In his book, Dying for Change, American author Leith Anderson recounts the story of the battle of Saratoga, west of the Hudson River, during the American War of Independence. It was a confrontation that many historians consider to have been the turning point of the Revolution.
In purely numerical terms the American patriot troops faced a British regiment equipped with more soldiers, more gunpowder, more muskets and more shot than they. And yet, they drew up a plan that would bring them a celebrated and crucial victory. Daniel Morgan of New Hampshire, the commanding officer of this ragtag group of farmers known as “Morgan’s Rifles”, met with his men the night before the battle, October 6th 1777, and delivered the orders that became a well known part of American history. “Don’t waste your shot on those who fight for six pence a day,” he instructed his soldiers, “Save your shot for the epaulet men.”
Morgan’s point was simple. His troops had only limited ammunition and therefore needed to use it where it would have the greatest effect. Rather than focusing on the ordinary British soldier, his men, whenever given the opportunity, were to target the officers, the ones with the epaulets on their shoulders.
His strategy brought devastation to the British forces. By the second day of the battle their officer ranks were decimated, their battle plan confused, their soldiers left without officers to guide them, not knowing when to advance or retreat. Though still equipped with plenty of men, fire power and supplies, the British regiment was tactically overwhelmed and forced into surrender to the patriot troops.
As go the Leaders…
The battle of Saratoga illustrates a principle that remains as true today as it ever was, and one which applies every bit as much in the church as it does in the army – as go the leaders, so goes the war. Study after study has confirmed this fact. Whether in Latin America, Southern Africa, Korea, the United States, Great Britain or Ireland the key human factor in the emergence of healthy, effective churches has consistently been found to be the presence of healthy, effective leaders. That this should be so seems obvious. Yet, it is precisely this obvious fact that a great many of us in church leadership have somehow forgotten.
In modern military conflict officers no longer wear any distinguishing marks on their uniforms and this affords them much improved protection. For those of us in leadership in the ongoing spiritual war, however, no such anonymity is possible. Our enemy still knows exactly who we are. His tactic is still that of Daniel Morgan and thus, all over the world today, Ireland too, leaders continue to be targeted and continue to be brought down. Indeed, scandals, breakdowns, burnout, personal disillusionment, sickness and family dissolution abound amongst the contemporary leadership of the church.
In the face of this determined attack the good news for us is that in the Gospel God has provided protection for us from the strategy of our enemy. The scriptures tells us that the whole armour of God has been made available to us and with it we can successfully take our stand against the devil’s attacks. (See 1 John 4.4; Eph 6.10-18; Matthew 16.18 and 1 Cor. 10.13) The bad news is that many of us have forgotten the importance of our leadership role, have ignored our need for these defences, and have thus been as those entering the battlefield in our T-shirts and shorts! With great urgency we must put this situation right and move ourselves, and increasing numbers of others, to the place not only of faithful leadership, but also of healthy, effective leadership. Only then will we see increasing numbers of healthy, effective churches.
The Marks of Leadership Effectiveness
So what are the marks of an effective Christian leader? What characterises those who are at the forefront of what God is doing in our world today? What can we learn from them, and what do we need to be aiming for in our own leadership activities? These are the questions I’d like to have a go at answering in this leadership blog series. Hopefully what I have learned will be of some help for you as well.