Four12 article image for 'A Lesson In Leadership' about two lessons we can learn from the life and leadership of John F. Kennedy

A Lesson in Leadership

It was quiet as they swam, except for the grunting of their commander. He couldn’t say anything to his crew, because he was swimming with a strap between his teeth. He’d done his talking earlier, right after their patrol torpedo boat, PT-109, had been rammed and sunk by a Japanese destroyer. Two crewmen were dead, ten remained. They were alone in the Pacific waters of the Solomon Islands without a boat, and it was 1943, right in the thick of World War 2. Capture was inevitable, death was preferable, but there was one other option: swim. Swim for an island five kilometers away and hope they aren’t spotted. And so they swam in silence, their commander pulling a badly burned crewman behind him by clenching the man’s life jacket strap in his teeth.

He had soaked himself in a sense of purpose, calling and destiny.

As they swam, his body screamed with each stroke. It was his back – he’d ruptured a spinal disk. He’d had a bad back (and basically a bad body) since he was a boy, spending days, weeks, months, flat on his back in a hospital bed, while others ran, played, lived. But he’d read books. Stories of courage, acts of bravery and men who had made their mark on the world. He had soaked himself in a sense of purpose, calling and destiny. Not many saw it within him; even his own family had groomed his older brother to take the family name forward. His character would have to be forged through personal hardships and suffering.

And now he had his moment.

Somebody needed to swim again, under the cover of night, and try to flag a passing American torpedo boat.

They swam the five agonizing kilometers and hauled themselves ashore on a coral island, 90 meters in diameter with six palm trees on it, where they collapsed onto the beach. They were there, but still in a lot of trouble, needing to find someone on their side or risk being found by someone on the other one. Somebody needed to swim again, under the cover of night, and try to flag a passing American torpedo boat. The commander nominated himself, swimming out over the next two nights into the ocean passage with a waterproof flashlight, where he would tread water for hours, waiting, hoping. With no sightings, he and a crewman risked the swim to a nearby island where they found a canoe, some Japanese supplies and two local islanders who’d come to gather coconuts. An SOS message was etched into a coconut shell and carried by the locals, who returned the next day with a message from an Australian coast watcher: help was on its way. The commander and his ten crewmen were injured and weak, but they’d been saved.

He carried on fighting the war before being hospitalised for his back injury, then sent home as a hero. His name was John F. Kennedy, and he went on to become the 35th president of the United States. The coconut shell was used as a paperweight on his desk in the Oval Office.

 

Lessons from Kennedy’s Leadership

Kennedy was a complex man, but a brave one. He lived during one of the most eventful, volatile, tipping-point periods of modern history, literally preventing a global nuclear war in 1962 by the sheer strength of his ability to negotiate with his Soviet Union counterpart. He died far too young, at 46, at the end of an assassin’s bullet, but was an inspirational leader by any metric.

Living for God’s kingdom.. requires boldness, a willingness to sacrifice, and the desire to do something for the good of others.

Living for God’s kingdom on this earth requires bravery and leadership. It requires boldness, a willingness to sacrifice, and the desire to do something for the good of others. It requires action, not just talk. We look to Jesus as our great commander, but I believe we can also take courage and learn lessons from people who have made great contributions to others on this earth. John F. Kennedy was such a man, and his leadership speaks to us in two ways.

1. He Led Selflessly

Firstly, he led by acting selflessly. On his boat, he’d been given a job to do, which was to fight bravely and get his men home safely. He was a man under orders and with a responsibility, and in his moment of truth, he took action. He did not ask anyone to do anything that he was not willing to do himself, and made the most difficult tasks his own. We live in a generation where the primary goal seems to be avoiding that very thing – an environment where we’re encouraged to rise to a place of prominence so that we can avoid undesirable workloads. But this is not the way of the kingdom. After all, Jesus took the lead in unwanted jobs, washing feet (John 13:1-17) and even physically protecting His disciples (John 18:8-9). Why was Jesus exalted to the highest place after His resurrection? According to Philippians 2:5-11, it was because He obeyed His instructions, submitting to God humbly and leading selflessly. The result? Twelve disciples were transformed from timid, skittish runaways into brave, sacrificial men under His leadership. Jesus modeled it, and it called those He led into the same lifestyle.

