My thesis is that at the heart of contemporary leadership ineffectiveness is the absence of a theologically informed wisdom. While character is essential to credible leadership, I will argue that divine wisdom is critical to competent leadership. Without it, leaders formulate boneheaded policies, mishandle resources, and make irresponsible decisions. Their idiocy may be comical on the surface, but it is ultimately self-destructive and treacherous (1:32; 17:12). Our ongoing folly is behind so much historic tragedy Without wisdom, there is no real leadership. This is the bold assertion of Proverbs 8:15-16.
Given such a claim, it is essential to begin with a definition of divine wisdom. I will first look at the similarities God’s wisdom has with the secular culture and its operating rules (e.g., use of the tongue, social awareness, human industry). I will then focus on the significant dissimilarities (wisdom’s values and vastness, its expression of God’s character, and its overwhelming power). The wisdom of God transcends the common assumptions of both ancient philosophers, contemporary guides, and personal experience. It is a wisdom that is accessible to the receptive but well beyond the reach of fools (26:9).
I will then proceed to develop divine wisdom’s most unique quality, the fear of God. This is not only the central thread tying the wisdom books of Scripture together—it is the controlling principle of all wisdom. The fear of God is a leader’s sensible response given the universe is ruled by a sovereign God, one whose ways are past finding out (20:24). A leader is at best a stream of water in the hand of the divine (21:1). Where there is no fear of God, there is no wisdom. The implication, I will argue, is that it is foundational to the skill of statecraft, the means to true corporate success, and the basis for informed pastoral leadership and theological training.
From here I will develop the essential qualities that characterize leaders who fear God. These include the ability to discern (as opposed to misreading the situation); the capacity to make shrewd decisions (as opposed to being naïve and simplistic); the aptitude for recognizing reality, that which sees beyond the empirically observable (as opposed to living in a world of fantasy and illusions of grandeur); the knack for being in sync with God’s rhythms (as opposed to being out of step with his all-embracing order); the competence to collaborate (as opposed to the folly of going it alone); and the wisdom to exercise restraint (as opposed to stepping out of one’s lanes and giving oneself to one’s appetites).
Finally, this paper will lay out the rigors required if a leader is to manifest the wisdom of God. It begins with intense desire, leading to an intensive search. The pursuit goes in both directions—to God and from God (2:1-5; 9::1-6). Over time, this sapiential quest will lead to better leadership–one marked by discretion, sound judgment, and the heart of God.