Back some fifteen years ago, I was in Korea at a Church Growth International Conference with Dr. Younghi Cho. While there, my hosts took me up to the border between North Korea and South Korea, to the demilitarized zone where recently President Trump met with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.
The division of North and South Koreas came following the Korean War of the early 1950s, a war that has not officially ended and is often referred to as ‘the forgotten war.’ War is a terrible thing and yet there are lessons to be learned, even from the Korean War, ‘This is taken from Catherine Marshall’s book ‘Beyond-our-selves.’ It is based on a speech made by Major William Meyer, Army Medical Corps, in 1958 in San Francisco.
“To be sure, there were many examples of American self-sacrifice and heroism in the Korean war, as in every war in which Americans have been involved. Yet something about the attitudes and conduct of a large percentage of men in the Korean conflict has seriously disturbed our military leaders. An exhaustive study made by the Army to determine what happened to some nine thousand Americans in Korean prison camps and how they reacted to imprisonments is weighted with frightening material:
- At the beginning of Americans’ imprisonment, the Chinese Communists screened out all soldiers with leadership qualities and kept them apart from the rest. These included anyone with overt religious faith, anyone who showed ‘poisonous individualism.’ When only 5 percent of the Americans had been segregated from the rest, there was no leadership left among the remaining 95 percent.
- One of every three American prisoners in North Korea was guilty of some kind of collaboration with the enemy – was willing to make a deal.
- Among our prisoners, there was not one permanent escape from prison camps. This has never happened before in any war in American history. The reason appears to have been in the will of the men themselves, for there were only six armored guards to six hundred Americans; no guard dogs; no machine gun towers; no electric fences or searchlights. By contrast, in order to guard the Chinese Communists we took prisoner, we were eventually forced to keep three fully armed airborne regiments, that is a total of fifteen to eighteen thousand men away from the front.
- American prisoners had the highest death rate of any war in our history – including the American Revolution. About 38 percent of the prisoners died. This was not because of starvation or epidemics or any mass executions. Rather, most of the men died from a psychological disease for which the Medical Corps had no name. The soldiers themselves call it ‘give-up-itis’.
- The Americans were largely ignorant about their own history, heritage, or the principles upon which our nation was founded. They were equally ignorant about Communism and about what was happening elsewhere in the world.”
So this is what the Chinese Communists, who were supporting North Korea, achieved when “they screened out all the soldiers with leadership qualities and kept them apart from the rest.”
I doubt if I have come across a more telling story to illustrate the need for leadership, yet the Chinese Communists were not the first ones to follow the practice of separating leaders from the people. It happened 2,500 years ago in Israel.
THE BABYLONIAN EXAMPLE
In 606 BC, the Babylonia Army, under King Nebuchadnezzar, besieged Jerusalem and took prisoners off to Babylon. But they did not just take anybody. They took leaders, even young people with leadership potential like Daniel along with Shadrack, Meshach, and Abednego (the three men in the fiery furnace).
Eugene Peterson, in his book ‘Run With the Horses,’ sees it this way, “The Babylonia army came one day and captured the city. After conquering Jerusalem the Babylonians selected the leading people of the city for deportation. The tactic was to remove all persons of influence and leadership – artisans, merchants, political leaders – so that the general populace would be dependent on and submissive to the invaders. Without leaders, the people, like sheep, would submit to the puppet king and the occupying army with a minimum of hassle. Jeremiah, interestingly, was left behind. He had been ignored for so long as a leader by his own people that the Babylonians did not consider him important enough to exile.”
The need for leadership is not new. The Babylonians knew that principle long ago. Also, the history of God’s people in the Bible demonstrated this too. When Israel had ‘good’ kings, they flourished. When they had ‘bad’ kings, immorality flourished. Leadership was always the key to what happened to Israel. They needed a Moses, Joshua, David or Nehemiah.
JOHN MAXWELL ON LEADERSHIP
It was almost 30 years ago that I first was introduced to John Maxwell’s teaching tapes on leadership. I was initially struck by his statement, “Everything rises and falls on leadership.” The more I thought about this as I was listening to the tapes while driving up Hwy 35 to Duluth from the Twin Cities, the more I realized how true that statement was. Leaders like to blame everything and everyone else when things go wrong; that is everyone and everything but themselves. John Maxwell spells this out in his early book ‘Developing the Leader Within You.’ “The key to success in any endeavor is the ability to lead others successfully. Everything rises and falls on leadership. Whenever I make that statement the listeners are tempted to change it to, ‘almost everything rises and falls on leadership.’ Most people have a desire to look for the exception instead of the desire to become exceptional.”
John Maxwell’s book ‘Developing the Leaders Within You’ goes on to help people to develop their leadership ability and it is still a book worth studying, along with many others that Maxwell has written.
This principle applies to all of life where leadership is absolutely crucial. Everything rises and falls on leadership:
Family Life – The parents (and especially the Fathers in this generation) need to realize that is true for the family.
Business/Work – The same is true for any business, big or small. Leadership is essential. John Maxwell tells a story to illustrate this point. “The humorous story underscores the importance of effective leadership: During a sales meeting, the manager was berating the sales staff for their dismally low sales figures. ‘I’ve had just about enough of poor performance and excuses,’ he said. ‘If you can’t do the job, perhaps there are other salespeople out there who would jump at the change to sell the worthy products that each of you has the privilege to represent.’ Then, pointing to a newly recruited, retired pro-football player, he said, ‘If a football team isn’t winning, what happens? The players are replaced. Right?’ The question hung heavy for a few seconds: then the ex-football player answered, ‘Actually, sir, if the whole team was having trouble, we usually got a new coach.'”
Politics – Look back at where America was really successful. It was when we had great leaders like George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, F.D.Rosevelt and many others.
Church and Ministry – It is no different in a church, where there is always the need for leaders. I myself believe in a ‘Pastor Led Church,’ where the pastor is accompanied and surrounded by a good group of elders (or whatever you call them), with leaders who are open to what the people of the congregation are hearing and saying.
Years ago, I used to think that people were either leaders or followers until I realized that, with few exceptions, all of us find ourselves as leaders in various situations, even if it be in a small but important way. Parents are leaders. If you teach a Sunday School class, you are a leader. If you are asked to organize an event at work or church, you are a leader.
The truth is although some find leadership comes naturally, we are not born leaders. We all have to develop our leadership ability. “Leonard Ravenhill in ‘The Last Days Newsletter,’ tells about a group of tourists who were visiting a picturesque village. As they walked by an old man sitting beside a fence, one tourist asked in a patronizing way, ‘Were any great men born in this village?’ The old man replied, ‘Nope, only babies.’ Leadership is developed, not discovered. The truly ‘born leader’ will always emerge; but to stay on top, natural leadership characteristics must be developed.”
It is not my purpose in this Langstaff Letter to teach leadership principles, as that would take a whole book or more. Rather, it is to challenge people to be the leader that God wants you to be. To be willing to study and develop your leadership gifts and if you are a member of a church, to pray for the pastor and the leaders serving in your body and to support them in their roles as leaders.
A word to finish with, “Remember those who rule over you, who have spoken the Word of God to you, whose faith follow, considering the outcome of their conduct.” (Hebrews 13:7)