamelessfaithful to his wife, a man whose children believe  and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient.  7 Since an overseer  manages God’s household,  he must be blameless—not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain.  8 Rather, he must be hospitable,  one who loves what is good,  who is self-controlledupright, holy and disciplined. (Titus 1:5)

While we’re at it, I think if we did the same table but this time with convictions, it would come out much the same way. The worst case scenario is someone who is highly functioning but hazy on their core beliefs. This is the classic false teacher. (I’d much rather an incompetent heretic than a persuasive one!)

I think this is a particularly important challenge for those of us who live in a meritocratic culture – where we value competency almost above everything else. We are far more likely, instinctively, to promote someone into leadership beyond their character than beyond their gifts.

And if I may be so bold … for whatever reason we seem especially willing to overlook a young man’s profound immaturity because of their great communication or leadership gifts. We to so to our peril, and ultimately to their destruction.

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