Heat and pressure are two of the primary forces required to refine metal. These forces draw out the impurities of the metal. Leaders require refining too. But the heat and pressure that God uses in our lives to refine us as leaders are of a different sort than that required to refine metal.
A crucible is a pot in which molten metal is refined. Metaphorically, a crucible is an extreme test that God uses to refine us.
The crucible for silver and the furnace for gold, but the Lord tests the heart. Proverbs 17:3
Speak with the best leaders and they will tell you that God has used heat and pressure in their lives to refine them. The Scriptures tell the life stories of many great leaders and records how God refined them and the forces He used to do so. Men like Joseph, Moses, and David stand out as some of those great leaders.
Joseph’s journey to leadership rising from slave and inmate to second-in-command over all of Egypt is especially rich with wisdom for us. His life bears out four extreme tests that God used to refine him and cast him into the leader he became. Those four extreme tests are: rejection, suffering, temptation, and success.
As I reflect on great leaders of the Bible and present day, I’m hard-pressed to think of a leader who hasn’t experienced most if not all of these extreme tests in some form or another. Ultimately, we don’t seek after these tests—rather, they find us. Even success—though we long for it and work for it—often finds us when and where we least expect it.
Someone has said, “Turn and look behind you, if there’s no one following, then you’re not leading!” This statement is true—to a point. But in the life of every leader there will be those who reject their leadership no matter how great a leader they are.
A hallmark of Jesus’ leadership was that He is “the stone the builders rejected.” Joseph, Moses, and David all experienced rejection of their leadership by others. We sometimes reject our own leadership through feelings of inadequacy, failure, or false pride.
I think I can say with certainty that every leader experiences the test of suffering. And a leader who is a follower of Christ will suffer for His sake as well (Philippians 1:29). Suffering is the path to humility, deep faith, and refined character. Suffering is a rite of passage for any godly leader.
The world seeks privilege and power with leadership. The follower of Christ seeks to serve and promote others through leadership. We willingly suffer hardship for the cause of Christ and the benefit of those we serve.
Temptation comes to everyone. Resisting temptation helps maintain the integrity of the leader. In recent years, the notion has surfaced that one can lead well without moral moorings. The Bible rejects that as foolishness, for where can a leader without morals lead us?
The leader who is following Christ is subordinate to Him. Resisting temptation determines whether we are fit to lead. If we are rebelling against Christ, our Leader, then we are insubordinate and leading others into insubordination.
Success may be the granddaddy of all tests for the leader. Perhaps more leaders fail the success test than any of the other tests. We can “pass” the other three tests, meet with success and fall flat on our faces due to pride and self-love.
History bears out that proud leaders who seek to ride the wave of past successes are unfit for service and will eventually undermine their own leadership.
Merely experiencing these tests does not guarantee our refinement. Many fail the tests. It is not the tests themselves, but our response to the tests that determines their impact and value in our lives. Yet without the tests we cannot know how we would respond. That’s why these tests are so crucial to the development of a leader.
Also, fortunately for us all, God in His mercy and wisdom somehow grants us “do-overs.” True, some failed tests carry severe consequences that are not soon overcome. But the leader who fails can rebound through repentance, humility, and dependence on Christ.
The Apostle Paul, one of the great leaders of the early church wrote, “We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.” (Romans 5:3-4 ESV) May we respond well to these tests as we experience them and yield to God’s refining process.