Jump directly to the Content
Jump directly to the Content


Home > Sermons

Lord, Give Us Leaders Who Can Lead Us to Justice

Biblical leaders are more likely to emerge from the right environment

I believe that justice might just be God's only concern. Everything we know about God might have its roots in God's concern for justice. And if justice is that important, then we need to understand the kind of leaders that can lead us to justice.

What is a biblical leader? A person who meets God in a very personal way and in the presence of God sees himself as God sees him. Then God usually purifies that person, and then God shows that person society as God sees it, which becomes for that person a burden and a vision. The leader then takes personal responsibility for that vision, which becomes a burden he shares for the rest of his life. Now that's a biblical leader.

Now I could go back to the Old Testament and show you that very clearly. Most classic would be Isaiah. He went into the temple. He was able to see God and he was able to see himself as being wretched and undone. Then God purified him and said, "Who will go for me?" And he said, "Here am I, Lord, send me." I could go through all of the prophets and have a similar experience. I could come to the New Testament and look at the apostle Paul. Paul met God in a personal way on that Damascus Road. The apostle was able to see himself as God saw him, and then God gave him a vision for the church. And when we talk about the church, we have to understand it was Paul's vision that God gave him on that Damascus Road. He says so later in his life when he appeared before King Agrippa. He said, "I met God on that Damascus road and he called me to send me far away to the Gentiles to turn them from darkness to light, from the power of Satan to the power of God." And he could say at the end of his life, "I was not disobedient to that heavenly vision."

So a leader is a person who meets God in a very personal way. Sees himself, sees society as God sees it, takes personal responsibility for that vision and burden, and then recognizes the fact that he or she cannot do it alone. That's what makes him a leader. A leader is not a person who thinks he can do it alone.

That's a leader. But if we also say justice might be God's only concern, we'd

better get a good explanation of justice. What is justice?

Justice is always an economic issue. Justice is to understand who owns what, and unless you understand justice in terms of ownership, then you can't understand justice.

The first thing we understand about justice is that God is the owner of the heavens and the earth. God is the maker. "The earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof and all that dwells therein." God calls on us as his creatures to be stewards of his resources. There is not a hint in the Bible that God ever gives the earth to man. He only makes man the stewards and tells man to subdue it and to use it. When Jesus talks about returning, he always talks about returning in relationship to our stewardship. How have we utilized God's resources?

One of weaknesses of capitalism is that it teaches an ownership concept contrary to God. It has nothing to do with our stewardship and our management. We can still manage it. We can still have possession of it and God wants us to be good stewards of it, but he wants us to understand that we're using it for him. That's important.

What then is justice? Justice is to help people to come to know this God of creation, and then to help them to be able to scratch into this earth. God's earth, to care for it. To work with their own hands, and then enjoy the fruit of their labor, and then be able to raise their hands in praise of God. Justice is to have a Sabbath. So when we meet God in the Bible, we meet a God of justice.

All we know about God begins with Moses. We meet God at the burning bush, and when God speaks, he says, "I see the suffering and the affliction of my people, and I have come down to deliver them."

God came down to deliver his people. The little word deliverance is out of which we get salvation out of which all we know about God comes, and what brought God down was his concern for justice. Jesus said, "No man ascends up to heaven only he that comes down." Justice is not a as far as God is concerned, and most social activists as far as I know see justice as a . Justice I see as God's total concern. God is going to bring a world of complete total justice in the world.

We want to talk about the kind of leaders that can lead us to justice. Let's look at the kind of environment out of which these leaders emerge. Sometimes we talk about leadership in terms of something like the chicken and egg: Are leaders made or do they emerge? I think leaders appear. Old Testament leaders sort of appeared, but they appear out of an environment. When there's a crisis. God's leaders appear on the scene.

So we then have to look at what we can do to facilitate that development of leaders. This morning I'd like to talk about the kind of environment out of which leaders emerge. Then we can go back then and try to create that environment.

Leaders emerge from an environment of faith.

Look at verse 23. "By faith Moses, when he was born, was hid three months of his parents because they saw he was a beautiful child and they were not afraid of the king's command."

The first thing we see is an environment of faith. That's the first thing we have to understand. The Bible says without faith it's impossible to please God. Biblical faith is not something you have when you're born. Biblical faith comes from without, from God. A New Testament understanding is "faith cometh by hearing and hearing by the Word of God." Faith is imputed to us from God, but we've got to have faith.

Leaders emerge from an environment of family.

The second thing here is family, and faith comes out of family. Moses' family had faith before he did. By faith when Moses was born was hid three months by his parents. They are the ones who had faith, and Moses came out of a community, a family that had faith.

The most serious problem I see in America is the breakdown of the family and the development in the black community of people without family. That the most serious problem in our society—more serious than abortion. I was one of the organizers of the Right to Life, and I'm against abortion, but I think we've got problems more serious than that.

I think of our jail population. When you think of the fact that almost 70 percent of the prison population is made up of black young people coming from the ghetto—coming from, at most, 12 percent of the population. What's being totally neglected in the ghetto is families. It's predictable what's going to happen to kids who they grow up without a father in the home. Family is crucial.

