Leadership Vows: Intelligence

By Uli Chi

June 2, 2018

It is the glory of God to conceal a matter;
to search out a matter is the glory of kings.

Proverbs 25:2


Reality is complicated. God hides much of the created world from view. It takes energy and intelligence to see below the surface of things, “to search out a matter.” This is particularly true for the work of leadership, where we deal not only with the complexity of the physical world but with a created web of personal and institutional relationships. It is difficult to follow Jesus’s command to “stop judging by mere appearances, but instead judge correctly” (John 7:24). One of the key promises we make as leaders is to be discerning and wise. How do we live up to that commitment?

A fresco of the Judgment of Solomon in Wallfahrtskirche Frauenberg, Frauenberg, Styria, Austria.

A fresco of the Judgment of Solomon in Wallfahrtskirche Frauenberg, Frauenberg, Styria, Austria (CC BY-SA 3.0)

To begin with, I find it helpful to be reminded that intelligence is an embodied trait. Biblical wisdom and discernment are not concerned with insights and ideas for their own sake. Insights and ideas matter, of course. But they matter precisely because they affect how we live. We need wisdom and discernment to know how to live well. Because how we are to live isn’t always obvious, because God in his glory hides much from view, and because “to search out a matter is the glory of kings,” we need to learn to “serve the people with intelligence.”

The good news is that we are not left alone. God has provided us the Scriptures and the Spirit to guide our work as lead servants. But even these require intelligence of us. How we read and interpret Scripture and how we understand and interpret the movement of the Spirit require thoughtful engagement and discernment on our part. Understanding Scripture is often hard work. As the Apostle Peter commented on the Apostle Paul’s writings, “His letters contain some things that are hard to understand.” (2 Peter 3:16) Similarly, being wise in spiritual matters requires that we “do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God.” (1 John 4:1)

And we are not left alone in another sense. Intelligence and insight, wisdom and discernment, are found in community, not in isolation. In our contemporary context, it is easy to view intelligence as an individual characteristic. But Scripture reminds us that wisdom is given to the community to encourage mutuality and interdependence. So, serving the people with intelligence means, in part at least, recognizing the wisdom given to the people we are leading. It’s easy to be caught up with our own cleverness as leaders rather than acknowledging the intelligence given to others in the community. This is particularly so when the wisdom of others comes in forms different from our own.

Finally, serving the people with intelligence commits us to develop our craft as leaders. As Max De Pree has reminded us, leadership is an art. As an art, it requires continuous attention and practice. Given the demands of modern life, it’s easy to stop growing and learning as a leader, especially if we’ve been in the same role for a long time. Over time, our developed competency creates the illusion that learning is no longer necessary. Nevertheless, whether we realize it or not, the leadership challenges we face keep evolving and are endlessly challenging. Fulfilling our vows as lead servants demands that “our head is in the game.” In other words, we must do the hard work of developing and engaging our capacity for insight, wisdom, and discernment, and thereby serve the people we lead with intelligence.

Something to Do:

Take some time to reflect on ways in which God has gifted the team you lead with intelligence, insight, wisdom, and discernment. How are these gifts realized in their day-to-day work? How are these gifts different from your own? Which are you more likely to acknowledge and which are you more likely to miss? Find a practical way to affirm and recognize the latter gifts in the coming week.


“O Sapientia” by Malcolm Guite (which you can hear recited by the author here)

I cannot think unless I have been thought,
Nor can I speak unless I have been spoken;
I cannot teach except as I am taught,
Or break the bread except as I am broken.
O Mind behind the mind through which I seek,
O Light within the light by which I see,
O Word beneath the words with which I speak,
O founding, unfound Wisdom, finding me,
O sounding Song whose depth is sounding me,
O Memory of time, reminding me,
My Ground of Being, always grounding me,
My Maker’s bounding line, defining me:
Come, hidden Wisdom, come with all you bring,
Come to me now, disguised as everything.



Explore more at the Theology of Work Project online commentary:
The Wise Worker is Shrewd (Proverbs)

Uli Chi

Board Member, Senior Fellow, Affiliate Professor

Dr. Uli Chi’s career is a testament to his unique approach to leadership. He has navigated the realms of for-profit businesses, nonprofit organizations, the theological academy, and the local church, gleaning a wealth of wisdom from each. As an award-winning technological entrepreneur, h...

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