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 Military Christian Leaders Analysis


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Christian Military Leadership Analysis March 2009

By Col (Retired) Ivar Hellberg OBE MPhil


1. Introduction

During my time of military service, I have seen too much killing and brutality and man’s inhumanity to man. Unfortunately, some of it has been in the name of religion. It is a sad story, often driven by intolerance, bigotry and prejudice.

Nevertheless, I have generally found that the character and core values of soldiers, sailors and airmen are moulded by their Commanders.  To be effective soldiers (sailors, marines or airmen) must have a good leader that can be trusted and respected. Many times I have seen officers who want to be popular rather than respected. Popularity is not something any officer should seek as it will certainly undermine his standing. You have to train hard for war and that does not give you popularity. You have to be strict and demand high standards and this will not bring you popularity. You must instil core values, including honour, justice and compassion in equal measure. You must learn to be the very best and most professional soldier in the world, so that the men know that you will perform well in war and that they know you will not waste their lives needlessly in battle. For this you must be tough and train your men hard and demand the highest standards of fitness and professional competence. This will not bring you popularity, but it will gain you respect and trust when the going gets tough, as it always does in war.  Christ also never sought popularity – he remains the world’s greatest leader who led by example and inspiration. He carefully chose and trained his team of disciples and he was obedient to his father’s calling, even unto death. As leaders, we need to study his example.


“I know men! I tell you that Jesus Christ is no mere man. Between Him and every other person in the world there is no possible comparison. Alexander, Caesar, Charlemagne and I have founded Empires. But on what did we rest the creation of our genius? On Force!

Jesus Christ founded an Empire upon love, and this hour millions of men and women would die for Him!”                                                                                                                          Napoleon Bonaparte


2. Remember, all of us are leaders of one sort or another.

“God has given each of us different gifts to use. If we are leaders, we should do our best. Obey those who have authority over you. Only God can give authority to anyone.”         Romans 12:6

All of us are leaders. Everyone here is a leader in one way or another. What I mean is that all serving Christians, of whatever rank or nationality, must set an example. Equally, as a Christian in your family, as a Mother or a Father, or in your place of work or in any sport or other activity you are involved with, you will be watched for how you behave and how you treat others. But military leaders must be prepared for anything, they must have a vision and be able to train both their team and the individual for war – the ultimate challenge for a leader.

I want to introduce you to the three circles of leadership (by John Adair)

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because this is the space for diagrams


3. The TASK: You are also all born for a purpose.

“Where There Is No Vision the People Perish”                                              Proverbs 29:18


Firstly the TASK. What is the point of being a leader and having no purpose? So what is your purpose in life? What is your purpose as a soldier, sailor or airman? What is your purpose as a retired officer? What is your purpose as a husband or wife? Where there is no vision the people perish! Remember, all of us have a God-given purpose and we must pray to understand what that purpose is and be obedient to follow that vision. We all have the same amount of time to complete our purpose – 168 hours a week. The only question is: “How am I investing it?” Remember the prophet Isaiah who said: “I have used up my strength, but accomplished nothing.”                                                                   Isaiah 49:4


a. Analyse your lifestyle. “Where did all my time go?” If you want to terrify yourself, you can examine in detail how you spent every minute of last week – was it wasted? Was it for a purpose? Don’t waste you time, it is the most valuable commodity God has given you. So as a leader, remember Paul’s letter to the Ephesians: “Be careful how you live, not as fools, but as those who are wise…Don’t act thoughtlessly, but try to understand what the Lord wants you to do.”                                                                                                                                                   Ephesians 5:15-17


b. Utilise the present. Rick Warren in his book “The Purpose Driven Life”[i] states “do it now!”, If you had a bank account and I were to tell you that every morning someone was going to put into your account $86,400, but it all had to be spent that day or you would lose it. This would focus your mind to make sure none of the money was wasted. So, remember you have exactly 86,400 seconds each day – use every second of them for a good purpose! Remember Paul’s injunction to the Corinthians: “I may do anything, but everything is not useful…or constructive.”

1 Corinthians 10:23


             c. Prioritise what’s important. This is all about time management! Leaders need to manage their time; that means prioritising their time. God will give you just enough time to carry out the tasks he has given you.  If you do not have enough time, it probably means that you are wasting it. I always suffer from distractions! I love to chat and bang-on as my wife accuses me! I have an old car and many hobbies, but are they a distraction? None of these are necessarily wrong, but they should not take priority over God’s main purpose for your life as a Christian leader. You need to identify God’s purpose for your life, in other words, identify your TASK!