2. He Expected Participation

Secondly, Kennedy unashamedly required people to serve. ‘And so, my fellow Americans,’ he said during his inaugural speech, ‘ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.’ It’s a famous quote today, but while he was campaigning, the idea was revolutionary. Most politicians enter public office on the promise of benefits for all who support them, but Kennedy called on people to contribute, to sacrifice, to serve. And guess what? It didn’t burden people – it emboldened them. It gave the nation a sense of purpose. It stirred up something in them that was meant to be activated. He knew that people are made to be useful in service of a greater cause – to do something that benefits others – and he was unafraid to ask for it.

We were built to expend effort for the sake of others, and when leaders mobilise us into action, we come into a new sense of meaning in life.

It should be the same in the kingdom of God. As we take the lead in selfless serving, we should give people the gift of envisioning them as to the beauty of purposing their lives for the greater good of others. Jesus required His disciples to feed the five thousand (Matthew 14:16) and sent people into towns (Luke 10:1-23). He modeled service and then unapologetically required it. They were doing it for Him because He’d asked them to, and when we answer the call to serve for our Lord Jesus, we find that He gives us energy and purpose. We were built to expend effort for the sake of others, and when leaders mobilise us into action, we come into a new sense of meaning in life.

John F. Kennedy was not any kind of spiritual leader or example of a man devoted to God, but we can learn something about leadership from him. He took his moment. It was the opportunity to be brave and to lead by example, and it caused him to bring the same out of others. We live with the potential to do the same – the chance to lead by doing, to serve without complaint, to sacrifice for something bigger. But our opportunity is not for an earthly nation or a political cause. It’s for the King of all kings and for the cause of His gospel.

Let’s take courage, and take our moment.


Image Copyright: chrisdorney / 123RF Stock Photo


Shaun played punk rock for a living, worked for a chicken company, and then wrote copy for adverts. Now he’s a full-time pastor leading a congregation in Oxygen Life Church in Gqeberha. He is married to Sammy Jane and they have two children. Follow him on Facebook for more.

