Chapter Four: The Leader's Confidence



            Jesus defined greatness in terms of service. We are great when we serve, and servant is a position in itself. Other positions may derive from service, but the service is itself valuable. One can be ahead of others in service without being a head or the head of a group.   In the sense of being ahead of others, as well as being a head or the head, a person can be a true leader.

            When we define leadership in terms of being a head or the head, then matters such as influence with people, setting of goals, gathering people around those goals, and implementing them come into focus. However, given what Jesus says about greatness, we have concluded that service is the indispensable quality in leaders who are a head or the head of an organization. 

            Jesus challenged the disciples to weigh the cost of becoming great or becoming first.  With the context in view, we can add the cost of leadership.  As we have seen, leadership exacts a price. Anyone who aspires to leadership should count the cost. When the cost of leading is counted, some will pull back, but many will forge ahead.  A true leader will learn to put service first.  No matter what other motivation may enter in, by an act of the will service will have priority.

             James and John responded to Jesus’ challenge by quickly declaring, “We are able.” They were confident that they could pay the price. Jesus saw that they did not know the full extent of the cost. They would come later to a full knowledge of the cost. Their comment raises the issue of the leader’s confidence or the role of confidence in leadership. 

            Once again I will present the entire leadership story that has captivated our attention, the story in Matthew 20:20-28.  Our specific focus in this chapter is on the comment of the disciples in verse 22b that “We are able.”

   20  Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came to Jesus with her sons, bowing down and making a request of Him.

  21 And He said to her, "What do you wish?" She said to Him, "Command that in Your kingdom these two sons of mine may sit one on Your right and one on Your left."

  22 But Jesus answered, "You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?" They said to Him, "We are able."

   23 He said to them, "My cup you shall drink; but to sit on My right and on My left, this is not Mine to give, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by My Father."

   24 And hearing this, the ten became indignant with the two brothers.

   25 But Jesus called them to Himself and said, "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them.

   26 "It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant,

   27 and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave;

   28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many."

            We will include, but not limit, our discussion to the confidence leaders have that they can pay the price of leadership.  Rather than limit the discussion, we will consider many aspects of confidence in leading.  Our topics will focus on (1) self-confidence and confidence in others, (2) mitigating extremes in self-confidence, (3) the role of faith in Christ, and (4) how to develop confidence.


            An important factor in leadership is self-confidence.  The leader’s self-confidence will vary depending on the situations that he faces.  For example, a local church leader who is very confident in teaching a class, might not be as confident when trying to expand the attendance.  However, the leader in all situations is expected to be confident in what he or she is doing. 

            First, according to Titus, a primary assumption in politics is self-significance. He holds that:

This [self-significance] manifests itself in such aspects as self-awareness, self-confidence, and self-interest.  The words “I,” “I exist,” “I can do,” “I will,” and “I count,” are vital, definite statements of fact as far as most individuals are concerned, and as such are taken-for-granted situations in the minds of most people. If a person drops below this level of awareness or has never attained to such a level, he is of little concern as an active element in the field of politics.

            According to Ross and Hendry, Cecil A Gibb found that that leadership and self-confidence were highly correlated (1957, 57-58).  They quote the following conclusion by Gibb:   “The general implication of these findings is that leaders, more or less consistently, rate higher than followers in self-confidence or self-assurance.  A person who believes in himself gives the impression that he has the skill, power, or ability which will enable him to solve the problem in hand” (1954, 886).  When leaders have confidence, they can be relaxed, be themselves, and speak with assurance.  Clearly, this helps them lead.

            Second, confidence has great power and is contagious.   Many people will respond to the leader who confidently faces problems and poses solutions.   Bogardus reminds us that “Franklin D. Roosevelt commanded many new followers as soon as he became President by the confidence which he literally radiated throughout the whole United States in his radio addresses. No matter how troublesome the issue, his voice came over the radio breathing an assurance that drew thousands if not millions to him” (1934, 212-213).  When a person is in a position of leadership, he or she is expected to act with confidence.  When a leader lacks confidence, few will follow. 