“Everyone has his own specific vocation in life. Everyone must carry out a specific assignment that demands fulfilment. He cannot be replaced, nor can his life be repeated. Thus everyone’s task is as unique as his specific opportunity to implement it”                                   Viktor Frankl - Psychologist



4. The TEAM: choosing and training your team.


Jesus sent out his twelve (Disciples)…to preach, saying “The Kingdom of heaven is at hand” …“Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be as wise as serpents”…He who receives you, receives me, and he who receives me receives Him who has sent me”. So Jesus finished instructing His disciples.                                                                          Matthew Chapter 10


Jesus gave clear instructions to his 12 disciples. Over his short three-year ministry, he carefully selected and trained his team, knowing that he will have to leave his team behind and that they will then be responsible for spreading his gospel to the uttermost part of the world. He knew that they would have to endure hardship, torture and death for their belief. You will remember that, following the crucifixion of Christ, his followers were terrified that they too would be crucified – a truly brutal and horrible death. But with the inspiration of the Holy Spirit they were transformed to take the Gospel all over the known world, including South India (St Thomas). As far as we know most of the disciples were murdered for their faith, with seven that were actually crucified! This means that Jesus’ team of twelve had to be incredibly robust, well trained and spiritually prepared for the TASK that the Master had set for them. The other vital matter is to choose your team carefully! If you select the wrong person, it is often very difficult to get rid of them. As a soldier, if you choose the wrong man to lead it might well cost lives. Jesus had an unfair advantage, as he knew precisely the talents of all his disciples and how they fitted into the TEAM. Loyalty, trust and mutual respect are the key ingredients for TEAM building. Remember Judas and the trouble he caused? You must watch out carefully for disloyalty and confront it straightaway; otherwise the poison that is spread about you will seriously undermine your position as leader.

Another example in the Bible of how to organise your TEAM maybe found in the book of Exodus, Chapter 18, where we find Moses in difficulty over how go about organising the Children of Israel.  Moses’ Father-in-Law comes to his rescue with some brilliant advice:

“When Moses’ father-in-law (Jethro) saw all that he was doing for the people, he said “What is this that you are doing for the people? Why did you sit alone and all the people stand about you from morning till evening?” And Moses said to his Father-in-Law “Because the people come to me to enquire of God. When they have a dispute they come to me and I decide between a man and neighbour, and make them know the statutes of God and his decisions. Moses’ Father-in-Law said to him “What you are doing is not good. You and the people with you will wear yourselves out; you are not able to perform it alone. Listen to me, I will give you council and God be with you!

You shall represent the people before God, and bring their cases to God, and you shall teach them the statutes and decisions, and make them know the way in which they must walk and what they must do.

Moreover, choose able men from all the people, such as fear God, men who are trustworthy and who hate a bribe. Place such men over the people as rulers of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties, and of tens.  And let them judge the people at all times; every great matter they shall bring to you, but any small matter they shall decide themselves; so it will be easier for you, and they will bear the burden with you. If you do this and God so commends you, then you will be able to endure, and all this people also will go to their place in peace!”

What brilliant words of advice from your Father-in-Law! So you must delegate with clear instructions and accountability. The size of your teams is also important. Jethro says divide them into units of thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens. Jesus chose just twelve disciples, as his cabinet or executive board. He knew them very well, both their strengths and weaknesses. We must do the same.


5. The INDIVIDUAL: respect for others, know your men!


If you want to be great, you must be the servant of all the others. If you want to be first, you must be everyone’s slave.”                                                                                                                       Mark 10:43-45

“You must watch over everyone God has placed in your care. Let it be something you want to do, instead of something you do merely to make money. Don’t be bossy …but set an example for them.”

                                                                                                                                                  1 Peter 5:2-3

Wherever you are or whatever you are doing, people are the most important thing in your life. If you are a military leader your men and women are vital! Your soldiers, sailors and airmen are your flock, they depend on you and you depend on them. They must trust you and believe that you care for them and their lives. They must believe that their lives will not be wasted in battle. This trust and intimacy is a vital ingredient of leadership and teambuilding. The INDIVIDUAL must trust the leader and believe in him!

A wonderful example of this is the Roman Army. The Roman Army was one of the most efficient the World has ever seen. For the best part of a thousand years it dominated the known world. The Roman Army was divided into Legions, Cohorts and Centuries. A Legion was about 5000 men (the rough size of an infantry brigade today), a Cohort about 600 men (the rough size of an infantry battalion today) and the Century of 100 men (the size of an infantry company today). The Cohort was a key fighting formation and was commanded by a Tribune, who sat on a horse. From his horse he could see all his men and was expected “to know each of his men by name”. A tough task, but it was found over many years that if the formation was any more than 600, it was very difficult for the Tribune to know the name of every man and, consequently, the fighting efficiency of the Cohort became less effective. You can imagine that a good Tribune would know a good deal more about his men than just their names, for example details about their character, their families and where they had served.

