Tuesday, March 13, 2007


Alexander the Great on his horse, BucephalusI’ve just finished reading a book about Alexander the Great (by Robin Lane Fox, published by Penguin). Many a reflection has sprung from it, not least the realisation that across 2,300 years of history – for all the immense changes in technology, society and culture – human beings, in their essence, have changed very little.

But perhaps the strongest impression has been of a man who knew how to lead other men.

Alexander died in 323 BC aged 32, having conquered an empire of more than two million square miles and founded eighteen cities.

Don’t get me wrong. Alexander was by no means all sweetness and light. He had a murder or two to his name. He had certain qualities in common with Hitler and Stalin; the gap of a couple of millennia can obscure this fact. The ancient past is all too easy to romanticise. But the very significant difference between Hitler in his bunker and Alexander at the front of his army is just that – Alexander led from the front, and inspired his men with his almost foolhardy courage. (Perhaps believing that he was the son of Zeus helped.)

Here’s a quotation from near the end of Fox’s book:

There are two ways to lead men, either to delegate all authority and limit the leader's burden or to share every hardship and decision and be seen to take the toughest labour, prolonging it until every other man has finished. Alexander's method was the second, and only those who have suffered the first can appreciate why his men adored him; they will also remember how lightly men talk of a leader's example, but how much it costs both the will and the body to sustain it.

I reflect. What inspiration can be gained from such a man as a Christian leader? Clearly, as Christians, we seek to serve in secret and should avoid “showy” leadership. That said, clearly example is important; certainly, Christian leaders should lead from the front and assume more hardship than their flock and must not shirk adversity.

I think the tone of today very often emphasises the wisdom of delegation, of pacing yourself, of “remembering it is a marathon not a sprint”. All very wise and good.

But, beyond it all, I believe there is a call, in Christian leadership, to push out beyond such sheltered waters into wild, unpredictable and unreasonable seas; serving with every last ounce of strength.

Here's Paul:

We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.
Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger; in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left; through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything.
Are they servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. (Extracts from 2 Corinthians)

Leadership – it’s no easy ticket; but it's the call Christ issues, no matter "how much it costs both the will and the body to sustain it."


DarrenDeliberate said...

Paul was a great apolostle
I am beginning to realize why even as an old frail man those who opposed him feared him enough to kill him.

normal said...

Yes. An interesting question is - to what extent is Paul extraordinary (apostolic gift and so on) and to what extent is he an example we should all aspire to? (You could ask the same question about Jesus, of course, though that tends - unfortunately - to run aground in fruitless discussions about His divinity...)

Anyone got any comments?

Piers said...

After years on the job, this stuff still scares me. I guess that's good.
As for Paul's example, he said 'be imitators of me as I am of Christ', so no getting off the hook there. We just need to work out what that means in practise - service, risk, passion, aspiration...
This religion just isn't safe.

Daniel said...

Inspiring read and great reflection. One thing is that noone remembers the men that Alexander led. Are we interested in the "glorification of ourselves" or as a body? Surely we should lead from the middle, raising the bar as we go....

normal said...

Actually, some of the men Alexander led are remembered - some of them went on to rule his empire after he died. But it is true that none of them seemed to have the calibre of Alexander himself.

Certainly, Christian leaders should be 'Body of Christ' men. In the church 'leading from the front' is also 'leading from the bottom'! Jesus made this one crystal clear and refered to men like Alexander as his example of how His leaders should not be! (Mark 10:41-43) But I don't think this stops us from learning from the qualities of history's achievers, even if we wouldn't follow them in everything.

Thanks for the comment, Danny!