A Warning to Pastors and Others Who Lead

[Dateline: October 15, 1950]

I’m reading a military history book. It was a national bestseller when Penguin Random House published it in 2018. Hampton Sides, the author, tells the epic story of “Chosin Reservoir—the Greatest Battle of the Korean War”. ON DESPERATE GROUND is a compelling read. This morning, I was in chapter 7 which recounts a secret meeting (at the time) between President Truman and General Douglas MacArthur on Wake Island. The President having requested the meeting, the two men had flown there to meet for the very first time. MacArthur arrived from Tokyo, Japan; the President arrived from Washington DC, after a 7,000 mile, multiple refuelings and days of travel.

They were going to discuss essentially one thing, what would China do if US and UN forces continued to press their recent advantage and drew closer to the Yalu River, the border between North Korea and China? 

MacArthur was a titan. A powerful, decisive, bold and commanding presence, he seemed to fill every room he entered. In every situation, he seemed to be the magnet for every eye and his words were the source of every ears memory. His accomplishments and his hubris were both legendary. He knew it. He knew everyone in every room knew it and that was his and the nation’s danger. His personal power and force of will, his sense of drama and command of the moment made him the unquestioned authority among his peers and the men he led. His confidence was his achilles heel. He was surrounded by adorers. Men delighted in pleasing him. NO ONE wanted to disagree with him. One of his biographers called him “the American Caesar”[1]. What he wanted, he almost always got. What he didn’t want, almost no one would venture.

So when he met with President Truman, MacArthur believed his own press clippings. He was sure that his assessment of China and the Korean War situation at the time was right and that he had a plan to win the war quickly. Truman was concerned. But MacArthur persuaded him. The force of his personal charisma and eloquence of his diction coupled with the confidence of his presentation convinced the President to give him an almost completely free hand. It was a mistake.

The section that produced this post is from pages 60-61:

MacArthur brushed away Truman’s question just as he had in private. “We are no longer fearful of their [the Chinese] intervention,” he replied, “The Chinese have 300,000 men in Manchuria. Only fifty to sixty thousand could be gotten across the Yalu River. China has no air umbrella. There would be the greatest slaughter.” The Yalu, he suggested, would run red with Chinese blood.

        Astonishingly, neither Truman nor anyone else at the table had a follow-up question to this. Everyone present appeared to agree with MacArthur’s analysis. They seemed not to have the slightest concern about the Chinese—or if they did, they didn’t raise it. They were dazzled and dazed. The rapture over the war’s imminent end, and magnetic force of MacArthur’s delivery, had blunted their thinking.

        MacArthur, wreathed in tobacco smoke, nibbled on his pipestem. “He was the most persuasive fellow I ever heard.” said one Truman aide. MacArthur’s sanguine view was the one Truman and his men wanted to believe. With victory so close, all other scenarios were inconvenient distractions. A critical moment passed them by—and a fraught and nettlesome question on which many lives might depend was put to rest. 

The decision to move forward with MacArthur’s overly aggressive tactics would eventually prove disastrous and is the subject of ON DESPERATE GROUND. But it is also a warning to we who lead churches and others in the spiritual battle for the souls of men.

It is dangerous to have powers of persuasion that are not ruled
by either humility or the Holy Spirit of God.

We are men of peace, “not pugnacious” (Titus 1:7). 

We serve the Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6)

The irony is that we are engaged in a spiritual war that will not relent until the prince of peace returns as a warrior King dispensing justice that makes human striving cease.  (cf. Matthew 16:18; Ephesians 6:10-17; 1 Peter 5:8)

And we are persuaders of men. Called by God to persuade men and women of the “faith once delivered” (Jude 1:3) Many of you are extraordinarily gifted in this task. God has used you in mighty ways. Your “accomplishments” in ministry are many. Your reputation is weighty. Your staffs and congregations often hang on every word you say.

Be warned.

It is dangerous to have powers of persuasion that are not ruled
by either humility or the Holy Spirit of God.

Better still to have both–humility and the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Submit yourself to God.
Don’t surround yourself with yes men.
Listen to the counsel of others.
Depend on the Holy Spirit.
Let godly men and women “interrogate your reality.”


[1] William Manchester, The American Caesar: 1880-1964 Douglas MacArthur, (Little Brown Company, 1978, 2012).


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