So You Want to Be a Leader?

David Brandt Berg


Nearly every great building, every great accomplishment, every great war, every great movement took years of planning and laborious engineering. Every Michelangelo painting was engineered with meticulous care, with advanced sketches, designs, etc., before he finally got to the finished stage.

It takes a lot longer to plan a building than it does to build it. It took me a whole lot longer to select the property, plan my church building, scrounge the materials, design it, and do all the figuring to prepare the ground and lay the almost invisible foundation. It took much longer to do all that than to lay the blocks, build the walls, and stick the roof on. That was the fun part. That was when you could really see something. But the people who got excited as they saw the walls and roof go up only saw the smallest part of the job.

Every builder loves to get to that physical part of the job that is seen, which people begin to exclaim about, the visible. It’s the invisible, below the surface, long, hard hours and days and weeks and months, and sometimes years of planning, and the slow laying of the foundation that’s the hardest part, takes the most time, and for which you get the least credit, but without which there would never be a building and it would never stand.

You can ask any businessman about that: The pleasurable part is the finished product—the shiny new car standing there, the people raving about it. But they don’t see the blood, the sweat, and the tears in the months and years of planning and designing, trial and error, and preparation behind it. They can’t see the intricate and delicate wiring and mechanical systems that lie beneath the surface, that are far more difficult to install and much more vital to its efficient operation than any nice, shiny polish and paint on the surface. But what really appeals to the women who buy the cars is the looks of the product—the pretty surface—the color, the shape, the upholstery. They couldn’t begin to understand the intricate mechanism of the engine, the lights, the ignition system, the transmission system, and all the other complicated mechanical and electronic parts unseen beneath the surface, which took a lot more time to design and install and make it work, than that pretty paint and polish.

Even a well-cooked meal can take hours of thought, labor, organization, and preparation, and only looks good and smells good for a few minutes—and then it’s gone. The consumer can’t possibly appreciate all the time and effort that’s gone into it in the brief moment that he enjoys it, unless he has been a cook and knows what it is to have to plan the meal, buy the ingredients, and prepare it, cook it, and serve it.

That’s really the way it is with most things in life. A banana is another example. It just appears for the moment—here today and gone tomorrow—and all the hard work of the farmer behind it is invisible. The months or years of clearing, planning, plowing, planting, growing, fertilizing, pruning, harvesting, transporting, marketing—all of this is unseen behind that little banana. All we do is enjoy it momentarily, without even thinking about the hard work behind it.

I don’t even understand the clothes I have on. I don’t know what it took to design this pair of pants, nor the work behind the raising of sheep, shearing, wool gathering, selling it to the thread maker, and then the spinning of each little tiny thread, then the intricate weaving of the cloth into complicated designs of different colors. Think of the elaborate machinery it must have taken—years of planning, invention, design, and labor that have gone into the making of the cloth. Then the tailor had to design and plan the pants—how to cut the cloth, how to put it together, how to make it fit, what shape it would be, how it would hang, what it would have—pockets, belt straps, zipper, etc., waist size, length, and all these things. We don’t think about these things when we go to buy a pair of pants. All we see is a pair of pants, and we decide whether we like what we see and whether they fit.

We don’t begin to appreciate the years of unseen labor and invention behind them, which was only learned through experience and planning, discoveries and inventions and trials and errors, successes and failures, and joys and heartbreaks of generations—all the unseen handiwork, time, thought and labor behind one pair of pants. We just see it, buy it, wear it, and don’t worry about it. But it took somebody or a lot of somebodies years of time and thought and invention and discovery and labor to produce it.

Every bit of food we eat, the clothing we wear, the buildings we live in, the vehicles we travel in, and even all the little tiny necessities of everyday life are just the brief and temporary visible end products of generations of thought, invention, discovery, experimentation, designing, planning and producing by a world of laborers with a world of labor. We have entered into other men’s labors and reaped that on which we bestowed no labor (John 4:38). One plants, another waters; but it is God that gives the increase (1 Corinthians 3:6–7).

God’s behind-the-scene labors are almost totally invisible—the work of creation that produced the universe and keeps it running, His design and plan for man, His constant care for His creations from the realm of the Spirit, that behind-the-scenes workshop where God actually does most of His labor. “Set not, therefore, your affections on things on the earth, for the things which are seen are temporal”—only temporary, only the slightly visible manifestation of all the unseen work behind them—“but the things which are not seen are eternal”—the spiritual world which produced them, the power and planning of God (2 Corinthians 4:18). You don’t know how He did it. All you do is enjoy it. You can’t even comprehend it. All you do is consume it.

But somebody had to do it. As Dr. Robert Millikan said, “Behind every watch there had to be a watchmaker, and so behind the intricate precision of this great universe, there had to be a divine designer and Creator.” Behind every great creation, whether of God or man, there had to be worlds of work, planning, preparation, designing, invention, discovery, exploration, organization, and cooperation, in order to produce the finished product—the thing that’s seen—which does not begin to reveal the vast unseen labor and the multitudes of laborers behind it.

Even so, with the creation of a new nation, a war, a reformation, or a revolution—or any major change in history—somebody had to dream of it before it could happen. Somebody had to have the inspiration, the vision, the faith, the ingenuity, the genius, the spark that kindled the fire! You only see the fire and thrill and marvel at its glory. You don’t see the work and planning behind it—the problems in gathering materials, figuring out how to start it and keep it going.

Maybe you used to look at a big business and wish you were the boss, to enjoy the glory and the riches, and to get to tell other people what to do. But you’d have been better to work your eight hours and not worry, lest someday you’d become the boss and work at all hours, and have all the worry. Because you couldn’t possibly see all the problems, the difficulties, the obstacles, the troubles, the complications behind it—how hard it is to know what to do, to make decisions and to tell other people how to do it, and to be willing to take the blame for the failures, as well as credit for the successes. Because possessions, employees, businesses and governments are much more responsibility than enjoyment, much more hard work than pleasure.

As the great Scottish poet Robert Burns wrote as a whole world was toasting his fame, “Would that I were back with the wee sma’ daisy,” “For the best laid plans of mice and men, aften gang aglae.” He was wishing he were back, a wee small boy again, playing on the Scottish heather, gazing in wonder at the tiny flowers, without a care or responsibility in the world, unconcerned about the world around him—a world that didn’t even know he existed. But now that he was famous, he had to worry about his work and his writing, the opinions of man, and his successes and failures, and no longer had the time to enjoy the simple, uncomplicated things of life, or even the poems about them which had made him great. He was too busy.

You’d better enjoy being a buck private while you can, with very little worry or responsibility, credit or blame, cursing or fame. One of these days you may be the general and have most of the work and nearly all the worry—and usually all the blame. You may look at your leaders and think, “My, I’d like to be like him or her. I wish I had their position.” Watch out! Some day you may have and wish you didn’t but have to. You couldn’t begin to fathom the depths of despair, the heartbreaks, trials, tribulations, the bitter experiences, the fires of testing they had to go through to make them the pure gold they are today, the white-hot heat of the furnace they had to endure before they became the lovely colorful ceramic that they now are.

Don’t ask for leadership. Don’t even desire it. You don’t know what you’re asking for. Don’t try to be a leader unless God shoves you into it and you have to be! Just be thankful that you don’t have to do the leading, make the decisions, carry the burden of the responsibility, and suffer the blame.

You don’t realize how much goes into leadership: the years of the school of hard knocks, years of experience, trial and error, success and failure, suffering and tribulation—the years of following, obedience and training, the vast work of the Spirit, the innumerable lessons, the grades you had to take over again, the demotions as well as the promotions, the failures as well as the accomplishments, the blame as well as the fame, the unseen labor, the unrealized thought, the hours, days, weeks, months and years of prayerful planning, the blood, the sweat, the tears, the agony with the ecstasy—all that goes into the making of a leader.

Leaders are made, not born. They’re the brief and final end product of God’s infinite care, design, and preparation. Here today and gone tomorrow. “For what is your life? It’s but a vapor. It’s here a little while and then it’s gone” (James 4:14). It takes so long to grow into the full bloom, the full fruit of leadership, so your actual brief span of leadership is short by comparison to the years of preparation.

Don’t envy your leaders. Pity them. Pray for them. Help them. They need you. And don’t desire leadership, unless God forces it on you. I dare say you’ll not find a leader in the Bible who wanted to be a leader. Most of them tried to get out of the job! It takes too long, it’s too hard, and you’ll never get enough credit for it. But without them, God’s work can’t go on.

Just appreciate the end product. Enjoy it. Learn from it. Follow its example. And help it. Be thankful you don’t have to be one, until God makes you. Nearly every great leader in the Bible had to be pushed into it. Only in the folly of this world do men fight each other for fickle fame and fortune. Only in the sickening system of this world do men struggle for power, position, riches and glory—only to find that it doesn’t satisfy.

Like Alexander the Great, who, having conquered the known world, died drunken and weeping that there were no more worlds to conquer. Or Napoleon, who made all Europe tremble at his feet, but died in exile, whimpering like a baby, just to have his boots pulled on, that he might die like a soldier. Or Julius Caesar, whose friends stabbed him in the back at the pinnacle of fame. All these died in vain. The elusive butterfly of fortune weighed them in the balances and found them wanting. They paid such an awful price for it, when it wasn’t worth it. They sacrificed everything for it, only to discover it was ashes between their teeth. Husks, husks, husks. Like the Prodigal Son in the swine pit, with nothing left but the “husks that the swine did eat” (Luke 15:16).

What a pitiful end product are the men of this world, and even the Christians, who fail God. At least God’s leaders, who pay the same price and make the same sacrifices, can look forward to eternal rewards and everlasting glory and can die with a feeling of genuine permanent accomplishment from a lifetime of investment in His work, which will reap eternal dividends hereafter.

But you’ll never know what they went through to get there until you’ve gone through it yourself. And nobody in his right mind would ever do it for anybody but God and His children. Most of your work is unseen and will never be known by anybody but God and you, and perhaps a few of those closest to you. Most of your sufferings, your sacrifices, and your years of labor will never be appreciated in this life, nor realized by others until the rewards are handed out in heaven and the medals are pinned on at the Marriage Feast of the Lamb and the cities are distributed in the Millennium.

You say, “Lord, we are able” (Matthew 20:22). But you don’t know what you’re asking for. Just thank God for your leaders and hope you never have to be one. Don’t try to be a leader unless you have to be! Don’t desire leadership, unless God makes you lead—unless the time comes when you see the job that has to be done and there’s nobody else to do it but you, and you know you have to do it. It’s God’s will, God’s plan, and you’re ready—even if you don’t feel like it. Ready by the long preparation, planning, designing and making of a man by the hand of God.

As Kipling said, “If you can meet success and failure, and treat these two impostors the same … then you’ll be a man, my son.” Simply because you have the satisfaction of knowing you’re doing the will of God—that you were made for the job, that you can’t help it, you have to do it. He expects it of you. That’s what it costs to be a leader. “To live in fame, and die in flame”—and sometimes they have to live in flame and die in shame before the world.

We are God’s expendables, created to burn out on His altar of sacrifice—made to wear out as His tools of design; to die, that you might live. For “no greater love hath any man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). We “die daily” (1 Corinthians 15:31). We can only offer you an invitation to come and die with us—to die to the flesh that ye may live in the spirit.

After years in the making, preparation, and planning, you may only be a brief flare which lights up the landscape for but a moment in the heat of battle, that the victory may be won. But that lifetime of preparation is worth it all, even if for only that “moment of truth” and recognition by the Lord. That moment of usefulness that you were designed for, that day when you stood in the gap, that hour when you met the need, that time when you fulfilled your mission. And you can hear His “Well done, thou good and faithful servant. Enter thou into the joy of thy Lord” (Matthew 25:21). All this and heaven too!

You’ll never appreciate your leaders till you have to join them in leadership. We’ll probably never fully appreciate God until we join Him in glory and see what it really cost Him.—How much time it took, what infinite care and love and patience. How much unseen labor went into the end product—little old insignificant you and me. Praise His name forever. “All glory and praise to the Lamb that was slain, who hath borne all our sins and hath cleansed every stain.”

“Wherefore, seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him that endured such contradiction of sinners against Himself, lest yet be wearied and faint in your minds. My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of Him: For whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom He receiveth” (Hebrews 12:1–3, 5, 6).

Do you still want to be a leader?


Copyright © The Family International


Author: Frederick Olson

I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me.

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