• Jerry Starling

  • Search by Category

  • Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

    Join 554 other followers

  • Pages

  • Blog Stats

    • 451,052 hits
  • Recent Posts

  • Recent Comments

    Observations and Que… on Problem Texts: Mark 16:9-20…
    Alex Wiens on Why Did God Send Abraham…
    Kevin on QUESTION: Who Was Pharaoh Duri…
    Jerry Starling on QUESTION: Where Does the Bible…
    Lenin Dorsey on QUESTION: Where Does the Bible…
  • Top Posts

  • November 2009
    S M T W T F S
    « Oct   Dec »
  • Archives

  • Advertisements

LEADERSHIP (13) – Discipline: the Basis of Leadership

Old Fashioned Discipline

Old Fashioned Discipline

When a cadet enters a military academy, the objective is to make a leader. One develops leadership by first making a disciplined person. Only a person under discipline can effectively give discipline to another person. A parent in a rage may “discipline” a child – but such undisciplined discipline is ineffective. In fact, it is not true discipline at all, but just a destructive outburst that does no good and much harm.


Solomon wrote, “Better a patient man than a warrior, a man who controls his temper than one who takes a city” (Proverbs 16:32).

In a “leadership” letter to Timothy, Paul said, “God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline” (2 Timothy 1:7). His letter to Titus also stressed the need for self-control among elders, all older men, the older women who teach younger women, and in younger men (Titus 1:7-8; 2:2, 5-6). Self-control or self-discipline is a necessary trait in a Christian leader.

The book of Proverbs associates wisdom and discipline – and is written so that one may acquire “a disciplined and prudent life” (Proverbs 1:2-3, 7). Hatred of discipline is there contrasted with the fear of the Lord.


What is discipline? At one level, we use the word to mean punishment, particularly punishment meant for character development. On a higher level, the word refers to the inner control of the disciplined person – not to external control at all. In a Christian sense we may say that a disciplined person is one whose heart and spirit are under the control of the Spirit of God (see Romans 8:5-11). That is, like the well-trained military cadet, we are “disciplined” leaders when our higher code of conduct regulates our mind-set and actions.

Psychiatrist M. Scott Peck, M.D. has described four tools the disciplined person uses to solve problems. He identifies these as (1) delay of gratification, (2) acceptance of responsibility, (3) dedication to truth and (4) balancing or giving up one thing to gain something else [The Road Less Travelled (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1979), pp. 15-77]. Though Dr. Peck approaches these as psychiatric tools, there are definite Christian applications of his analysis of discipline.


Patience is another word for “delay of gratification.” Babies demand instant gratification; the mature, disciplined person acts today for future satisfaction. This involves having the patience to seek solutions instead of turning away in despair. The patient person can endure through hardship because he looks beyond present difficulties to a future goal. Paul discounted “light and momentary trouble” in view of “an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18). This is what keeps us from giving up our objectives when we do not reach them immediately.

This is the missing quality in many “conflict” situations, both in the home and in the church. When things are not going very well, it is too easy to give up instead of working them out. When a marriage hits some rocky spots, you have an opportunity to grow to greater levels of intimacy – but you must work through the difficulties. When times of conflict arise in a church, many members are ready to “bail out” and find another congregation. It is, however, through such times of “struggle” that we enter into the kingdom of God. See Acts 14:22, “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.”

Patience also keeps us working when we do not achieve our goal immediately. “Rome was not built in a day” is not Scripture, but it is true. What does it mean? Simply that a worthwhile thing usually takes more than a day or two to complete. You can throw a lean-to or shanty together very quickly; it takes longer to build a solid house.

What this means in both home and church is that character and commitment both grow when we exercise the patience to get through times of questioning, difficulty and discouragement. One of the marks of increasing maturity in a child is the ability to stick to a difficult task and see it through to completion.


The disciplined person takes responsibility for what is under his control – namely his own actions and choices. Peck distinguishes between a neurotic, who thinks everything is his fault, and a person with a character defect, who blames everything on someone else.

The Alcoholics Anonymous prayer is appropriate here: “Lord, give me the strength to change the things I can change, the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, and the wisdom to know the difference.” My college roommate, Paul Tarrence, used to say, “There are only two things you never need worry about: things you can not help (don’t worry – that doesn’t change it) and things you can help (don’t worry – do something to change it).

