It must have been tough for him. Taking the senior position with so many detractors and unfair criticisms would rankle any of us. His predecessor had publicly predicted his certain failure. He lacked all the usual credentials people had come to expect. His resume revealed a pattern of steady job turnovers. His communication style was corny and common. He didn't even look the part. He was poorly dressed. His arms and feet had outgrown his long, lanky body. His hands were the size of dinner plates. His wrinkled and outdated clothes didn't fit. If ever someone needed a large dose of curb appeal, this was the man. Failure was a foregone conclusion.
But wait, I'm not describing a pastor taking his first pulpit, but rather Abraham Lincoln beginning his run as our nation's sixteenth president.
Of all the presidents who have ever served, none was handed such impossible tasks. None faced more incredible odds. None had better reasons to fail. And yet, none is regarded as great as Lincoln.
How bad was it, you ask? Well, America was literally falling apart. All signs of restoration were fading fast. Within days of taking his oath of office, Lincoln watched as:
*Seven states seceded from the Union to form The Confederate States of America, seizing all Federal agencies, forts, and arsenals within their territory.
*Jefferson Davis was sworn in as the President of the new Confederacy.
*The U.S. House of Representatives tabled a bill that would have empowered Lincoln to call on the State Militias to defend the Union against the threatening Southern troops.
*The Senate passed a resolution demanding that the War Department reduce military spending.
*Outgoing President James Buchanan left Washington D.C. saying he was to be "the final president of the United States."
*Rumors abounded that Lincoln would be shot, and the city razed, at his inauguration.
And you thought your first pastorate was tough.
To make matters worse for Lincoln, the press was in a foul mood. New York and Washington papers viciously attacked him. Their poisoned-pens called Lincoln a grotesque baboon, a 3rd rate country lawyer, a course vulgar joker, a dictator, an ape, a buffoon.
Abraham Lincoln may not have fit the political mold, but America didn't need another politician, it needed leadership. A hot-air filibuster was not the answer. They needed a visionary with a plan. The country had ills that placebo politics couldn't cure.
Never before or since has one American president been asked to preserve such a fragmented nation. Lincoln alone would be the architect. Armed with only 16,000 poorly trained, poorly equipped men under the command of a semi-retired general, Lincoln had to start from scratch. His nationwide search for leadership is now legendary. He looked for self-starters who were change-oriented. Only strategic thinkers would be considered. Candidates would be graded on results, not activity. Rank was superseded by performance. Lincoln wanted someone who craved responsibility. Someone who believed risk and destiny were synonyms. And most importantly, he wanted someone who made things happen. It took three years and ten generals to find Ulysses S. Grant, but once he did, victory was imminent.
Building a winning team is a science. Finding, training and empowering the right people tell volumes about a leader. Even in the scriptures, it wasn't how many followers that determined success, but the devotion with which they served. It wasn't a room filled with nodding heads that defined a leader's impact, but pro-active lives. Jesus' twelve revolutionized the world. David's mighty men risked their lives to preserve the Messianic line. Gideon's 300 soldiers routed the massive Midian army. Nehemiah's fighting bricklayers rebuilt Jerusalem's walls while defending the nation. Jehoshaphat's choir sang their way to victory over Moab's war machine. Big numbers have rarely been God's modus operandi in fulfilling His plan. A God that size doesn't need numbers.
It's likely you do not have big numbers, either. The size of your team may seem woefully inadequate to accomplish His work. But you do have a faithful few. For the best of leaders, that's all it takes. Greatness has never been in the many, but in the few who saw what most could not see.