69% of Americans say that we have a leadership crisis in the country today.* 67% say that unless we get better leaders, America will decline as a nation. In some ways, this is not news. For some years, Americans’ confidence in their leaders has been declining. The National Leadership Index picked up slightly in 2009, partly due to many hopes being invested in a new President. But, with the Massachusetts result, even that uptick appears temporary.

One glimmer of hope is that people still have confidence in leadership – a resounding 87% of Americans professed confidence that with the right leaders, the nation’s problems can be solved – just not in the present crop of leaders.

Certain areas are exempt from this downward trend. For example, Americans’ confidence in military leadership continues to grow. Others, such as Wall Street, have sunk to new lows. Only 10% of Americans believe business leaders generally work for the greater good of society, with a large majority saying that corporate bosses work mainly for their own benefit or for a small segment of society with special interests.

Sadly, confidence in religious leadership is below average, even falling below the Executive branch of government. That’s both a rebuke and a challenge to the church. And the challenge is made helpfully specific by the survey’s identification of the six leadership qualities that have the greatest impact on Americans’ leadership confidence, some (all?) of which are relevant for Christian leaders.

  • Trust in what leaders say
  • Competence
  • Working for the greater good
  • Shares your values
  • Being in touch with people’s needs and concerns
  • Results

There are other specifically Christian qualities we could add to this list. For example, Mike Pohlman helpfully highlights Don Carson’s comments on the indispensability of self-denial.

Christian leadership is profoundly self-denying for the sake of others, like Christ’s ultimate example of self-denial for the sake of others. So the church must not elevate people to places of leadership who have many of the gifts necessary to high office, but who lack this one. To lead or teach, for example, you must have the gift of leadership or teaching (Rom. 12:6-8). But you must also be profoundly committed to principled self-denial for the sake of brothers and sisters in Christ, or you are disqualified.

Mike concludes:

Now this would take courage — and great faith — for a search committee or elder board to pronounce a gifted leader or teacher “disqualified” for high office if the candidate lacked obvious “principled self-denial for the sake of brothers and sisters in Christ.” But for the sake of the church, this is the verdict that must be pronounced when this virtue is absent.


How do you measure “principled self-denial” in a leader or teacher who you are considering for high office in the church? What are you doing to cultivate this virtue in your own life?

This counter-intuitive virtue is unquestionably the core of Christian leadership. If cultivated, we would unquestionably see increased confidence in Christian leadership. In fact we would see the meaning of: “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men” (Matt. 4:19).

* National Leadership Index from the Center for Public Leadership at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.