The Virtuous Leader: Teaching Leadership in Theological Schools -- By: Glenn T. Miller

Journal: Faith and Mission
Volume: FM 09:1 (Fall 1991)
Article: The Virtuous Leader: Teaching Leadership in Theological Schools
Author: Glenn T. Miller

The Virtuous Leader:
Teaching Leadership in Theological Schools

Glenn T. Miller

Professor of Church History
Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary

John R. Sampey (1863–1945), Professor of Hebrew and President of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, often regaled his students, colleagues, and friends with stories about Robert E. Lee. To Sampey, Lee was a paragon of Southern manhood, a matchless strategist in war, and a model gentleman in peace. Above all, Lee was a Christian whose relationship with God defined his character. Sampey’s daughter, with only a hint of exaggeration, stated: “...Lee is his hero, and he has read and studied so much about him that some people even say he has grown to resemble in appearance that great Southerner.”1

In telling the stories of Lee, Sampey—influenced by Carlyle’s idea of the hero—was teaching leadership. Sampey wanted his students and fellow teachers to see their circumstances through the eyes of Lee. Once they had done so, Sampey hoped that they might have a new viewpoint on the situation. Then the leaders might persuade the others to act. Sampey’s form of leadership training was effective. Sampey’s students guided Southern Baptists through the harsh period of the 1920s, ‘30s, and ‘40s when resources were scarce and needs were great.

An Ancient Tradition

Sampey’s choice of a military leader as an exemplar of leadership was no accident. War has always required commanders, and the practice of arms has provided people in other endeavors with helpful metaphors and images. Ancient educators, drawing on the Homeric poems, defined leadership as aret* (virtue).2 The virtues or excellencies were those personal characteristics, such as bravery, that enabled a person to seize the reins in a time of crisis. Others recognized the virtuous person as their leader because they discerned excellence in his actions and demeanor.

Aristotle changed the direction of this tradition significantly. In his Nicomachean Ethics,3 Aristotle set forth an understanding of virtue appropriate to the leader who was a citizen of a polis or city. Aristotle’s version of the virtues replaced some values of war with habits of civility. Yet, the basic model remained. Aristotle retained the conviction that leadership and character were one. Like other ancient educators, Aristotle assumed that people followed those whose personal qualities were proper to their role.

Although Aristotle assumed that the virtues we...

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