Leadership is not optional; it is essential. It is the one ingredient essential for the success of any institution. But leaders are quickly becoming an endangered species. The crisis in America today is a crisis of leadership, and the crisis of leadership is a continuing crisis of character.
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, in his famous speech at Harvard, placed his finger on the real issue when he said: "We have placed too much hope in politics and social reforms, only to find out that we were being deprived of our most precious possession: our spiritual life. It is trampled by the party mob in the East, by the commercial one in the West. All the celebrated technological achievements of progress, including the conquest of outer space, do not redeem the twentieth century's moral poverty. We need a spiritual blaze."
That forces a question: What kind of leader does it take to make an impact of permanence and quality in a society in which everything nailed down is coming loose?
I think the seal of the Moody Bible Institute provides the clue. If you examine the seal, you will see the reference to 2 Timothy 2:15. In this verse, Paul says to a young man about to take a place of critical leadership: "Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth."
It's usually considered impolite to listen to a personal conversation, but tonight you have my permission. In fact, I would like to deputize you as one massive accountability group to the administrative leadership of this institution. I want to make this charge very personal. Therefore, I'm not going to address it to Dr. Joseph M. Stowell III, but I'm going to address it to Joe, because that's how I know him and love him.
Joe, God is saying to you tonight, "Do your best. Make it your aim." It was Aristotle who said, "Like archers, we shall stand a far greater chance of hitting the target if we can see it." So, I'd like to delineate the lines of the target. I'd like to give you one final exam. It's really a perpetual exam, three questions you can ask at the end of every day to evaluate the spiritual quality of your leadership.
Is the Lord well-pleased?
Question number one: Is the Lord well-pleased? Paul says, "Do your best to present yourself to God, as one approved." It is possible to be eminently successful with men and a total failure with God. It's possible to be so enamored about what others say that you forget what God has said.
On three separate occasions, the heavens opened, and we hear those remarkable words: "This is my beloved Son, in whom I find all of my delight." Why is that true? We don't know until we get to the Book of Hebrews, when the writer informs us that before Jesus Christ visited our planet, he paused on the threshold of heaven and said, "Lo, in the volume of the book it is written of me, 'I delight to do thy will, O God.' " God found all of his pleasure in the Son because the Son found all of his pleasure in doing the Father's will.
Joe, God is not calling you to be flattered, but to be faithful; not to be a chameleon, but a catalyst; not to be a thermometer, but a thermostat. Thermometers merely register temperature; thermostats determine it.
My strong counsel to you, my young brother in Christ, is this: don't believe your press reports. Man is the only creature that you can pat on the back and his head swells up. Praise is like perfume: it's good to smell, but I wouldn't recommend swallowing it.
It's God who gives the final approval. In Hebrew 11, it is to that group of significant saints—obviously not put together by a collection of Madison Avenue promotion agents—that the writer says, "Without faith it is impossible to please him." May God make you a man of faith, a man whose ears are tuned to hear one voice, the voice of the Father saying, "Well done, thou good and faithful servant."
Is the work well-done?
The second question: Is the work well-done? That calls for a passion for excellence—not simply the ideal of excellence but the pursuit of it.
There's a running controversy in art circles as to who is the greater: Michelangelo, the pupil, or Bertoldo, the teacher. The great teacher Bertoldo knew that gifted individuals are prone to ride rather than develop. He warned Michelangelo repeatedly about this, but to no effect. One morning, he walked into the studio and watched Michelangelo as he was puttering on a little piece of statuary. Bertoldo went over and picked up a sledgehammer and batted the piece of statuary into a thousand pieces that ricocheted all over that room. In the stunned silence, he shouted, "Michelangelo, talent is cheap; dedication is costly."
That's why Paul says "a workman who does not need to be ashamed." Joe, I've asked myself a hundred times, why will we be ashamed? I would encourage you to think about it.
First of all, I think we will be ashamed because too frequently we aim too low. We operate without standards. We slip to the lowest common denominator in which anything is good enough for God, and we become a part of that manageable mediocrity that often marks our movement.
But I think we will also be ashamed because it's costing too little. Not only are we operating without standards, we're serving without sacrifice.
One of my favorite stories from the life of David occurred when the children of Israel were dying like flies. David came to the high priest and said, "What shall I do?"
He said, "I suggest that you offer up sacrifices to the Lord our God."
David finds himself outside of the property of a man by the name of Araunah. I'm sure as Araunah looked out from the flaps of his tent and saw the king with his entourage, his heart must have skipped a couple of beats.
He comes out and says, "David, what can I do?"
David said, "I'd like to buy a piece of property to offer up sacrifices to the Lord, our God."
You can identify with Araunah, who says in effect "You've got to be kidding! You're the king. I'll give you the property. I'll give you the utensils. I'll give you the sacrifice. I'll give you everything you need."
David offered one of those statements that are the most classic to fall from human lips. He said, "No, you won't. Neither will I offer unto the Lord my God of that which costs me nothing."
Joe, I assure you the service that counts is the service that costs. Significant leadership is not available in a bargain-basement sale. It comes as a high-priced item.
It was Eugene O'Neill [in his play, The Iceman Cometh] who makes one of his characters say it so graphically: "You can't build a marble temple out of a mixture of mud and manure." But we continue to try.
Is the Word well-used?
There's a third and final question to the exam, Joe, and that is: Is the Word well-used? That involves a passion for truth.
Ayn Rand, the noted novelist, said this: "Honesty is adherence to truth and truth is the discovery of reality." I believe the great challenge confronting us in Christian education is the realization that God has spoken and he hasn't stuttered. He wanted to communicate with you and me, and he wrote his message in a Book. That message was written not to satisfy your curiosity, but to change your life. Not to make you a smarter sinner, but to make you like Jesus Christ.
I believe that's why Paul adds, "Do your best to correctly handle the word of truth." To do that, you have to know the truth. You cannot impart out of a vacuum, out of what you do not possess. I hope that in the years to come, the quality education that has been the hallmark of this school will continue to be a high priority in your leadership role.
But I think it also calls for living the truth. Our problem today, it seems to me, is that we're long on information and short on transformation. We're like poor photographs: overexposed and underdeveloped.
I think it also means a call to communicate the truth. Moody Bible Institute has been a pacesetter down through the years, through its literature, through its radio, and through its schools—whether they are night schools, day schools, summer schools, or correspondence schools. All you have to do is read the history of this institution or pick up some of its promotional material to realize how extensive the impact of this school on this community is.
Ministering around the world, the one thing that constantly grabs my attention is that wherever I go, whether it's out in the remotest section of Third World country, or whether it's at the heart of the cities of our great world, I will always encounter graduates of the Moody Bible Institute. The largest percentage of missionaries around the world has graduated from this institution. May it always be so.
I'm convinced, Joe, that the three greatest days in a person's life are the day they were born, the day they were born again, and the day when they come to grips with why they were born and born again.
You, my brother, are a gifted, well-trained, committed, authentic individual. So our prayer for you tonight is that, in your administration, we will have positive answers to the questions:
Is the Lord well-pleased?
Is the work well-done?
Is the Word well-used?
And may he use you with distinction for his greater glory.
For Your Reflection
Personal growth: How has this sermon fed your own soul? ___________________________________________
Skill growth: What did this sermon teach you about how to preach? ____________________________________________________________________________
Exegesis and exposition: Highlight the paragraphs in this sermon that helped you better understand Scripture. How does the sermon model ways you could provide helpful biblical exposition for your hearers? ____________________________________________________________________________
Theological Ideas: What biblical principles in this sermon would you like to develop in a sermon? How would you adapt these ideas to reflect your own understanding of Scripture, the Christian life, and the unique message that God is putting on your heart?
Outline: How would you improve on this outline by changing the wording, or by adding or subtracting points? _____________________________________________________________________
Application: What is the main application of this sermon? What is the main application of the message you sense God wants you to bring to your hearers? ____________________________________________________________________________
Illustrations: Which illustrations in this sermon would relate well with your hearers? Which cannot be used with your hearers, but they suggest illustrations that could work with your hearers? ____________________________________________________________________________
Credit: Do you plan to use the content of this sermon to a degree that obligates you to give credit? If so, when and how will you do it?
Dr. Howard Hendricks is chairman of the Center for Christian Leadership at Dallas Theological Seminary. He is also involved in ministry through books, publications, radio, and video.