Leadership for Turbulent Times
by Tom McKee
Date: August 4, 2002
Speaker: Tom McKee
Text: Ecclesiastes 8: 1-9
Message Theme: Solomon, recognizing that the times are turbulent, outlines six ways of
being a leader in freaked-out times.
I. Leaders make meaning of their role (vs.1)
"Who knows the explanation of the things."
II. Leaders can laugh (vs. 1)
"Wisdom brightens a man's face and changes its hard appearance."
III. Leaders know leadership is a calling, not a position (v. 2)
"Obey the Kings command, I say, because you took an oath before God."
IV. Leaders do not get caught up in idle causes (v. 3-4)
"Do not be in a hurry to leave the King's presence. Do not stand up for bad cause, for he
(the King) will do whatever he pleases."
V. Leaders know when and how to speak up to authority (v. 6)
"There is a proper time and procedure for every matter, though a man's misery weighs heavily
VI. Leaders don't fall prey to their own success (vv. 7-8)
"Since no man knows the future ..."
We are in a leadership crises in the United States. A couple of weeks ago the Wall Street
Journal ranked California as one of the worse run states in the nation. When we were thriving
in wealth a few years ago, we spent it. Although we live in one of the most prosperous areas
of the world, today our state is in financial disaster.
We certainly have a leadership crises in business. Tom Peters wrote two years ago, "In the next
five years, leadership is going to emerge as the most important element of business-an attribute
that is highest in demand and shortest in supply." Two years into his five year prediction, we
are seeing the results of this huge void in leadership.
Outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas recorded 473 CEO departures in the first five
months of 2001. Although many of these were from mergers, many were because of the failure to
And the church is not doing much better. George Barna writes about the church:
The people who fill the positions of leadership in churches today are, for the most part,
teachers-good people, lovers of God, well-educated, gifted communicators-but not leaders.
They do not have or understand vision. They are incapable of motivating and mobilizing
people around God's vision. They fail to direct people's energies and resources effectively
and efficiently. For the church to become strong again, we must heed the guidance of the
leaders God has called and gifted for that purpose, while growing through the focused
teaching of those who are gifted to explicate his Word and its profound implications for
I see this crises as a great time for Christians to fill the huge leadership gap in business,
schools, government, and the church. We have great examples in the Scriptures, and today I'm
going to begin a series of four sermons in which we will examine how four resilient leaders
thrived in turbulent times. They were not perfect, but they led and made a difference. This
study has applications for all arenas of leadership: home, youth leadership, business,
organization, government, and church.
The four people we will examine are:
Today we look at Solomon, a king who lead Israel in one of its most prosperous times. He headed
off an insurrection that tried to replace him as king. Adnojiah, one of David's other sons felt
that he should be the King and tried to lead a rebellion. Solomon was able to fight off the
rebellion and he leads Israel is a time of great expansion and wealth. At the end of Solomon's
life, he writes the book of Ecclesiastes and in chapter 8, Solomon outlines a message to his
managers. He is telling them the kind of leadership he needs for them is to be wise. In a sense,
we could say this is a message to all middle managers.
- King Solomon: He outlines six ways of being a leader.
- David the Shepherd King: He faced the giant of intimidation with four courage builders.
- Moses the Liberator: He changed the course of history and a whole culture by the forgotten
leadership skill-he listened.
- John the Baptist-a humble mover and shaker: He faced his self doubt when success turned
sour (he was in prison), and he got a lesson from Christ in the foundation of faith for
Now some of you might feel, "So what?" "What does this have to do with me?" "Why are we talking
about a leadership crises?" "I'm not a CEO, or the Governor, or Mayor, or President of the United
States." These are important questions, because the beauty of our country is that change can
happen at a grass roots level of our society. You and I are called to be leaders where we are and
we can change society at this level. And that is the message Solomon has for us. All of us are in
middle management. There is no one who is really not in middle management of life. And life is
filled with the stressors of middle management.
Mothers, fathers, coaches, teachers, church leaders, students, and even CEO's are in middle
management. Whether we deal with our students, principals, teachers, children, parents, or our
customers, we are often caught in the stress of middle management.
How does this apply to me? How is this going to help me?
In the first nine verses of chapter eight, Solomon outlines his six essentials that he expects
from his leaders.
- Students-how you can impact your school, or youth group
- Parents-how you can be a leader in your home and community
- Coaches-how you can have an impact on the lives of the members of your team
- Church leaders-how you can be a leader in your God given gifts and ministry
- Managers-how you can be a leader in your place of business
- City, county, state and federal leaders-how you can lead our governmental agencies
- Schools - principals, teachers-how you can be a leader in one of the most important aspects
of society today-education.
I. Essential One: Leaders must make meaning (vs.1)
"Who knows the explanation of the things?"
When I read this verse, I am reminded of John Nordstrom's "one rule" policy for his employees.