            Third, both introverts and extroverts can act with confidence.  However, it seems that self-confidence often comes very naturally to the extrovert and, along with this, some feelings of superiority.  The introvert, in contrast, may have a more difficult time being self-confident.  He can be self-confident, but he may demonstrate that self-confidence in a different way.  For example, he may study a problem and its solutions and have great confidence in his findings. However, he may not exude self-confidence in the same way as the extrovert in his presentation.   

            Fourth, Wolff discusses the question, “Can a leader be humble?” (1970, 13-16).  He declares, “Legitimate ambition, the desire to be a leader, does not run counter to true humility” (1970, 13).  He then explains that, “Evangelical humility is based on and conformed to the real circumstances and character of man. The views which the humble man entertains of himself and of his condition are an exact reflection of his situation. The humble estimate is the true one” (1970, 14).  Confidence should be well-seasoned with humility. Humility and self-confidence need not be contradictory. Confidence helps a person achieve good things; humility puts both the person and the achievement in proper perspective. As in many things, balance is the key word.

            Fifth, before leaving the subject of confidence, we should consider the leader's confidence in others. A leader shows confidence in others as well as himself. Studies show that the person who expects more from his subordinates because he believes in their abilities will actually get more. We want to do well when others believe we can.  As James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner maintain:

Indeed, when we ask people to describe exemplary leaders, they consistently talk about people who have been able to bring out the best in them.  This is one of the defining characteristics of a leader, one of the things that make constituents willing to be led: that person has our best interests at heart and wants us to be as successful as possible.  Leading others requires that leaders have high expectations about what people can accomplish.  (1997, 272)

            We show confidence in people by delegating matters to them and empowering them to do certain tasks. Some companies make it a policy to push decision making out to the arena where transactions take place. Airline ticket agents, for example, seem to have considerable authority. Doing this requires putting confidence in people to do the right thing.

Mitigating Extremes

            With regard to confidence, two extremes hamper leadership: (1) too much confidence, and (2) too little confidence. Many people are put off by these extremes. We must learn to mitigate the extremes that sometimes develop in our lives. We can lessen the harsh impact of these negative developments.

            First, let us consider overconfidence and its results. The case of the disciples is very interesting. We will begin with them and their attitude. Then, we will discuss other leaders and the importance of toning down overconfidence in ourselves and putting our full confidence in God.   

            One, many commentators believe that the disciples were over-confident. According to them, their ready answer, 'We are able,” was the first evidence they were not able.  Also, not knowing all that was coming, they could not have been fully prepared to answer.  It appears to me that the disciples were over-confident in their own strength.      

            Although the disciples were overconfident, there is a positive side to their answer.   Concerning this point, Hendriksen maintains that “On the favorable side we can at least credit them with a considerable measure of loyalty to their Master.  Nevertheless, the future would prove that they were at this moment too self-confident” (1973, 746).  Similarly, Smart suggests that “When James and John answered ‘We are able,’ Jesus honored their confession and assured them that in the future they would indeed share to the full his mission, his Spirit, and his sufferings” (1979, 291).

            The disciples would soon be tested.  A blow was struck to their self-confidence the night Jesus was taken prisoner in the Garden of Gethsemane.  Earlier in the evening, Jesus said to the disciples, “You will all fall away because of Me this night” (
Matthew 26:31).  Peter boldly replied, “Even though all may fall away because of You, I will never fall away” (Matthew 26:33). Then Jesus said, “Truly I say to you that this very night, before a rooster crows, you will deny Me three times” (Matthew 26:34).  Peter was the boldest speaker among them, but he was soon to fall.

Jesus did not rebuke James and John for their claim that they were able to drink the cup that Jesus was about to drink.   He knows that they, indeed, will pay the price. Peter failed, but he came back, enabled by the Spirit, as one of the strongest witnesses in the early church.  Over time, all the others, except Judas, stood the test!  They fully committed themselves to Christ.

