What does it look like to be a strong leader? A decisive leader to step into conflict, to deal with difficult situations, and yet do it with the fruit of the spirit? With love, with joy, with peace, patience, kindness, goodness, with faithfulness, with gentleness, and with self-control?
Marketplace skills are missionary skills, you know? Few personalities define or cover an area or a state the way Bob Knight has become part of the identity of the state of Indiana. Now he’s kind of been off the scene for a little while, but we did just get news of his passing. So it’s interesting to watch everybody from Indiana, a lot of older people, a lot of people my age that grew up in the Bob Knight era of Indiana University basketball, are kind of reflecting on the passing of this… this guy who was literally bigger than life.
I have some vivid memories of Bobby Knight. I’m really a little too young to remember the first two national championships, don’t really remember the undefeated season, but I vividly remember the 1987 National Championship when Keith Smart hits the jumper from the corner. We were actually on vacation; we were on spring break in Orlando, Florida. And I remember where I was, I remember being in the hotel room, and jumping around and screaming with my family and the other families that we were traveling with. IU basketball is just legendary here in Indiana, and Bob Knight was just a legendary figure.
I even recall going to a Bobby Knight basketball camp when I was maybe 11 or 12 years old. Um, and I remember this not just for the basketball instruction, but I do remember Coach Knight coming in at one point and we’re all just a bunch of sixth and seventh graders, and he’s yelling at us like we’re, you know, part of his college team and using profanity, you know, all this stuff, kind of scared my 11-year-old self to death. And so as we watch all of these tributes pour in about Coach Knight this week, it’s been interesting because you see the complexity of a leader.
On one side of the equation, you have the people who just revile him. I mean, his caustic demeanor and personality, his just feeling as if the rules don’t apply to him. And then on the other side, you see some of these players who said he transformed their lives, that he was a father figure to them, that he is still reaping an impact in their lives even as 50 and 60-year-old men. And so you kind of wrestle with that complexity.
And so I kind of have been pondering this in a totally different fashion, but with the passing of Coach Knight, it kind of brought this back just for me in my own life. And that is, you know, what does it mean to be a leader who is also a follower of Christ? You know, I don’t know in fairness anything about Coach Knight; we can look at the fruit of his life. I’ve heard some interesting stories about him as he’s aged. My brother-in-law pastors in Bloomington, so we’ve got a lot of connections down there. I will not make any comments about Coach Knight or where he might be at with the Lord as he passes from this life, but I’m thinking more about myself. I’m thinking more about other Christian leaders as we move into our roles in various spheres of this life.
Because I think there’s almost become a mentality in modern Christian circles that being rough, that being a fighter, you know, being a brawler is somehow okay. And I wrestle with this. We lead a couple of organizations here, and there are times when as a leader, you have to step into difficult conversations, difficult situations. I just had one recently here a couple of weeks ago where I had to call somebody into account, and I really wrestle with what we’re supposed to do and how we’re supposed to step into those moments as leaders because I believe we’ve begun to celebrate just this brawler, combative spirit. You know, that we’ve got to be fighters. And yet, I overlay that with what I see in Scripture when we talk about the fruits of the spirit like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. And I don’t think those fruits are necessarily at odds with a need to be strong, with a need to be clear, with a need to be even confrontational. But I do think how we step into those moments needs to be different as followers of Christ.
And I’ll be the first one to admit to you, I don’t always do this well. Most people who know me see me as a relatively gentle person. My personality is to usually either really avoid hard conversations or let them build up to the point where I just kind of blow up on the conversation, right? Give my little Coach Knight moment in there. And so I’ve really had to wrestle with this. How do we step into these moments as leaders where we have to be strong? You know, we’re living in a culture and in a time today when we have to be articulate as leaders about who we are, about what the gospel is, about how the gospel intersects with our leadership and with every aspect of life. But I also think how we do that is just as important as what we do.
So, you know, Coach Knight, he got a lot of passes because he won, and there was even a write-up in the IBJ, the Indianapolis Business Journal this morning about that. And that was one of the things they noted that, you know, he won a lot so he could get away with a lot, right? And I think we can take that mentality on as leaders in Christian circles as well that, gosh, it’s just about getting the win. If we get, you know, ‘Hey, we’re on God’s team here, and if we get the win, then that’s all that matters.’ But I don’t see in Scripture that type of… I don’t see Scripture okaying that approach to things where, you know, as long as we win for the good guys, it doesn’t matter how we win, right?
And so I’ve been wrestling with this as a leader, and, you know, with the passing of Coach Knight, it’s caused me to reflect a little bit even on my own leadership. What does it look like to be a strong leader, a decisive leader, to step into conflict, to deal with difficult situations, and yet do it with the fruit of the spirit? With love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, with faithfulness, with gentleness, and with self-control?
And I believe those are fruits of the spirit in our lives. They don’t naturally come out of us. They are a product of Christ’s work in us. And so my encouragement to you as leaders in a difficult day or just as the people of God in a difficult day: we have to care about how we step into things, not just that we step into things. We’re not called to be brawlers. We’re not called to use human power to push even the ways of the Lord upon others. We are called to be the people of God who are motivated and transformed by the Holy Spirit and who lead, who confront, who even do the difficult things, have the difficult conversations with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
So as we say goodbye to Coach Knight and there’s kind of a strange sadness over the whole state of Indiana, it just causes me to reflect on what kind of leader I want to be. I want to be a leader who succeeds. I want to be a leader who wins. But I also want to be a leader that reflects the goodness and grace of my God to me, outward to others as well.
So I hope that you will carry that challenge with me in your sphere of life: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Let us be known for those things.
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