Leaders. They can make you or break you. The saying, “As the leaders go, so go the people,” is usually true.
Most of us have had experiences with both good and bad leaders. In Micah chapter 3, the prophet delivered some harsh words for the leaders of his day. The prophet communicated that Judah’s political and religious leaders were corrupt, money-hungry, and full of lies. Micah then contrasted that bad leadership with his own leadership as a true prophet of God who spoke the truth and promoted justice, lovingkindness, and a humble walk with God. The picture that Micah presented reminded me of a contrast in leadership that I experienced as a baseball player in college.
A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, I was a highly recruited high school left-handed pitcher from Maryland. My high school baseball team won the state championship twice during my four years as a player. To say the least, we were on the map for college baseball recruiters and professional scouts. I had lots of options regarding where to play ball in college, but I settled on a school relatively close to home. One of the big reasons that I chose the closer school was because when I visited the school, I liked the coach a lot. His name was Coach Charles.
Coach Charles was well known in college baseball. He had been around forever. On the recruiting trip, he made me feel like mishpocah (family!). Coach Charles and his staff wined and dined us and made us feel loved and gave us the impression that he would give me the best experience that a student-athlete could have. Unfortunately, the actual experience I had with Coach Charles was different than as advertised.
Upon arriving on campus as a freshman, I saw a different side of Coach Charles. Once I was under his domain, I found him to be lazy, oppressive, and lacking integrity. At that time, I was only exploring the idea of Jesus, much less the idea of what it means to be a Messianic Jew. Therefore, my standards and conduct were at a different place than they are now. Nonetheless, the character I saw from Coach Charles was unsettling to me. The tipping point came on a particular weekend road trip to play one of our conference rivals.
On road trips, we always had a curfew. This weekend was no different. And not unlike other road trips, there was a group of my teammates who decided to break the curfew. Unlike other weekends, however, this time they got caught. They didn’t just get caught breaking curfew, they got caught breaking curfew at an Adult Entertainment Club down the street from our hotel. Now, you don’t have to be too quick to make a good guess at how they got caught. That’s right, they got caught by our coaching staff who were visiting the same establishment! I must say, I wish I could have had the collision of the two groups on film. You can imagine the embarrassment on both sides. Of course, this made for a legendary locker room story. But after the initial humor that I found in imagining the scene as the parties met, I thought, “What in the world is going on here?” I knew that I did not want to be under this kind of leadership for four years as a student-athlete. So, after my freshman year, I decided to transfer to a different college to play ball for Coach Joe.
On the recruiting trip, things were very different than they were with Coach Charles. There were no big promises. There was no sweet-talking. No one put their arm around me and tried to make me feel like family. Rather, with Coach Joe, we sat down at a little restaurant across from campus. It was just Coach Joe, me, and my parents. There were square looks in the eyes, straight talk, and firm handshakes. And with Coach Joe, that’s the way things were for the next three years. With Coach Joe, I could always count on a straight answer, even if I didn’t like what he had to say. Also, Coach Joe was a Christian, and despite his affection for arguing with umpires, he modeled before us integrity and a consistent love and concern for his players. Coach Joe’s character was exemplified in one particularly difficult moment for me in college.
During my sophomore year, I went into Coach Joe’s office in tears. My long-time girlfriend from high school wanted to break up with me. I was brokenhearted. I knew I could talk to Coach Joe about this and that he would give me good advice. I remember that Coach looked at me and said, “Ryno [that was his nickname for me], you can drive up to Maryland for a few days, talk to the girl, see what you can work out, and then get back here and focus on school and baseball.” Tears still come to my eyes when I think about this. Coach Joe let me miss practice for two days so that I could deal with something that was very important to me at the time. I took Coach Joe’s pass and went to Maryland for two days. I didn’t get the girl back, but I did go down swinging! More importantly, that experience left an impression on me about Coach Joe’s leadership. That kind of understanding from Coach Joe made me willing to run through a brick wall for him. When I think about Coach Joe, I still feel a strong sense of loyalty to him, even now.
In Judah during Micah’s day, there were not many Coach Joe’s. But there were lots of leaders like Coach Charles (and much worse). The people of Judah couldn’t trust their leaders, and the whole society was affected.
My assumption is that almost everyone reading this post has some kind of leadership role. If you are a parent or grandparent, you are a leader. If you have a job that involves responsibility, then you are a leader. You don’t have to be leading a nation, a business, or a synagogue or church to think of yourself as a leader. So the question that I posed to my synagogue is, “What kind of leader do you like to follow?” Many people had things to share. Words like consistent, just, fair, humble, confident, and clear vision were discussed. Speaking of his own leadership in contrast to what he saw around him, Micah said,
But as for me, I am filled with power, with the Spirit of the LORD, and with justice and might, to declare to Jacob his transgression, and to Israel his sin. (Micah 3:8)
Clearly, Micah stood out in Judah. The leaders of his day were characterized by corruption, greed, and indifference for the needs of the people. Micah was characterized as just, strong, brave, and truthful.
As we begin 5776, I encourage you to take stock of how you are leading in whatever capacity God has placed you. Are you the kind of leader that you would want to follow? If not, ask God to help you to grow. And consider asking others how you can improve as a leader. I am confident that the result will bless you and those around you.