Conviction to Lead

Written by Mark Farnham

On October 24, 2012

Al Mohler’s new book, Conviction to Lead, is one of the best books on leadership I have ever read, and I’m something of a leadership book junkie. What I like best is his distinctively Christian approach. Many books on leadership written by Christians contain some biblical wisdom mixed with a lot of pragmatic and secular pablum. This book is not a biblical theology of leadership, so don’t look for an abundance of Scripture. However, Mohler is a theologian, and his principles of leadership are thoroughly biblical and theologically informed.

After speaking of the desperate need of leaders in all arenas of life, Mohler writes,

The church desperately needs leaders as well. Congregations and Christian institutions need effective leaders who are authentically Christian–whose leadership flows out of their Christian commitment. Wherever Christian leaders serve, in the church or in the secular world, their leadership should be driven by distinctively Christian conviction.

This is a crucial point, and there are two errors to avoid in Christian leadership. The first is uncritically adopting business leadership principles. While I have learned much from business leadership books (John Kotter’s book, Leading Change, is still the best book I’ve ever read on the topic), the principles are not always applicable or transferable to the local church setting. John Piper addresses this problem most effectively in his book, Brothers, We Are Not Professionals. 

Second, an equally dangerous error is leading primarily through intuition, rather than principle. Now, intuition is not all bad. Mohler notes that “much of our lives are lived out of habits of action, and most of these habits never rise to our active consciousness.” The problem with intuition, however is that it can be so easily wrong, even while we “feel” that it is right.

Mohler describes what he calls “convictional intelligence,” which he defines as “the product of learning the Christian faith, diving deeply into biblical truth, and discovering how to think like a Christian.” Without convictional intelligence, the leader will not be faithful. Convictional intelligence is more than just knowledge, but it begins with knowledge, and won’t develop without devotion to study.

The importance of convictional intelligence in the life of the leader comes down to the fact that our intellectual habits must be aligned with Christian truth and knowledge. Otherwise, we say that we believe one thing but operate out of mental habits that run in a very different direction. The Christian leader stands out as one who has developed intellectual habits that are consistent with biblical truth…

The Christian leader must have mental reflexes that correspond to biblical truth. When something happens or an issue arises, the leader’s mind must activate the right intellectual reflex. Once that reflex is engaged, the process of thought is already far down the road. If the reflex is wrong, the leader is in danger–and so are all those he leads.

Some of you might be tempted to think that reflexive decision making is inherently dangerous, and it certainly can be dangerous. The danger lies in developing the wrong leadership reflexes and failing to see the error.

So, while intuition is necessary in a leader, because of the depravity of our hearts and the blindness of self-deception, we dare not make intuition our primary model of leadership. When we do lead by intuition we ought to make sure that others who will tell us the truth concur with our intuition. Mohler warns that the Christian leader who cuts himself off  from what he calls “the ordinary means of grace,” i.e., the preached Word, the ordinances, and accountability to the fellowship of believers in a local church, “cannot expect to possess convictional intelligence. Going it alone is a recipe for disaster.”

I highly recommend Conviction to Lead. The reader will learn sound, objective principles from one who has demonstrated conviction in a very difficult role for almost two decades. I believe the book can be instrumental in increasing the clarity and conviction of any leader.

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1 Comment

  1. Benoit Guillot

    It makes me feel like I want to read this book and provide a short summary of it in french for my friends on my blog! Thanks again for sharing!


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