In Simon Walker’s The Undefended Leader trilogy, Walker seeks to lay out various challenges found within leadership. In the study of leadership, the question is often trying to discern a definition of leadership that is both applicable and makes sense. Walker writes, “Leadership is about who you are, not what you know or what skills you have. Why is this? There are two reasons: Leadership is about trust and it is about power.” As I reflect on the leaders who have had a major impact on my life, I would I can see the reality of this statement. Leadership without trust devolves into coercion, which creates unhealthy environments for all involved.
The leader who has had the strongest impact on my life is my former pastor in Kentucky, Charles Linhart. Charlie was the one who presented many opportunities for me within the church growing up: He gave me the opportunity to preach for the first time when I was 16, he encouraged me to look into the university I attended for my undergrad, and was always willing to listen and provide advice about ministry. Although I always respected Charlie growing up, it wasn’t until I traveled to Jamaica with him on a mission team from my church that I truly appreciated the man he is.
Charlie and his wife, Lavon, were missionaries in Jamaica during the 80s. Our denomination, the General Baptists, used to run an orphanage there until the government closed it down and put all of the kids into foster care. One evening, our team was sitting out on the beach talking and we asked Charlie about his time in Jamaica. We had always known he served in Jamaica, but had never actually asked him about his experience. He told us about the kids at Faith Home and some fun stories about befriending the local drug dealer (who became the protector of Faith Home) and sharing goat’s head soup with airport officials in order to gain access to supplies being flown in from the US. But one story struck me more than any other: The time Charlie had a contract on his head to be killed.
Charlie explained that the president at the time spoke on national television about how the United States wouldn’t hesitate to use foreign missionaries as spies. In the blink of an eye, the relationships that Charlie and Lavon had built in Jamaica were gone as they were put under watch as prospective spies. Charlie soon found out that the Jamaican government had put out a contract to have him killed. Charlie called the General Baptist headquarters and was asking HQ what he should do. They told him, “You need to get out. It isn’t worth staying; you can always come back later.”
But Charlie felt God’s prompting that this wasn’t what he was supposed to do. He argued with God, saying that they thought he was a spy and that he was going to be killed. He was alone; no one would come to his aid in this. In the midst of this turmoil, God spoke to him and he came to a realization. He looked me in the eye and said to me, “Dylan, I realized in that moment that one day I’m going to die. That’s the simple fact of life. The question for me wasn’t whether or not I would die, but if I was willing to die serving God. So I decided to stay.”
Tears welled in my eyes as he explained that as soon as he made his decision, he discovered he wasn’t alone. The relationships he had built went to bat for him. He said, “They went to the government offices and told them, ‘This man has never taken anything from us. He has only given and at great personal cost. We can vouch that he isn’t a spy.” Because of the trust that Charlie built among the people of Jamaica, the government took the contract off of his head and they continued their ministry in Jamaica.
Trust is the all important factor of leadership. Too often we try to lead out of who we think we should be rather than who we are. How can expect people who follow us to trust us when we don’t trust ourselves to lead as ourselves? It’s so easy to put on a mask of leadership, but it’s exhausting to keep it on. It’s exhausting pretending to be someone you aren’t. But part of that reality is the idealistic notion we have of leaders and refusing to let them let their guards down.
This is why it’s so important to have a network of people to whom a leader can process what’s happening. Leadership is lonely. In my previous organization, it used to be that all of the team leaders kept to themselves and did not have people to process the conflicts their teams were facing. However, toward the end of my time a great effort was made to connect the team leaders. This gave us a chance to process and to show that we were not alone in our struggles. To this day, I have a small group of friends who are in leadership positions and we make an effort to check in with one another. Alone, we may be undefended. But just as Jonathan’s armor bearer had his back no matter the circumstance, so we to should find an armor bearer to protect us as well.
*The photo was taken in 2012 during our second trip to Jamaica together. Featured, from left to right, my friend Daniel, myself (let’s all take a moment to mourn the bowl cut and thank God for growth), and Pastor Charlie.
 Simon P. Walker, Leading Out of Who You Are, Carlisle: Piquant Editions Ltd (2007), loc 202.
 For the entirety of their story, you can check out Lavon’s book, Memoirs of a Missionary Mom.
 This is the orphanage the General Baptists ran in Jamaica. The orphanage has now been relocated to San Pedro Sula, Honduras.
 It should also be noted that according to Charlie, at this time Jamaica was considered one of the most dangerous places to live as it had an extremely high death per capita rate.
 See 1 Samuel 14.