Leaders emerge from an environment of courage.

The third thing in this environment is courage. There's got to be a community where courage is built. For risk, for opportunity, for adventure. You've got to create environment out of which your kids will take a chance, will not just hold on to what they have. Moses' courage came from his mother and father. They were not afraid of the king's command. They had courage. They believed this boy had a great divine purpose.

Leaders emerge from an environment of purpose.

And that's the fourth thing: purpose. Meaning. Where I live in Pasadena, I see the drug culture. There is so much money but so little meaning. No purpose. We're not breeding into them a sense of purpose. But you see when Moses' mother and father looked at Moses when he was born, they could see that he had some kind of divine purpose. God had a plan for this child. They were going to take the effort necessary to make certain this child survived. And God has a plan and a purpose for every person and it is our responsibility to help make certain that person becomes all God has created them to be in society.

We could call it destiny. Give your kids a sense of destiny. Moses had a sense of destiny from his family. Moses did not pull himself up by his own bootstraps. I meet business people who call themselves tycoons, . Nobody's a tycoon, a . Everybody is what was put into them by somebody else.

Leaders emerge from an environment of identity.

Number five is a sense of identity. It says about Moses: "By faith when Moses became of age refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter." This guy had a sense of identity; he knew who he was. Keep in mind that Moses was brought up to be an Egyptian. He was educated in all the wisdom of Egypt. He was fed the best Egyptian food. He was dressed like an Egyptian. When he met his , she said, "I met an Egyptian." But Moses himself knew he was a Hebrew. Moses was not an Oreo cookie. He recognized the fact that he was a Hebrew. That's important. To have a sense of identity. A sense of race. A sense of a people. That could be manipulated when you think that your race is superior. But you need to think highly of your family, your race, your clan. That's what made Paul such a dynamic person in society. He never lost his Jewishness. God met him on the Damascus Road and called him to send him far away to the Gentiles. He said "what was working in Peter for the Jews was working in me for the Gentiles." God taught him to look forward, but he never lost his burden and his concern for the Jews. He could say, "Brethren, my heart's desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved. For I bear them record that they have a zeal for God but not according to knowledge." You know, if I could be cursed to hell, Paul is saying, and if that would bring enlightenment to my Jewish people, I'd be willing to do it. Paul understood his Jewishness. He never lost it. That's what makes him so dynamic.

You've got to know yourself. You can't be mixed up about your identity.

I think the reason Adolf Eichmann put those 6 million Jews in gas chambers was because he was a Jew that lost his identity in that Nazi revolution. It's important that you have a sense of identity—that's where your greatness comes from.

You know I go around, and I'm on the board of World Vision, Prison Fellowship—I'm an "advisor to the president" somehow, but I know why I'm doing all of that. I'm there because I'm black. I never get it mixed up. I know why they want me. I don't get confused. I don't neutralize my blackness; I don't overglorify it, because I know if I understand it and feel confident with it, I can be reconciled to you, but if I'm uneasy with myself, you can't be reconciled to me. As long as I have a sense of my own worth and purpose, then I can be reconciled. You see, reconciliation assumes that each of us can be reconciled. God never assumed that an inferior could be reconciled to a superior. That's not God's assumption.

That's why Jesus became a man. That's why the Incarnation was so important that he would become like unto us. Made like unto his brethren so he could now be the great reconciler to bring us together.

That's why I'm against integration as such. I'm for reconciliation, which is a higher calling. That's why I'm going back to the ghetto and affirming people's dignity and making something beautiful in that ghetto where people are suffering so the people can have a sense of worth. Now they can be reconciled. Now they can be reconciled together. Most integration just establishes white supremacy. Because you're always bringing everybody over to you, and never you going over to them. I mean I consult with churches all over the country, and they've never given it a thought. They say, "How can we get black people in our church? How can we win them back?" I say, "Have you ever thought about joining a black church?" People never think about that. They always think what they've got is absolutely superior.

Leaders emerge from an environment of suffering.

The sixth thing is suffering. Look what it says: "He chose rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the treasures in Egypt." This is why I reject this easy charismatic religion. Now I love charismatics. My wife is one. But I reject this easy religion, and I believe that some of the healing has to do with the desire to escape suffering. You see it's in suffering we are disciplined, and without discipline you can't be the kind of leader that God wants you to be.

James says, "Count it all joy, my brethren, when you fall into suffering," and it is in the suffering that we are being purified as gold. So you don't try to avoid suffering. You don't try to get all this comfort around you. That's why they've got all this shiny stuff around try to avoid suffering. One's ability to suffer, Paul says, it's not only given that we should believe in him but that we should also suffer for his name sake. It was assumed that because Jesus suffered, we were to follow in his footsteps. Paul talks about "completing the suffering of Jesus." What Paul meant is to continue that suffering process. If you would ever ask Paul if he was committed, Paul would just pull off his coat and say, "Look at my back."

Are you committed? Most religion today is trying to avoid this, and I see that in pastors who won't make a decision because they're afraid of what those few little bankers are going to say. They don't have courage to go with their conviction. They don't know how to love those people to their conviction. So unless you know how to suffer you can't tell those folks "Follow me." Look at the next verse—he chose rather to suffer affliction with the people of God instead of escaping from the ghetto. That's what I said to our young black folks. Success ought to be back here in the community. Come back here and live—not rejecting your people but coming back and living with the people and suffering with the people. We're not going to leave Pasadena just because some people break out four windows; just because they break into a house every once in a while. We're not going to do that. We're raising up a whole generation. We have to build a room bigger because kids are crowding it out in a Bible study. You think we're going to run from that? We're going to create a generation gap. In five years it will be our kids that'll be doing the good thing in their community. Kids don't need gangs always, if you enter in there. So what we're doing now is developing for the future in that community. Be willing to suffer so we can get the discipline.

It says here "Esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt." He was willing to follow Christ than to just look for the Cadillacs and Mercedes and the plastic. He saw following Christ was more important than that. And so "he endured as seeing him who is invisible."

Leaders emerge from an environment of leadership.

Number seven: Leaders lead. Folks call themselves leaders who are not leaders. That's my assumption because leaders lead. Leaders are not becoming leaders. You're either a leader or you're not.

Let's go back to Moses, who meets God out of this burning bush. This is an exciting thing because forty years earlier, Moses had such a desire to be the leader that God had created him to be. He had a sense of destiny. Sense of importance. All of that. So he went out when he was forty and said, "Now I'm going to deliver the people." He failed miserably and finds himself on the back side of the desert caring for somebody else's sheep. He didn't own any sheep of his own. Then one day there in the backwoods, he meets God in a very personal way. This must have been a glorious time when God says, "I see the affliction and the suffering and the enslavement and the agony of my people. I hear their cry, and I have come down to deliver them." Moses was happy and said, "God, forty years ago I tried it and I failed, and I'm glad you've taken on yourself personal responsibility to come down and do this. Well, you go on and do it. God, that's wonderful."

But God said, "I need you." You see, God has always been a incarnated God. God has always incarnated himself in people to do his will.

That was a different story. Moses says, "I've tried it. I've failed. I can't do it. I can't do it at all." Moses began to think, "What is the best argument I can use with this God?" Well, he remembered his education, and he said, "Now if you can't speak this Egyptian stuff good, you can't communicate." And he said, "I can't speak well, I can't talk." God said, "Well I've just brought Aaron through a six year Ph.D. program in this Egyptian language. He can speak it perfectly." That took care of that.

Then God and Moses continued to interact, and Moses was excited. He asked him all these questions. Who should I say sent me? God explains all this to him. Now Moses is really excited, ready to go, but there's one thing more Moses wants to know. Leaders lead, but Moses wants to know whether or not he will know that God is forever with him. That's his big problem. Now the thought was, God had already said, "I AM will be with you." He'd already told him that, but the question that Moses asked here, "Will you be with me to lead me around trouble? Will you preserve me from agony and pain and aches?" That's what he was asking God, and God says no. This is the way the question was asked: "How will I know that you're with me?"

God said, "You won't know until you get back to this mountain." He said, "You will know that I was with you all the time when you have led them back to this mountain."

You're not a leader until you lead.


Leaders who lead us to justice are people of faith. You don't start off by faith. You know the people who start off by faith then start leading by their own bank account and their own strength. They don't know how to go on, but the Bible says the just shall go on living by faith.

We've got to restore the family. The church has got to become that extended family, the family of God. We've got to create an environment, a parish. The American church has got to go back to the parish. The commuter church is not making it—too many people coming together and too few doing things, too many pastors working for the people instead of equipping the folks to work. We've got to create a family again.

The Gospel of John says he gives us the power to become the sons of God, the family of God. We've got to begin to preach again household family conversion. Family is the critical thing in this country.

We've got to have people who have a sense of courage. They've got to believe God.

Then a sense of identity, of history, of race, a sense of people, sense of suffering so we can have the discipline. Then we've got to provide the leadership. And so my prayer as I conclude, "Lord, give us leaders that can lead us to justice."

John Perkins is founder and president emeritus of Voice of Calvary Ministries. He is perhaps better known for his pioneering efforts in community development and racial reconciliation through the church. He is the author of Let Justice Roll Down, A Quiet Revolution, and With Justice For All.

John Perkins

Preaching Today Tape # 21


A resource of Christianity Today International

Related sermons

The Problem of Growth

How to counter challenges with sound leadership and encourage growth.

A Leader Tough and Tender

Leaders need to learn to be tough enough to pay the price and tender enough to take care of their people.
Sermon Outline:


I. Leaders emerge from an environment of faith

II. Leaders emerge from an environment of family

III. Leaders emerge from an environment of courage

IV. Leaders emerge from an environment of purpose

V. Leaders emerge from an environment of identity

VI. Leaders emerge from an environment of suffering

VII. Leaders emerge from an environment of leadership