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The situation was as grave as could be imagined. Military setbacks defined a difficult summer followed by the bloodiest battle of the war to date, with 23,000 soldiers killed in a single day. As the twilight of autumn dimmed into the cold darkness of winter, rumors swirled around Washington, D.C.: Would the cabinet resign en masse? Would the President himself resign? Would a military or political coup take place? As a Washington, D.C., newspaper reported at the time, the national mood was grim, percolating with fear and apprehension.

Moving forward to pierce the difficulties of the day, President Lincoln delivered what some historians consider to be the finest speech of his presidency, but one not recalled by many people today. It was his second annual message to Congress, penned exactly one month prior to signing the controversial Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, and well before his Gettysburg Address. In his brief speech, Lincoln exhorted his fellow citizens with the following words and breathed courage into a nation split by civil war:

"The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew … Fellow citizens … we shall nobly save, or meanly lose, the last, best hope of earth."

Lincoln recognized the reality that demanding, challenging times call for new leadership. The old ways of doing things are inadequate for solving the problems of the present. Difficulties demand new ways of thinking and new ways of leading.

A Call for New Leadership
We are, thankfully, a century and a half past the drawn-out struggles of the Civil War. But the demands of the present day pose significant challenges nonetheless, especially for leaders. The challenges apply equally to leaders of Christian nonprofit organizations. In fact, the hurdles nonprofit leaders encounter today are many, and they are multiplying daily.

Carson Pue, president of Arrow Leadership, points out that Christian organizations and churches will need to fill 50,000 strategic leadership positions within the next five to ten years. Not only are baby-boomer leaders retiring in increasing numbers, research indicates that employment growth among nonprofit organizations is outstripping employment in business and government, creating an increasing demand for equipped and effective leaders.

Additionally, as management researchers Kristy Trautmann, Jill Maher, and Darlene Motley point out in their article, ''Learning Strategies as Predictors of Transformational Leadership: The Case of Nonprofit Managers" (Leadership & Organization Development Journal, Issue 3, 2007), precious resources appear to be shrinking in today's economy, and competition for funding and staff is increasing, as are calls for greater accountability and transparency in organizational governance.

But possibly the greatest stressor for today's nonprofits stems not from dwindling resources, but rather from the mounting complexity of an ever-changing world. This, coupled with an exponential increase in information that is instantaneously available online, over the air, or at the touch of a button brings with it a dizzying array of options (and opportunities) that can quickly grind the most effective leader's decision making to a halt.

Leaders of the past definitely faced challenges, but today's leaders face increasing challenges in the form of heightened uncertainty, globalization, and technological advancement, according to leadership experts James Kouzes and Barry Posner, authors of the 2002 best-selling book The Leadership Challenge. As a result, Trautmann, Maher, and Motley exclaim, "The dynamic nature of today's environment … has increased the nonprofit sector's urgent need for leaders who can incorporate vast amounts of information, synthesize it in new ways, and develop innovative new approaches. More than ever before, nonprofit leaders are required to be active and skilled learners:'

Can you hear Lincoln's words echoing in the background of this clarion call for new leadership? "The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew."

Answering the Call
Difficult challenges demand new ways of thinking and leading. The question is how to develop these innovative approaches to leadership. Books and conferences on leadership abound. But in the last ten years, several Christian universities have risen to the challenge and answered the call for fresh perspectives and innovative approaches to leadership. Schools such as Biola, Regent, and Azusa Pacific universities, among several others, have developed programs that connect organizational and leadership theory with the practical, day-to-day needs of Christian leaders.

For example, in the 1990's, Ed Norman of Biola University convened a group of senior ministry and marketplace leaders to investigate and explore the needs associated with developing the next generation of effective, cutting-edge Christian leaders. Their efforts resulted in the birth of the Master of Arts in Organizational Leadership (MOL), offered through Biola's School of Professional Studies. This program combines the latest research in organizational and leadership studies with the best practices and principles gleaned from the Bible and the boardroom.

Biola's MOL program emphasizes an intentional integration of head and heart. The purpose is not simply to inform leaders, but more importantly, to transform men and women from the inside out through Christ and the power of his Word. The result is men and women whose lives have been changed by Christ, whose hearts have been renewed, and whose minds have been trained and prepared to effectively lead as Christ-centered leaders.

This particular emphasis grew out of the recognition that leaders' failures are not due to poor decision making or ineffective leadership practices, even though these skills are vital. Rather, moral lapses and character flaws cause leaders to stumble and fall, often destroying an organization's impact and damaging the name of Christ.

In the secular realm, names like Enron, world Com, and Martha Stewart come to mind. Within Christendom, the abuse scandal in the Roman Catholic Church and the ethical failure of Ted Haggard, who pastored one of the largest churches in Colorado Springs and served as president of the National Association of Evangelicals, demonstrate that no leader is above the possibility of a moral meltdown.

Scripture affirms this reality. In Deuteronomy 8:11-17 Moses warns the Israelites to beware of pride and of forgetting God's commandments and statutes, which are the missteps before a fall. More emphatically, Jesus grounds moral and ethical failure in the heart when he explains, "For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person" (Matt. 15:19-20a). Thus, when it comes to effective leadership, a leader's heart needs to be transformed. Leadership experts across the board recognize this fact. It is no surprise that the foremost practices associated with effective leadership today focus on the heart of a leader.

Leading a Christian nonprofit or for-profit organization can be a complex, difficult endeavor. Thus, the difficulties leaders face not only call for a new kind of leadership, they also beckon for a leader who understands the intricacies of organizational leadership who can lead effectively in the midst of ever-changing circumstances.

That is what organizational leadership programs offer today's Christian leaders. These programs apply the collective knowledge of hundreds of scholars who are leading the charge in exploring the underlying characteristics and concepts of effective leadership. Coupled with research into how successful organizations operate and integrated with biblical principles of leadership, organizational leadership programs offered by Christian universities provide a unique opportunity for enabling leaders to think and lead in innovative ways.

The challenges Christian leaders of nonprofit organizations face can be daunting. As such, new ways of developing new leaders who think and act anew are needed. Christian colleges and universities are rising to the challenge with proven programs that equip and empower Christian leaders for today's needs and tomorrow's challenges. These organizational leadership programs transform men and women, ground them in a biblical worldview, and prepare them to effectively lead with humility and integrity. Such programs are a strategic and successful means to develop fully prepared, next-generation Christian leaders.

This article first appeared in the Dec./Jan.2009 edition of Outcomes magazine.


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