            Two, other leaders, in addition to the disciples, sometimes are hampered by an attitude of over-confidence. Overconfidence often is a prelude to defeat. We see this in the sports world. A team that is over-confident may not respect its opponent enough. As a result, the overconfident team may not do its best. Many championship teams have their toughest years after winning. Some of their desire and dedication is lost. They begin to feel they can maintain championship quality play without paying the prices of discipline and preparation.

            Sometimes when leaders are overconfident, they lose their followers. They begin to reveal their sense of superiority. However, their programs and ways may be presumptuous and superficial. Unless realism is maintained, people will not believe them and will not continue following.

            Second, some leaders lack confidence. Too little confidence and a sense of inferiority tend to go together. According to Thomas A. Harris, Adler held the theory that feelings of inferiority were the basis of man's struggle in life. He claimed that the child, by virtue of his small size and helplessness, inevitably considered himself inferior to the adult figures in his environment (1969, 67).   This may be in some cases, but there are also other reasons for feelings of inferiority.  When people have feelings of inferiority it can hamper, to some degree, their ability to lead.  Fortunately, feelings of inferiority can be overcome.    

             It has been my privilege to work with many leaders in church circles. In public life they manifest enormous confidence and self-assurance. When you get to know them better, you discover that many of them feel inferior about something. They may feel inferior about their education, personal appearance, lack of ministry gifts, or some other factor. In spite of these feelings, they have learned to live and function with both their strengths and weaknesses. They have sufficiently overcome their feelings of inferiority to function effectively.

            Third, balance is an important factor in leading.   We can identify two clusters of traits with regard to confidence.  One cluster may include overconfidence, feelings of superiority, and extroversion.  Another cluster may include lack of confidence, feelings of inferiority and introversion.  However, as I have noted above, an introvert may have confidence even though he expresses it in a different way.  In any case, an effective effort draws in a balanced way from people with all of these traits.    

            The apostle Paul tells us: “For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith” (Romans 12:3).   Here, we observe both sides of the coin: (1) we should not think too highly of ourselves, and (2) we should recognize that each of us has a measure of faith. Although Paul does not say it, because of our measure of faith, we ought not to think too lowly of ourselves either.

Faith in Christ

            When believers speak about confidence, they know that they are fully dependent upon God.  Because of this, we need to consider several points relative to our faith in Christ. 

            First, for the Christian leader humility and confidence meet through faith in Christ. Inferiority feelings are overcome and superiority feelings are mitigated when we place ourselves in Him. When we are in Christ, the focus is taken off of us and is put on Him. We simply become the instruments of His mercy to a lost world.

          Second, the Christian leader must be confident in Christ. Paul knew that His strength was in the Lord.   He wrote the following message to the Philippians (4:12-13):

   12 I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need.
   13 I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.

            Paul was able to face all kinds of circumstances through Christ who strengthened him. In verse 12 Paul mentions several specific circumstances, but this truth applies, I believe, to all aspects of our lives and ministries. It applies to our ministries as well as to our physical circumstances. Whatever difficult situation we face, we can overcome in His strength.  Without Him we might fail, but with Him we will be victorious. 

            Like all other people, Paul had weaknesses, but he did not let these deter him from his task. Even with his weaknesses, he had confidence in God. He was given a thorn in the flesh to keep him from being exalted (2 Corinthians 12:7).  Concerning this weakness, and others, he declared:  “Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ's sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong” (
2 Corinthians 12:10).

            Some people said Paul was weak in speech and personal presence. While Paul was writing to the Corinthians, he addressed this point.  In his reply Paul reveals his confidence. He said (
2 Corinthians 10:10-11):

   10  For they say, “His letters are weighty and strong, but his personal presence is unimpressive and his speech contemptible.”
   11 Let such a person consider this, that what we are in word by letters when absent, such persons we are also in deed when present.

            Third, the Christian leader must have a sense of dependence on the Lord. The Psalmist wrote: “Some boast in chariots and some in horses, but we will boast in the name of the Lord, our God” (Psalm 20:7).  Similarly, Paul declared:  “But he who boasts is to boast in the Lord.  For it is not he who commends himself that is approved, but he whom the Lord commends” (2 Corinthians 10:17-18).

            The prophet Micah spoke of the source of his power with these words: “On the other hand I am filled with power--With the Spirit of the Lord--And with justice and courage to make known to Jacob his rebellious act, Even to Israel his sin” (Micah3:8). Confronting Israel was a daunting task, but Micah was undaunted because of the presence and power of the Spirit. We have analogous words from the prophet Isaiah who said “He [God] gives strength to the weary, And to him who lacks might He increases power” (Isaiah 40:29).

Developing Confidence

            There are many factors in the development of a leader’s confidence.  We will consider the realization that we can change, the realistic assessment of the gifts God has given, and the role of suffering. 

            First, the development of confidence begins with the realization that we can change. An excellent example of this is Moses.  In Acts 7:22 Stephen describes Moses as follows: “Moses was educated in all the learning of the Egyptians, and he was a man of power in words and deeds.”  Early in his life, Moses was well-positioned in Egypt, but he lost that standing and fled to the land of Midian.  He married the daughter of Jethro who was the priest of Midian and kept his sheep (Exodus 2:15-22).  After Moses had spent many years in Midian, the Lord asked him to be the deliverer of Israel.  Moses objected several times before accepting this appointment. 

            In one of his objections, Moses expressed his lack of confidence in his speech. He said ''Please, Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither recently nor in time past, nor since You have spoken to Your servant; for I am slow of speech and slow of tongue” (Exodus 4:10).  Hans Finzel states:

Still not worn down by objections, God assured Moses, “I will help you speak and will teach you what to say” (4:12).  Would it not make sense that by now reticent Moses would trust God and His promises of help?  God was assuring Moses that He would take care of everything; but He was also saying that He needed a man to lead His people to freedom.  A side lesson of this story is the truth that God really does rely on people to do His will on earth. (1998, 8)

            Acts 7:22 and Exodus 4:10 and may seem to be in conflict.  However, several ways have been suggested to reconcile these passages:  (1) Lenski maintains that “Power is referred to and not mere readiness of tongue which explains Exod. 4:10, 15” (1934, 275).  According to this view, the words of Moses were authoritative and very powerful, but not eloquent. (2) Posing another view, F. F. Bruce writes:  “That he [Moses] was mighty in his words [Acts 7:22] may seem to conflict with his disclaimer of eloquence in Ex. 4:10, but the reference could be to his writings” (Bruce, 150).  (3) Kenneth O. Gangel agrees with Bruce about writing, but also poses another view.  He suggests the following two points:

How interesting that Stephen should call Moses powerful in speech when Moses himself doubted his eloquence (Exod. 4:10).  Two things may be in view here.  First, Stephen described Moses after forty years of leadership during which time he made many eloquent pronouncements in delivering God’s messages to the people.  Second, Stephen might have had in mind the writing of the Pentateuch in which Moses certainly displayed great power in oral tradition until he wrote it as Scripture. (1998, 106)

It is possible, as Gangel suggests, that Stephen (Acts 7:22) may have had in mind the speeches that Moses made while leading Israel in the wilderness.   In support of this, we know that Moses, in Exodus 4:10, spoke about his life before he became the deliverer of Israel.   Given this information and approach, there would be no conflict between the statements of Stephen and Moses. 

            Henry and Richard Blackaby take a different direction in reconciling Acts 7:22 and Exodus 4:10.  They emphasize that Moses had a new perspective with emphasis on God’s presence.  They comment as follows:

     What happened?  Moses used to think he was a gifted leader.  Forty years later he claims he can’t speak or lead!  Which was correct?  Both.
     Moses may certainly have feared his oratorical skills had declined over the forty years of talking to four-footed audiences.  But more importantly Moses came to view his skills from God’s perspective.  Accomplishing God’s work was impossible without God’s presence.  Conversely Moses would learn that with every divine assignment also comes God's equipping.  God would enable his servant to accomplish everything he commanded him to do.  The key was not Moses’ skills but Moses’ surrender. (2011, 70)

The problem with the view that the oratorical skills of Moses declined “over the forty years of talking to four-footed audiences” is that Moses said “I have never been eloquent, neither recently nor in time past.”  As indicated above, he spoke these words prior to his years of leadership in the wilderness.  However, it seems abundantly clear that Moses “came to view his skills from God’s perspective.” 

Moses accepted the appointment to be the deliverer of Israel, but asked God for someone else to be the mouthpiece.  Although angry with Moses, God selected Aaron to be the one who would speak. Even so, as it turned out, during the 40 years in the wilderness Moses would speak many times.  

            During the wilderness experience, the Spirit of God was upon Moses in a powerful way (Numbers 11:17).  On one occasion, God took of the Spirit that was upon Moses and placed Him upon the seventy elders who were with him (Numbers 11:25).  As a result the elders prophesied.  One likely result, it appears to me, of the Spirit being upon Moses was empowered speech. 

            There is a strong contrast between the reticence of Moses to speak when God asked him to be the deliverer of Israel and his confidence when he spoke to Israel at the end of his ministry.   Moses changed!  He wanted to speak and believed his words would be effective.  In the hearing of all the assembly of Israel, he said (Deuteronomy 32:1-3):

  1 “Give ear, O heavens, and let me speak; And let the earth hear the words of my mouth.
  2 “Let my teaching drop as the rain, My speech distill as the dew, As the droplets on the fresh grass, And as the showers on the herb.
  3  “For I proclaim the name of the Lord; Ascribe greatness to our God!”

            In verse 1, Moses appeals to the heavens to let him speak and to the earth to hear his words.  Then in the opening clause of verse 2 He says, “Let my teaching drop as the rain.”  The Lamsa version says, “My word shall drop as rain.”  This clause could be taken as a prayer, wish, command, or as a factual prediction.  In any case, Moses spoke with confidence that his words could have an impact on his hearers.  He was no longer reticent to speak.    

            Moses had lived long enough to see the mighty works of God.  Thus, he proclaims the name of the Lord and ascribes greatness to God.  Men will hear us when we ascribe greatness to God and demonstrate that He is the solution to their problems.  No wonder Stephen said that Moses "was a man of power in words and deeds" (
Acts 7:22).

            Second, the Christian leader's confidence is in God, but each leader must realistically assess his gifts. We all have different gifts, and we must each use them to the fullest (
Romans 12:6-8).  Also, we must realize that we are growing individuals and that our gifts will blossom as they are used. Others can help us make realistic assessments.

            At times each of us must pull back from involvement in some situations which are beyond our ability or mandate from the Lord. The Psalmist wrote: “O Lord, my heart is not proud, nor my eyes haughty; Nor do I involve myself in great matters, Or in things too difficult for me” (Psalm 131:1).   In some cases we are well advised to follow his example.

            Third, Tead makes an insightful statement about the role of suffering in the leader's developing faith and sense of confidence. He writes:

Again, the experience of great leaders suggests a further element too vital to be ignored. No accounting for the strength of their inner resources can fail to appreciate the part that suffering has played in their development. They have seemed in many instances to discover their faith and power in meeting and overcoming opposition of one sort or another, in surmounting seemingly insurmountable obstacles, in refusing to admit defeat, in sacrificing to the limit for their cause. In a word they have suffered in the depths of their being as one of the prices paid for the superb confidence and courage they were gradually able to manifest. (1935, 265)


            When Jesus asked James and John if they could endure the suffering that He would experience, they answered, “We are able.”  Jesus did not rebuke them for their overly confident reply.  Rather, He told them that they indeed would suffer.  As we know, on other occasions, Jesus promised to be with the disciples and promised the help of the Holy Spirit.  They could be confident when they placed their full faith in Jesus.

             Let us remember that we are in Christ. Paul wrote: “For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3).  Remembering this, we can be filled with His confidence.  The disciples were not as ready as they thought they were to suffer for Christ. They were not ready to drink the cup He had to drink. However, in the end they stood the test. With the help of the Lord, they came through in victory.  We must remember that because He is able, we are able. We are not alone in our mission. Christ will be with us each step of the way.