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Church Health
False Teachers
Fatherly Love
Tongues
Goats
Fear God
Godly Love
Body of Christ
Authority
Faithfulness
Holy Spirit Baptism
Patience
Teaching
Character of a Deacon
Grief
Compromise
Blueprint
Character
Addiction
Pornography
Signs
Christening
Starting A Church
Parents
Poverty
Study the Word
Stewarding
Punishment
Being Hospitable
Sharing The Gospel
Restoration
Training Kids
Malawi
Leading Youth
Surrender
Testimonies
Christ
Delegating
Servant
Social Gospel
Character of God
Worth
Gift of Tongues
Godly Elders
Big Churches
Salvations
Sacrificial Love
Baptism
Fear of God
Hospitality
Peace
The Bible
Church Leaders
Hardship
Fellowship
Holy Living
Character of an Elder
Adultery
Rebelling
Signs and Wonders
Baptise
Infant Baptism
Power
Possessions
Study the Bible
Steward
Hatred
Hospitable
Spreading The Gospel
Relationships
Training Children
Health
Youth Training
Counting the Cost
Healing Equip
books
Raising Leaders
Shepherds
Contentment
God's Character
Affirmation
Judaism
Enlightenment
Building Deep
Prostitution
Godly Team
Breaking Bread
Festivals
Idolatry
Prayer and Fasting
Theology
Foundations
Heaven
Fellowship of Believers
Leading Church
Diversity
Church Accountability
Rebellion
Witchcraft
Baby Christian
Kassie du Plessis
Protector
Tithing
Envy
Quiet Times
Retaliation
Lessons
Spreading The Word
Cheating
Training Teenagers
Cancer
Youth Ministry
Following the Call
Four12 Equip
Eldership Training
Community Leading
Pastors
Rest
Sacrificial Serving
Sonship
Jewish
Reason
Selling Out
Prostitutes
honour
favour
Children
Forgiveness
Income
Prophetic
Tithes
Helper
Illness
Principles
Living for Christ
Government
Discipling
Sancti
Words of Knowledge
Babies
Prayer
Sexual Purity
Christmas
Jealousy
Meditation
Promises
Loss
The Cross
Persecution
Unfaithfulness
Sacrifice
Brazil
Prophetic Training
Healing Conference
Identity
Small Group
Biblical Pattern
Systematic Theology
False Gospel
Testimony Apostolic
Jews
Reasoning
Watering Down
Reaching Out
Christian Character
Generosity
Jesus
Purity
Trust
Helps
Mortality
Christian Family Values
Lukewarm
Home Group Leaders
Exhort
Sanctification
Dominionism
Beliefs
Praying
Celibacy
Fathers
Comparison
Training
Bible Study
Tests
Cross
Fear of Man
Find Forgiveness
Sacrificial Service
Brazil Churches
Prophetic Equip
Voice of God
Team
Home Group
Change
Servant Leadership
Apostolic Leaders
Authentic
Religions
Intellectual Pride
Ambition
Fruitfulness
God's Favour
Christian Living
Gentleness
Joy
Repentance
Unity
Loving People
Infirmity
Family Values
Righteousness
Leading
Exhortation
Self-Righteousness
Kingdom of God
Commands
Provision
Sex Before Marriage
Mothering
Women in Leadership
Halloween
Honesty
Testing
Crucifixion
Conversion
Guilt
Sacrificial Giving
Church Merger
Equipping
Saints
Leadership Team
Priesthood
Jehovah's Witnesses
Women In Ministry
Fruit of the Spirit
Womens Ministry
Messiah
Mind Idolatry
Megachurch
Biblical Paradox
Honouring God
Church Leadership
Church Life
Giving
Kindness
Revival
Water Baptism
Servant Heart
Living for Jesus
Covenantal Relationships
Division
Accusation
Flesh
Sexual Sin
Scripture
Customs
Provider
Living for God
Mothers
Female Leaders
Calling
Christian Fellowship
Backsliding
Easter
Witnessing
Infidelity
Biblical Culture
Merging Churches
Prophetic Equipping
Gift of Prophecy
Apostle
Priesthood of All Believers
Finance
Servanthood
Biblical Church
Praise
Atheism
Church History
Living the Gospel
Paradoxes in the Bible
Honouring People
Church Planting
Community Leaders
God the Father
Leaders
Salvation
Women
Afterlife
Protection
Dating
Decisions
Eldership
Fleshly Desires
Shame
Truth
Traditions
Works
Morality
Wisdom
Women Leaders
Ordaining Elders
Christian Community
Backslidden
Resurrection
Testimony
Masturbation
Communal Culture
Partnering Churches
Prophesy
New Churches
Five Fold Gift
Trinity
Tithe
Relationship
Employment
Thanksgiving
Atheists
Old Testament Prophet
Ambassadors
Truth in Tension
contradictions
Treasure Hunting
treasure
Deacons
Culture
Good News
Maturity
Self-Control
Word of Knowledge
Bitterness
Self-Pity
Courting
Forgiving
Anger
Freedom
Submission
Gifts of the Spirit
Get Baptised
Works and Faith
Morals
Gift of Wisdom
Females in Leadership
Ordaining
Defence
Commitment
Hearing God
Consequences
Receive Forgiveness
Leadership Training
Living Hope
Zimbabwe
Start a Church
Prophet
New Believers
Being Generous
Study Scripture
Jobs
Entitlement
Misotheists
New Testament Prophet
Work Values
Family
Devotion
Goodness
Men
Serving
Word of Wisdom
Brokenness
Sickness
Courtship
Friendship
Church Plant
Hope
Trusting
Gifts
Baptized
Fasting
Overcomer
Words of Wisdom
Leadership
Encounter
Repenting
Challenges
Listening
Caring for Children
Four12 Partners
Training Leaders
St Johns
Relief Fund
Building Church
Evangelist
Dreams
Communion
Being Accountable
Occupation
Rejection
Misotheism
The Case for Christ
Kingdom Priorities
Biblical Contradictions
Movement
Love
Discernment
Gospel
Mercy
Shepherding
Work
Caring
Suicide
Desires
Lies
Fathering
Vulnerability
Accountable
The Apostolic
Kids
Intercession
Singleness
Fear
lead
Life
Repent
Anxiety
Obey
Child Care
Four12 Partner
Volunteer
Taiwan Church
Israel
Healthy Church
Teacher
Multi-site Church
Perseverance
Loving Others
Profession
Social Media
Hopelessness
Lee Strobel
Kingdom Living
Refining Fire
God's Glory
Marriage
Discipleship
Grace
Ministry
Sin
Worship
Confusion
Trials
Husbands
Offence
Humility
Idols
Pride
Evangelising
Obedient
Christian Leadership
Singles
Healing
Direction
Revelation
Conviction
Complacency
Recalibration
Guidance
Transformation
Volunteering
Taiwan Churches
Providence
New Testament Church
Pastor
Church Structure
Feminism
Apostolic Partnership
Vocations
Distractions
Christian Books
Christian Movies
Covenantal Love
Storms of Life
resilience
steadfastness
uncompromising
Four12 Conference

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