In Alumni Academy course, Mohler talks convictional leadership, shares from early days of presidency

Communications Staff — October 30, 2013

R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, discusses the importance of friendship in leadership with long-time friend James Merritt (left), lead pastor of Cross Pointe Church in Duluth, Ga., during a recent Alumni Academy event at the Louisville, Ky., school.

Southern Seminary president R. Albert Mohler Jr. lectured about convictional leadership and shared stories from the early days of his presidency during the latest Alumni Academy course, Oct. 10-11.

Mohler, who is also Joseph Emerson Brown Professor of Christian Theology at the seminary, taught the course about leadership, based largely on his newest book, The Conviction to Lead: 25 Principles for Leadership that Matters. Two sessions of the course featured a special guest, James Merritt, lead pastor of Cross Pointe Church in Duluth, Ga.

In The Conviction to Lead, which debuted November 2012, Mohler argues that most definitions of leadership are in error. Leadership, he suggests, should not be merely pragmatic; conviction must define leadership. And he proposes a model of leadership in which conviction drives action, inspiring and equipping others to do the same.

In the book, Mohler establishes the priority of belief, then demonstrates ways in which beliefs find their way to practice. Mohler’s “25 principles” range from belief and understanding worldviews, to passion and credibility; from communication and management, to moral virtues and digital engagement; from a leader’s endurance to his legacy.

Mohler does not limit convictional leadership to church or Christian-group leadership. Conversely, he suggests that the Christian worldview provides the necessary foundation for leadership in any sphere, and this worldview places a given sphere in the context of God’s mission in the world.

And much like his book, Mohler’s lectures for Alumni Academy employed personal anecdotes. He addressed several topics straight from his book, including “convictional leadership” and “leadership with passion.”

From the outset, Mohler suggested that a Christian perspective of leadership views that leadership in its eternal context.

“From a Christian perspective, leadership has to be put into a temporal frame. And that is leadership for eternity, for now,” he said. “In other words, that means we, as leaders in a Christian context, are not just worried about this world and this life; we’re ultimately concerned about putting everything under our care and stewardship into an eternal frame of reference. And that is a humbling and a liberating act.”

However, Mohler said, leadership remains a “worthy” task.

“As much as leadership is about the eternal frame, it’s also about this life,” he said. “The Christian worldview dignifies this life; this life is not meaningless. … It really is worthy of your investment of a lifetime to lead.”

In his lectures, Mohler also addressed a topic he thinks is missing from The Conviction to Lead: friendship.

“One of the main chapters I wish I had had the opportunity to put in [The Conviction to Lead] is one that is perhaps most personal of all, and that is leadership and friendship,” Mohler said.

Mohler rejected conventional leadership advice that leaders should avoid close personal relationships among colleagues.

He said, “I can’t work that way. One of my goals in life is to have a catalog of friends that I just enjoy spending time with anytime I have that opportunity.”

But, according to Mohler, leadership and friendship is about more than personal enjoyment.

“After 20 years in this role, now in my 21st, I don’t see how a leader survives without friends,” he said. “I don’t think I’d be here, humanly speaking, without friends.”

Mohler introduced Merritt as “one the dearest of one of those friends,” telling course attendees about the early days of his ministry when Merritt’s friendship was especially valuable.

During two sessions, Mohler and Merritt discussed leadership principles and practices and their history together, including Merritt’s time on the Christian Index Board of Trustees at a crucial time at the Baptist newspaper Mohler led before becoming president of Southern Seminary. When Mohler first arrived at the seminary, the school’s trustees charged him with returning the school to its founding commitments, commitments from which the seminary departed during the 1960s and 1970s.

Initially, many in the seminary community resisted Mohler’s leadership.

“It’s very difficult for some of you to appreciate what this school was when we were here,” said Merritt, who is also a two-time alumnus of the school.

Merritt described the “coldness” on campus when he attended the seminary. And he said the theological and cultural change at the school over the past 20 years is the fruit of Mohler’s leadership.

“To go from that to this, what you’re seeing, brothers and sisters, this is leadership,” he said. “You’re seeing the result of leadership.”

In addition to Mohler’s lectures and talks with Merritt, Alumni Academy held a question-and-answer panel with Dan DeWitt, dean of Boyce College;  Aaron Harvie, church planter mobilization strategist for the Bevin Center for Missions Mobilization; and Dan Dumas, senior vice president for institutional administration. Matt Hall, vice president for academic services, moderated the panel. The panel answered questions related to leadership in the local church, leadership development, priorities of a leader and more.

After the panel, Gregory A. Wills interviewed Mohler about his early presidency, a time when Mohler’s leadership was met with severe opposition.

Alumni Academy offers ministry enhancement and ongoing theological learning to the institution’s alumni free of charge. For a nominal fee, attendees may bring members of their church staff with them.

The next scheduled Alumni Academy course will be about family ministry within the local church with Timothy Paul Jones, professor of leadership and church ministry, Jan. 9-10, 2014. More information about Alumni Academy is available at events.sbts.edu.

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