You do not need to bemoan the things you cannot help. When other people make choices that you decry, do not think you are responsible for those choices. If you have been the “watchman” to warn of danger and the other person went into danger anyway, do not beat yourself up. You have done what you could. Do not make yourself miserable playing the “woulda, coulda, shoulda” game.

This is just another way of saying that we are not to feel guilty for someone else’s action or choice. Jesus took the guilt of the world to the cross, but he does not ask us to crucify ourselves for someone else’s guilt. Learn to distinguish between what you can and cannot help. Do something about the things you can change; forget the things you cannot change. This is a true application of discipline.

Some elders beat themselves up because of hard-hearts in the church that refuse to repent. Parents do the same over their children. While love breaks our heart when those we love refuse the way of the Lord, we do not need to think we are responsible for what they do. Jesus was sorry when the rich, young ruler walked away from Him (Mark 10:17-23). Yet, He did not run after him, nor did He blame Himself for the other man’s choice.

On the other hand, we do need to accept responsibility for what we have actually done. Shifting blame is as old as sin in the human race. When God confronted Adam with his sin, Adam blamed Eve (and even God himself for having given her to him!). Eve blamed the serpent, and the serpent had no one to blame! God was not having it though. Adam and Eve each had to bear their share of the blame for what they had done (Genesis 3:11-24). So must we.

We must also accept responsibility for action that is in our power. When we can act to right a wrong but avoid the responsibility, we are responsible.

James wrote, “Therefore, to him who knows to do good and does it not, it is sin” (James 4:17). It is not enough to say, “How was I to know?” or “It’s not my job.” We must accept responsibility when it is in our power to act – and do something. This also is a true application of discipline.


Disciplined people do not live in a fool’s paradise. They are committed to knowing the realities that surround them and acting accordingly. We can change some aspects of our surroundings – if we recognize them and face them with purposeful action. Faith can move mountains – but not by denying the mountains are there or by refusing to take responsible, purposeful action to move the mountains. Mountains do not move themselves.

Dedication to truth is sometimes painful. It demands critical self-analysis and examination of one’s belief system. Think, for example, of Peter’s vision just before the men from Cornelius appeared at his gate (Acts 10:9-17). The suggestion that he eat unclean flesh pained Peter. His action in going to the Gentiles pained his brethren. They had to re-evaluate their belief system. Later, Peter again had to re-evaluate his actions in light of his new doctrinal acceptance of Gentiles (Galatians 2:22-26). Intellectual acceptance of Gentiles as fellow Christians and emotional acceptance of fellowship with them as brothers in Christ were two different things.

Commitment to truth is both doctrinal and practical. I must seek true doctrine, but I must also live in keeping with that truth. True principles and true actions go hand in hand; these are two sides of one coin – and the name of that coin is integrity. Without integrity, there can be no discipline. Every disciplined person is a person of integrity, truth, honor and reliability. The core values of the disciplined person accurately chart his course of action.

It is easy for us to accept tradition as truth. It is difficult to critically examine “what we have always believed” – especially when serious study of the Word of God shows some flaws in what we believe. Yet, integrity demands that we, like the men of Berea, “search the Scriptures daily to see if those things are so” (Acts 17:11). This often means that some who still hold the flawed tradition may have problems with us, just as the Jews had problems with the early Christians who accepted the Lordship of Jesus. Yet, if we really believe Jesus is Lord we must follow Him instead of our tradition.

This is what following Jesus means. He said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32). Jesus tied discipleship to truth. To follow Jesus is to love truth and hold Him dearly, for He said, “I am. . . the truth” (John 14:6). (See my post, What Is Truth?)

Buy the truth and do not sell it; Get wisdom, discipline and understanding. –Proverbs 23:23.


Balancing is the element in discipline that enables us to “give up” one value for another that is greater and mutually exclusive. The disciplined person realizes he cannot eat his cake and still have it. If he wants to keep the cake, he will not eat it; if he chooses to eat it, he will not count on still having it.

This takes place when a person becomes a Christian. This is what is involved in counting the cost of discipleship, in dying to sin and living to righteousness. This lets a person evaluate the question, “What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?” (Matthew 16:26).

If this “balancing” of conflicting desires occurs when one becomes a Christian, it also occurs daily as we mature in Christ. We evaluate various courses of action – and choose the one that gives the greatest value.

