Struggles of Leadership


I recently finished watching Ronald Reagan in the movie “Hellcats of the Navy,” where he plays the captain of a submarine during World War II. Early on, he must make a decision concerning a sailor who is in the water 100 yards from the submarine while an enemy ship is closing in on his sub. What does he do? Does he put the entire crew in jeopardy to save one man or sacrifice the life of one to save the ship and crew? He chooses the latter, resulting in criticism by his executive officer and many crew members for his decision. Throughout the movie, he and the executive officer are at odds until the officer faces making the same decision. It is only then that he understands what it means to be a leader.

Being a leader means having to make decisions, sometimes in a short timeframe. At this time in history, mayors, governors, the President, and many others are having to make decisions, many of which are unpopular. As a result, they are all receiving criticism. The problem with being a leader is that you will often harvest criticism no matter what decision you make or don’t make. There will always be those who don’t like the decision. Leader’s decisions are almost always a win and lose action no matter what course they take. 

I’ve been an elder in our church for twenty years. We’ve had to make lots of decisions over the years. They have not all been popular. Sometimes people have gotten angry over them and left to go worship someplace else. At other times they have fumed a while and then come to see that we are trying to do the right thing. Leaders must make decisions; otherwise, they are not leading. 

Sometimes leaders make mistakes. When they do, there will be those who criticize them. Sometimes leaders make good decisions. When they do, there will be those who criticize them about timing, or not enough, or some other negative area. Sometimes leaders must change course and change actions or decisions. When they do, they will be criticized for their weakness or inability to make the right call. There will always be those who have their opinions and criticize their leaders no matter what they decide. Most of the criticism is by those who have never been in the position of having to make a “snap” decision based on little information. These people never carried the weight of scores of people depending on them to lead.

With leaders, as the old saying goes, “the buck stops here.” Right or wrong, they end up taking the brunt of criticism and judgment when things aren’t going well. History is full of people who faced the wrath of others because of their decisions. The actions of those in charge of the Titanic have been questioned for decades. The leaders at Pearl Harbor were demoted and blamed for not being ready on December 7, 1941. Government leaders were blamed for 9/11 and not being prepared. Governors, members of Congress, the President, and others are throwing darts at each other daily concerning the state of the country in various ways today.

There’s a story that we find in the Gospel according to John chapter 8. It’s the story of a woman who has sinned and brought before Jesus facing death by stoning for committing adultery. It’s a trap for Jesus, which he calmly reverses to the accusers. He stoops, scribbles something in the sand, and calmly speaks to the crowd, “Let anyone of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” The group quietly dispersed from oldest to the youngest, since no one could truthfully say they were perfect in everything they said and did. 

Leaders are human, just like the rest of us. The point is we all make mistakes. The problem is that instead of working together, we stoop to criticism, hateful words, and childish actions. We allow no leeway or forgiveness when something doesn’t go right. We are ready to throw stones, stones of anger, stones of hate, stones of criticism, and stones of disrespect.

In Exodus 17, “The Amalekites came and attacked the Israelites at Rephidim.” It is the story where, as long as Moses held up his hands high, the Israelites were winning the battle, but when he lowered his hands, the Amalekites would win. 

Enter Aaron and Hur.

First, they pulled a stone over and gave Moses a place to sit. Then the two men stood beside Moses, each one taking an arm and supporting Moses until the battle resulted in victory. The thing to note was that these were not two soldiers ordered to hold up his arms, nor were they servants of his household, nor were they a couple of people who happened by.

The two men who held up Moses’ arms were fellow leaders. These were the two men put in charge when Moses went up the mountain to receive the law of God. 

As I look at this story, I see Aaron and Hur standing by and witnessing the struggle that Moses endured. There’s no indication that Moses told them to bring the stone over to sit on. There’s no sign that Moses said, “hold up my arms.” I think they saw the struggle he was having and what was happening as he tried to do the will of God. Instead of standing by and telling him, “you can do it,” or criticizing him for failing to hold his hands up high, they took action to help him.

Leaders can be lonesome men and women, making decisions that they know will bring out the hate and criticism of many, yet making them anyway, because they are trying to do best for those that follow their lead. As I look among those who lead today, men and women who lead churches, cities, states, and our country, I see struggles. I see them struggling with personal health issues; I see those struggling with the need for more strength, physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. I see struggling with patience, seeking answers from God on their struggles, struggling with perseverance as they face life, stressed out over work-related problems, and stressed over making the right decisions.

They are leaders who desperately need someone to drag a stone over for them to sit on and hold up their arms for a while as the battle rages. 

Danny Minton is Pastoral Minister and Elder at Southern Hills Church of Christ

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