In the employee handbook is printed:
What John expected from his employees was wisdom-the wisdom to make wise decisions. If every
employee could make wise decisions, John Nordstrom would be a very rich man.
Rule # 1:
Use your good judgment in all situations.
There will be no additional rules.
(Betsy Sanders, Fabled Service, p. 75)
That is what Solomon is saying. Be wise. When Solomon says, "the wise person knows the
explanation of things," I believe there are two meanings to this verse. The first meaning is
the essence of the book: Wisdom. Solomon is writing about wisdom and gives a great definition
of wisdom. Wisdom is what the book is all about. Solomon talks about life-education, money,
relationships, health, government and work and he says that it is all meaningless-unless you
are wise. But the wise person sees beyond the meaningless and sees life from God's perspective.
Solomon calls this "life above the sun." If we only see life from the perspective of our life
on earth, it is unfair. But there is more to life that this life. God has a purpose that will
be revealed in eternity.
But there is a second meaning of this verse. Solomon is saying that visionaries see beyond the
task. They see the wisdom of the cause. I am reminded of the man who collects tolls at the
Golden Gate Bridge. He has a short motivational greeting for everyone who gives him a toll.
When you hand him your money to cross the bridge, he will look at you with a big smile and say
something like, "Today is the first day of the rest of your life-have a great day." Now I
have heard that he is bald and in the morning when the son comes up it shines on his head and
you can see his head shining in his tollbooth. Evidently people from Marin county like those
motivational statements, so they line up to pay their toll to this man. Now I have heard that
if you asked this person, "What do you do for a living?" he would not tell you, "I collect tolls."
What he would say is, "I welcome people into the most beautiful city in the world."
That is a person who sees beyond his or her task and is wise. That person is not a receptionist,
a manager, a teacher, a plumber, a carpenter. That person has found a cause. That person reminds
me of the brick layer who was asked what do you do. He did not say, "I am earning a living," or
"I am laying bricks." He responded, "I am building a cathedral."
I believe that is what Solomon wants of us. And I believe that is what he is saying is the
essence of the wise man. The wise person can see the big picture.
You are in the process of looking for a senior pastor. Being a senior pastor is being the only
person in the entire church who sees the church as a whole. Every other position, whether
volunteer or paid, sees the church from the ministry role they fill. Youth workers see the whole
church from the perspective of youth. Music people see the whole church from the perspective of
music. Mission people see the whole church from the mission paradigm. But the senior pastor is
the only person who sees the whole church. It is the same way in business. Human resource people
see the company through the H.R. eyes, while the marketing people see the company through the
marketing frame and the engineers see the company through the marketing eyes. That is why
leaders often put an emphasis on the mission so that everyone can see the big picture.
II. Essential Two: Leaders can laugh (vs. 1)
"Wisdom brightens a man's face and changes its hard appearance."
There is a danger to leading in turbulent times. Leaders who are passionate about their cause,
often forget to laugh. We become so serious about our causes and our mission, that we forget
to have fun. Tom Peters says, "The number one premise of business is that it need not be boring
or dull. It ought to be fun. If it's not fun, you're wasting your life."
I have to admit, that this is one of the areas of leadership that I struggle with the most. I
often became so involved in the daily running of a business, meeting payroll, paying bills,
meeting customer's expectations, and managing employees, that I would not lighten up.
Eighty percent of all illness is due to stress. Oh, people get pneumonia, bronchitis, and the
flu, but the primary reason the majority of people get sick is because stress shuts off the
immune system. And people are stressed! But laughter is a great stress buster.
In 1964, Norman Cousins had returned from a trip to Russia as editor of the Saturday Review. He
was having difficulty moving his limbs and was hospitalized. Doctors said he was suffering from
a collagen disease -- a weakening of the connective tissue. He was informed that much of his
body would soon be paralyzed. Furthermore, he was told that his chances of recovery were one in
Norman Cousins discovered that his condition was due to stress. Lying in bed, he began to think
creatively and asked himself what the opposite of stress was. He concluded that laughter was
the natural opposite of stress, and wondered if laughter could reverse the weakening process of
his connective tissue and thereby reduce the pain. He brainstormed a hypothesis and set out to
He decided to check out of the hospital, and into a motel -- a much quieter and cheaper alternative.
He then contacted Alan Funt, the producer of Candid Camera, and requested that he send over films of
some of the funniest of the classic television episodes. He discovered that, given ten minutes of
hilarious laughter stimulation, he was able sleep for at least two hours without pain.
Most doctors regarded Cousins' self-healing ideas with laughter themselves -- everyone except his
own doctor. They began working together, performed research, and discovered that laughter is
indeed good medicine. Not only does it reduce stress, it also reverses and counteracts the process
of weakening connective tissues.
