3 Characteristics of Leaders Who Lead Well During Seasons of Controversy

These characteristics are necessary for pastors in local churches and leaders of institutions, organizations, and denominations.

Will you be remembered as a leader who stood courageously to defend the truth or will you be remembered as a sleeping lion who refused to roar? Faithful leaders are willing to defend the truth because they recognize that something far greater than their platform is at risk. The souls of men, women, boys and girls are assaulted when the truth is compromised.


One of the great lessons of life is that faithful leadership matters. When leaders fail, it harms more than the leader who falls—likewise when leaders succeed, everyone who follows closely behind will enjoy the victory. Average leaders can lead when the waters are calm, but true and brilliant leaders shine when the sea is angry and the outcome is questionable. What makes a great leader? When we examine leaders and faithful leadership, there are three characteristics that stand out and such characteristics are necessary for pastors in local churches and Christians leaders who are entrusted with leadership of institutions, organizations, and denominations.

Conviction Over Courage

Courage is the willingness to take a risk, but conviction is the willingness to subject yourself to risk after having considered both the positive and negative outcomes that may result. One man who exemplified great conviction in church history was Jonathan Edwards. After becoming the successor to his grandfather in the church in Northampton and serving faithfully for more than 20 years, a source of controversy regarding the Lord’s Supper created a division between he and his people.  Although Jonathan Edwards desired to make his points clearly known through a sermon series to the people, the leadership thought it would be best for him to put his theological positions in print.  Before the book was finished, printed, and delivered to Northampton, the controversy reached a boiling point.  In a letter to John Erskine on May 20th 1749, he writes the following:

A very great difficulty has arisen between my people, relating to qualifications for communion at the Lord’s table. My honoured grandfather Stoddard, my predecessor in the ministry over this church, strenuously maintained the Lord’s Supper to be a converting ordinance, and urged all to come who were not of scandalous life, though they knew themselves to be unconverted. I formerly conformed to his practice but I have had difficulties with respect to it, which have been long increasing, till I dared no longer proceed in the former way, which has occasioned great uneasiness among my people, and has filled all the country with noise. [1]

The result of this controversy is that Jonathan Edwards was fired. We often remember him for his famous sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” and how God used him during a season of revival—but it must be remembered that although Jonathan Edwards lost his pulpit as a result of his convictional stand, we still remember Jonathan Edwards to this very day and are grateful for his willingness to stand firm with a rugged conviction.

Communication Under Control

Without question, words matter and how we employ the words we choose matters even more. Great leaders learn to use words like great soldiers learn to use their swords. A master craftsman learns to use his tools well, and a great leader learns to use his words well. Without question one of the greatest leaders in the history of the world was Winston Churchill. He emerged as the leader of England during it’s darkest hour. With conviction and self-determination—Churchill stood when many men refused. When other men remained silent—Churchill spoke, and when he spoke people listened.

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