A Call to Leadership

By DANNY MINTON

The story in Kelly Tyler-Lewis’ book, “The Lost Men,” was intriguing and one of those hard to put down. When I finished, I was struck by how what had happened was mainly due to the failure of proper leadership.

In 1914 Sir Ernest Shackleton set sail with his crew aboard the Endurance to try and be the first men to cross the Antarctic. Several books and documentaries focus on the story. In the end, his ship, crushed by the ice 100 miles from the coast of the Antarctic, stranded Shackleton and his party. The incident led to a journey to safety over a two to three-year period. Not a man lost his life.

As Paul Harvey would say, “Now the rest of the story.”  Before Shackleton set out, he had another crew of men aboard the Aurora. The job of these 34 men was to sail to the opposite side of the continent, and once there, a landing party would set out to establish food depots over a length of close to 400 miles. The actual walking travel mileage would be closer to 1,300 miles as they would trudge back and forth, setting up depots. The posts were stocked with food so that when Shackleton and his party reached the halfway point across the continent, they would have food supplies to finish the journey.

From the outset, the mission was doomed to be a struggle. Shackleton and been grossly negligent in making sure that the “Ross Sea Party” of his expedition was adequately supplied and staffed by experienced men. He had passed over a skilled Ernest Joyce as the head of the group in favor of Aeneas Mackintosh. The two leaders were at odds during the entire ordeal. The men sided with different leaders, meeting in small groups, complaining about decisions, and continually grumbling about how things were going. 

It’s a long story, but in the end, even though they accomplished the laying out of the depots, three men perished in the attempt. A party of ten remained stranded on the ice continent for nearly a year when the ship was carried over 1,000 miles away by pack ice. The captain received criticism and blame for his lack of experience. 

There was plenty of blame on the leaders to go around. Shackleton received blame for not acquiring the money and proper support for the “Ross Sea Party.” Mackintosh faulted for making what some thought as fool decisions. Joyce received blame for being overly critical, with his continuous grumbling keeping members of the party stirred up. Stenhouse, the ship’s captain, was blamed for lack of experience in Antarctic waters knowledge. England, Australia, and New Zealand were tossing blame here and there along with the National Geophysical Society. With one out of every two Australian men dying in the war, there were complaints about so much effort to find ten stranded men. 

Leaders squabbled with leaders; there were private meetings; criticism tossed about publically and privately. In the end, many pulled together and saved the seven remaining men. However, the damage in relationships existed between men and countries for years to come.

The lesson that can be learned is that to be genuinely successful, any leadership needs to be in harmony. Complaining and griping at each other doesn’t help. Private meetings to air likes and dislikes about other leaders become divisive. When leaders feel that my way is the best way and refuse to cooperate with others, it slows down accomplishing the ultimate goal. People quickly lose confidence in leaders who don’t take the good of their followers into account. 

In the story of the “Ross Sea Party,” men died because the leaders failed. Yes, they did accomplish the goal of setting up the depots but at a price of bitter feelings and death. Unfortunately, the blame game went on for years. Time did cool some emotions, but some resentment continued even after death.

I believe that Paul realized that men tend to be testy. He also realized that there is no place in the leadership of the church for men and women to be contentious. He wrote to Timothy that when men are chosen to be leaders of the church, they are among other things to be mindful of how they lead. Among the attributes described in 1 Timothy 3, he includes, above reproach, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, not violent but gentle, and not quarrelsome.”

Jesus left this earth with one instruction to preach the Gospel. Tell people of the “good news!” Unfortunately, the things that seem to take up leadership’s time have little to do with sharing the Gospel and more with men’s desires. No matter what religious group, we all seem to be fighting the same fight in one way or another. 

Today’s world is in desperate need of the Gospel. May the leaders of churches everywhere learn to put their differences aside to accomplish the ultimate goal; to save a dying world.

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

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