At the age of 62, Cousins was asked to join the UCLA School of Medicine as a professor-despite the
lack of a medical degree. His theory of the healing power of laughter and optimism was finally
accepted and backed by the medical community.
John F. Kennedy said, "There are three things which are real: God, human folly and laughter. The
first two are beyond our comprehension. So we must do what we can with the third."
Don't Take Yourself So Seriously!
III. Essential Three: Leaders know leadership is a calling, not a position (v. 2)
"Obey the king's command, I say, because you took an oath before God."
What is the oath?
Evidently the oath of God was a custom in Solomon's day. It was a custom of loyalty. Some suggest
that it was the kings subjects that took the oath of God; however, most feel that it is a general
acceptance of the populace that their king is king (Michael Eaton, Ecclesiastes, p. 118).
What is the significance of the oath?
I believe that the significance of the oath is that leadership is a divine call. Most management
books define management as something like this:
Management is acquired trainable skills with all kinds of administrative and technical
aspects that when properly served, direct people to the good of the enterprise.
I believe that this misses the essence of leadership, which Solomon is getting at. I believe that
Solomon's definition would read something like this:
Management is a calling. Managers use skills with integrity and honesty to create a place.
I like that. Do you sense God's call in your leadership role? This is not some mystical call.
This is not some voice in the sky. It is merely the fact that you are leading. If you are a
manager, a leader, a teacher, a job foreman, a student leader, then you are in that position by
God's divine call. This applies to camp counselors, youth sponsors, teachers, elders, fathers,
mothers, little league coaches, college professors, as well as presidents of corporations or
governments. The fact that we are leading, is a call and this ought to have a profound effect on
This week I spent a day with my granddaughter Ashley. We built a birdhouse together. It was a
special day. As Susie and I had breakfast together before she went to work and I went to spend
the day with Ashley, Susie took my hand and said to me, "Remember, today your most important
calling is Ashley." I remembered that word all day. And what a wonderful day it was.
I believe that is what Solomon is saying. He was challenging his leaders to remember that their
task was a divine calling.
IV. Essential Four: Leaders do not get caught up in idle causes (v. 3-4)
"Do not be in a hurry to leave the King's presence. Do not stand up for bad cause, for he (the
king) will do whatever he pleases."
The next two essentials (essentials four and five) of leadership go together and are in response
to questions that all of us deal with:
Solomon is king and he is telling his managers how to deal with that issue. Basically Solomon
is saying, "Remember that I am the king and I will do whatever I please." It is what we call
the golden rule of management, "The person with all the gold rules." And Solomon is saying that
you need to be careful when you confront the king.
- What do I do when I disagree with the direction of leadership?
- How do I deal with a corrupt king?
- How do I deal with leadership that is wrong?
When I teach management classes, one of the questions I am asked more than any other questions
is, "how do I confront my manager or someone when he or she is wrong." Managers want to know
how to deal with their managers as well as their employees.
This is Solomon's answer. He first says to respect the authority of your boss. Remember who is
boss and be careful not to get caught up in a bad cause. That is a good general rule.
But there are times when I must speak up. When is this? Solomon answers this question.
V. Essential Five: Leaders know when and how to speak up to authority (v. 6)
"There is a proper time and procedure for every matter, though a man's misery weighs heavily
I believe that Solomon is talking about the stress of middle management. He recognizes the
stressors we feel when we have a vision for ministry, a vision for success, a vision for a
cause, but the king doesn't share our passion and mission. Look how Solomon states the case:
Whoever obeys his command will
Solomon recognizes that when we are feeling the stress of leadership, we have to be patient to
wait for our time. There is a proper time for everything and a wise person will recognize this
Come to no harm
And the wise heart will know the
Proper time and procedure,
For there is a proper time
And procedure for every matter,
Though a man's misery weighs
Heavily upon him.
Jim Collins, when he was a professor at Stanford, would hand out an 81/2 X 11 red card to every
student. He would tell the student that they could use this card once during the semester for
any challenge they had about the class and the direction the class was taking. But they could
only use it once. They could not sell it, or give it to another student. It was up to the
student to determine the best time to use the card.
I think we all could use that advice when we want to challenge our leaders. I think of it as the
mulligan in golf-one per game. The person who is always complaining, or challenging authority,
is not heard. But the person who is loyal and positive is.
VI. Essential Six: Leaders don't fall prey to their own success (vv. 7-8)
"Since no man knows the future ..."
Since no man knows the future,
Who can tell him what is to come?
No man has power over the wind to contain it,
So no one has the power over the day of his death.
As we get to the end of our study of Solomon and talk about his sixth essential, we need to ask
ourselves, "How did Solomon do as a leader." This passage is very different from the other
stories we are going to look at in our study of leadership. The stories of David, Moses and
John the Baptizer are stories of their lives-real life events. This is a book of principles.