For example, in 1 Corinthians 15:30ff Paul asked, “Why do we endanger ourselves every hour?” His answer is that daily danger is acceptable in view of the coming resurrection. This has greater value than present safety with no resurrection. Romans 8:13 has a similar message: Living by the flesh gives one result; living by the Spirit gives a different result. The disciplined person evaluates and “values” the results – and chooses between them according to their respective values, not according to the impulses of the moment. This, too, is a significant part of discipline.

Paul’s life as a disciple provides an excellent example of what “balancing” is all about. When he was in prison for preaching, he was able to endure the hardship of the moment because he balanced it against the greater value. The palace guards heard the gospel; others were bolder in preaching the gospel. To Paul, being in prison did not count for much beside these greater values (Philippians 1:12-14). It would literally have been harder for him to deny his Lord than to suffer martyrdom. He valued his life, but he put less worth on it than on his relationship to Jesus. Yet, he even balanced his desire to be with the Lord against the needs of his brethren. Consider this classic passage where he bares his soul in balancing various alternatives:

If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith. . . . (Philippians 1:22-25).

Paul valued his life, but he put less worth on it than on his eternal relationship with Jesus.

Going back to the ongoing search for truth and accepting it even if it must replace a flawed tradition, there is need for balancing here as well. How do I hold to the new things I learn? Do I forget the fellowship and love I have with and for people who still hold the flawed tradition and demand they too reject it? Or do I deal with them gently. Do I bear with them when I can do so without violating my own conscience, or do I throw my new understandings in their face? The example of the Lord teaches me patience with others – at least as long as they are teachable. He also shows me there is a time to leave those steeped in tradition and go forward without them, if they are obstinate. Maturity and discipline will make that determination with great care and much prayer.

Think of how the principle of balance enables a mother to give up hours of sleep to comfort and care for a sick child. She cherishes the child and its comfort more than she prizes her sleep. When we see parents who neglect their children for the most trivial reasons, we cannot understand how anyone could do this. The answer, though, is that they have not learned to discipline themselves by evaluating and balancing conflicting values and desires. They have not found a good set of priorities within their own value system. They simply have not learned how to recognize the most important things and to put them first.

This is the same as people who go off half-cocked with every new discovery they make in Scripture. Yes, I need to continue to learn. I also need patience with all who have not yet had the opportunity to learn what I know. (I also need the humility to realize that it is entirely possible that what I think I know is not really true.)


These four inter-related traits will help us be self-controlled so that we in turn can lead others into the disciplined life of a disciple of Jesus. Discipline and discipleship go hand in hand. It is no accident that the first seven letters of each word are the same. For more on this, see the fifteen-part series on Discipleship on this blog.

These traits are but another way of describing maturity. The undisciplined person is like an infant and needs to grow up. Discipline lets us take the long view of life and its choices. It demands that we make choices based on realities, and that we make them based on a prioritized set of values. If all “wants” are equal, we cannot act in an objective way. If that is the case, we will constantly be “tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of doctrine” (Ephesians 4:14) or of passion and wisp of desire. We have all seen children who cannot make up their minds about anything. They go from this to that to the other – without sticking to anything long enough to accomplish much. This is understandable in children – but inappropriate in adults. A disciplined life will not have this kind of shifting and changing. Rather, deliberate and purposeful action will be followed that will lead to a valued goal. Leaders must have these qualities of discipline.





Without these, no leader can possibly be effective in the long term.


  1. Why must a leader be self-disciplined?
  2. Is self-discipline less than or more than self-control? Explain.
  3. Why does discipline mean delaying some things to gain other things?
  4. How can I accept responsibility for my choices? Why should I do so?
  5. Why is dedication to truth and reality painful? Is it ultimately more or less painful than living with half-truths or lies? Explain.
  6. Why does discipline demand giving up some things we may want?
  7. How does the concept of discipline fit into a successful marriage?
  8. Why must a parent have discipline before he can teach discipline to his children?
  9. Can you have financial stability without discipline in the getting and spending of money? Explain.
  10. Why is it necessary to be a disciplined person to be a true follower of Jesus?

PREVIOUS – (12) Christian Leadership in the Home

ADDENDUM: More on the Family: Developing Boys Into Men Who Lead


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: