Paul’s final charge in 1 Timothy teaches us to guard the gift of the correct teachings about Jesus Christ contained in the Holy Scriptures. From the worldview of the first-century church at Ephesus, these teachings represent the foundation for all subsequent ethical thought and the development of a virtuous character. This is complete agreement with what Wesley said about “good” leadership eighteen centuries later; that it requires Scripture as the foundation and only then can tradition, reason and experience be properly factored in. The Christian concept of ethics depends on the gospel message. Consequently, each generation must protect and faithfully proclaim it.
Today, in addition to the Christian concept of ethics, there are concepts of ethics that are not Christian, and therefore not dependent on any scriptural foundation. Modern conceptions of “good” leadership come in many forms. Northouse (2016) devotes no less than 13 separate chapters to various leadership styles, yet only three paragraphs dedicated to “conventional morality.” While discussing the futility of non-biblical grand principles Badaracco (1997) explains that in the last two decades many companies have introduced mission statements, credos and similar guides to ethical decision making only to find that they are too vague to express what is inescapably complex, or they are merely inspirational dross that inspires only cynicism. The historical context of 1 Timothy answers two of McQuilkin’s (1984) six tests; the Bible treats the historical context of first-century Ephesus as normative for all time, and the concept of Scripture as the foundation for ethical thought is not limited to the cultural context of that era.
Good Leadership is Similar
Regardless of whether leadership, as it is practiced, is Scripturally-based Christian leadership, or some other of the myriad varieties that are regularly employed throughout the world, good leadership continues to have some elements in common. When describing leaders at their best, Kouzes & Posner (2012) list these five practices that epitomize exemplary leadership; the ability to model the way forward, to inspire a shared vision, to challenge existing processes, to enable others to act, and to encourage the heart of organizational stakeholders. Despite these similarities, Bazerman & Tenbrunsel (2011) argue that traditional approaches to ethics lack an understanding of the unintended yet predictable cognitive patterns that result in unethical behavior. They consistently identify gaps (at both the personal and organizational levels) between desired behavior and actual behavior.
Good Leadership is Different
Unlike the useful model for theological reflection proposed by Wesley in the 1800s, modern leadership has almost wholly removed Scripture as the foundation of ethical thought. The critique of contemporary leadership approaches includes negative impacts regarding both consequences and virtues. Carmy (2010) raises an important disadvantage regarding the number of possible leadership roles that are available to a leader; “a person who has successfully molded his or her character for one role may not be leading a morally good life if he or she ends up in another one.” In his view, character may mean something very different depending on the position or circumstances of the individual making the decision.
When it comes to the apparent decline if virtue, Meawad (2016) decries that “Scriptural referencing among Christians has at its best been scarcely utilized and at its worst misused.” In his view, the unstated yet nearly universal presupposition in scientific ethics today is merely consequentialist. After giving several specific examples of health care professionals who continue to smoke and overeat despite knowing it is bad for health concludes that "since simple knowledge of consequences is often insufficient to actualize ethical change, a more rigorous analysis that takes into account human particularity seems not only better but also more urgent.” It is becoming clear that training in ethics requires both deontological and virtue-based ethics, in addition, it needs to incorporate the concept of bounded ethicality (Bazerman & Tenbrunsel, 2011) which focuses on the psychological processes that lead even good people to engage in ethically questionable behavior that contradicts their preferred ethics.