Most believe that the thoughts are Solomon's and the advice is from Solomon. But it is one
thing to talk about leadership and another thing to lead. Was Solomon a leader? Did he follow
his own advice?
The answer is yes and no. No one started out with greater advantages than King Solomon, with
his privileges of birth, his enormous natural talent, and a supernatural gift of wisdom. Yet
Solomon, with all of his wisdom, could not bear the burden of success. Solomon's life can be
divided into two stages. Stage one is the expansion of Israel. He was successful and the
kingdom grew beyond all his wildest expectation. He built the temple (it took him seven years).
Stage two was one of excesses. After building the temple and dedicating it to God, he then focused
on his own palace, which was twice the size of the temple and took twice as long to build. Phil
Yancy says that the earnest ruler who had showed such promise ended up defying all of God's rules
against a king's excesses. The author of three thousand proverbs broke them with an immoderation
that has never been equaled (Phil Yancy, The Bible that Jesus Read, p. 162).
I think every leader ought to have these verses printed and framed and put in their offices.
It is so easy to fall prey to our own success.
I was watching a program on the history channel about the building of the twin towers in New York.
The program was all prepared and ready to run just before September 11th. After the terrorists
attacks, the producers decided to hold showing the program until a month ago. In one segment,
Harry Smith, the commentator, announced that we are going to hear some very disturbing words from
one of the workers in the building. In the interview, the person says, "You could even fly a 747
into this building and it would remain standing." On September 10th, we can make those kind of
statements. On September 11th, our arrogance is reduced to humility.
Solomon's kingdom was a success, as a kingdom while he was alive. But after his death the kingdom
could not be sustained. It was like a house of cards because he forgot the last essential.
I would like to close today with a contrast to Solomon's life. Jesus claimed that he was greater
than Solomon because he established his rule instead among the lame and poor and oppressed and
ritually unclean. He belittled Solomon's glory by comparing it to that of a common day lily. He
offered no reward other than the prospect of an executioner's cross. Solomon' kingdom succeeds by
accumulation; Jesus' kingdom succeeds by self-sacrifice. "You must lose yourself to find yourself"
was Jesus' most repeated proverb. The world was still not ready for Jesus' kind of kingdom. Even
when he returned to earth after resurrection the disciples did not grasp the difference: "Lord,
are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?" they asked, still yearning for a
visible kingdom of Solomon (Yancy, p. 163).
Clarence Jordan was an example of the kind of leadership that Solomon taught. He was aman of
unusual abilities and commitment. He had two Ph. D's, one in agriculture and one in Greek. So
gifted was he, he could have chosen to do anything he wanted. At one time he translated the whole
Bible from the Greek into a version designed for the poor black person-called the Cotton Patch
Version of the New Testament. Clarence Jordan had a vision and call to serve the poor. In the
1940's, he founded a farm in Americus, Georgia, and called it Koinonia Farm. It was a community
for poor whites and poor blacks. As you might guess, such an idea did not go over well in the
deep South of the 40's.
Ironically, much of the resistance came from church people who followed the laws of segregation
as much as the other folk in town. The town people tried everything to stop Clarence. They tried
boycotting him, and slashing workers' tires when they came to town. Over and over, for fourteen
years, they tried to stop him.
Finally, in 1954, the Ku Klux Klan had enough of Clarence Jordan, so they decided to get rid of him
once and for all. They came one night with guns and torches and set fire to every building on
Koinonia Farm but Clarence's home, which they riddled with bullets. And they chased off all the
families except one black family which refused to leave.
Clarence recognized the voices of many of the Klansmen, and, as you might guess, some of them were
church people, another was the local newspaper's reporter. The next day, the reporter came out to
see what remained of the farm. The rubble still smoldered and the land was scorched, but he found
Clarence in the field, hoeing and planting.
"I heard the awful news," he called to Clarence, "and I came out to do a story on the tragedy
of your farm closing."
Clarence just kept hoeing and planting. The reporter kept prodding, kept poking, trying to
get a rise from this quietly determined leader who seemed to be planting instead of packing
his bags. So, finally, the reporter said in a haughty voice, "Well, Dr. Jordan, you got two
Ph.D.'s and you've put fourteen years into this farm, and there's nothing left of it at all.
Just how successful do you think you've been?"
Clarence stopped hoeing, turned toward the reporter with his penetrating blue eyes, and said
quietly but firmly, "About as successful as the cross. Sir, I don't think you understand us.
What we are about is not success, but faithfulness. We're staying. Good day."
Beginning that day, Clarence and his companions rebuilt Koinonia and the farm is going strong
today. In fact, out of that farm grew a successful ministry that has provided homes for
thousands around the world. We know it as Habitat for Humanity.
Clarence understood servant leadership. The essence of the leadership we have just seen is not
necessarily success, but faithfulness. And success of our servant leadership is measured in our
faithfulness to our calling.
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