From a personal point of view, many years ago during the Falklands War, I found myself commanding a Royal Marines Commando Regiment. My Regiment consisted of about 750 men and I just about knew the name of every man – but it was a struggle. However, I knew the how important it was to each commando soldier if I recognised him as an individual and called him by his name.

Over the centuries this fact has not changed. If you want to gain respect and be trusted, you must make an effort to know each of your men and women personally by their name. In this respect, they will know that you care for them and they will respect you and most importantly, they are more likely to follow you in battle! They will also know that as a Christian you can be trusted and will lead by example.

“Serve to Lead”  is the inspirational motto of the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst



6. CHARACTER – Christian Leadership is by EXAMPLE


“For I have given you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.”

John 13:15


“Anyone who hears and obeys these teachings of mine is like a wise person who builds his house on solid rock.”                                                                                                                               Matthew7:24-27


“For this is the love of God that we obey his commandments.                                    I John 5:3


You will need to build up team spirit and trust within your unit. However, there can be no doubt that leadership is by example, and that means developing your CHARACTER. You know that your children will follow your example and are very good at picking up your bad habits. If you are unreasonable, they will be unreasonable, if you shout they will shout, if you are violent they will be violent. In Northern Ireland the children go at the age of three to kindergarten school. Some go to Catholic schools, some to Protestant schools. Unfortunately many children are taught to hate the other school and they are regarded as the enemy and they don’t even play football against each other. As a military leader you will be watched all the time, not only by what you say, but by what you do. You will probably be referred to as a member of the “God squad”; they might not even like you, but you will be respected and each soldier will privately know that, as a Christian,  you will be fair and honest and that you will take an interest in him and his family. In other words you will know his name!

You must also set a strong example of good conduct, both in barracks, in your home and on operations of war. You must operate within the laws of war: you must treat your prisoners well and make sure your soldiers do not commit atrocities. This is difficult in war as both adrenaline and revenge is very strong immediately after a battle. They will be after trophies and women – sometimes this is a very difficult thing to stop. They must know in advance that you will deal very harshly with soldiers (and, of course, it is usually soldiers and marines on the battlefield!). I have found that discipline, or lack of it, is very hard to instil after fighting, particularly if the soldiers have seen their friends being killed by the enemy. As a Christian leader, you must do what ever it takes to stop your soldiers from taking things into their own hands and committing atrocities..

Let us have a look at the core qualities of a military officer as defined by the British Army:


         Courage and Resolution


         Professional Knowledge



         Decisiveness and Flexibility


         Know your men/women


These characteristics remind us of the whole armour of God, so let us remind ourselves of the famous passage in Ephesians Ch 6:10-20. In many ways this famous injunction should be put up on our wall as a constant reminder of what a Christian leader should be prepared for in life. In my experience life is tough and does not get any easier as we get older! So you will need to be reminded that there is a spiritual war going on all the time. The forces of darkness are all around you, especially if you are a Christian. So remember to put on the whole armour of God:


“Finally be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armour of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take the whole armour of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand, therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the equipment of the gospel of peace; above all taking the shield of faith of faith, with which you can quench all the flaming darts of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Pray at all times, in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that utterance may be given me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains; that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.”



So how do these three circles of leadership link up with Christian Doctrine? You will see here my final diagram. The TASK or purpose that the Leader must identify is given to us by God the Father. The TEAM is trained and taught by God the Son (in other words, Jesus). The INDIVIDUAL is inspired and instructed by the Holy Spirit. Finally, it is the Leader’s CHARACTER that will provide the example for the TEAM and the INDIVIDUAL as they go about their duty. As a Christian leader it is CHARACTER that makes the difference!

A small booklet entitled Inspirational Leadership published by the Naval Military and Air Force Bible Society  identifies the core values of the Christian Leader and in many ways reflects the same characteristics upheld by the British Army. The core values included in the booklet are as follows:



Ivar Hellberg

October 2008


Footnote. For those who love Kipling, as I do, then you might consider the famous poem “If” as having a great deal to do with character:

“If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or, being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or, being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise;

If you can dream - and not make dreams your master;
If you can think - and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with triumph and disaster
And treat those two imposters just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with wornout tools;

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breath a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: "Hold on";

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with kings - nor lose the common touch;
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you;
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run -
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And - which is more - you'll be a Man my son!”







[i] Warren, Rick.” The Purpose Driven Life”. Saddleback Church Ministry publication. Lake Forest CA 29630. USA. 2006





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