Dr. Mark Rutland's 'Loyalty in Leadership'

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Dr. Mark Rutland, president of Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Okla., served as guest editor for Ministry Today's September/October 2011 issue on leadership. Known for his remarkable ability to turnaround struggling organizations, Rutland is often sought after for leadership training and has written several books published by Charisma House and Creation House, including Hanging by a Thread; Nevertheless; Dream; Power; Holiness; Resurrection; Most Likely to Succeed; and Character Matters.

Below is a free chapter on "loyalty" from Character Matters, which Rutland says is one of his best.

Loyalty: Character in Community

Only once in American history did the head of state of a foreign government surrender his position and the sovereignty of his own nation to unite with the United States—the Republic of Texas, and its president, Sam Houston.

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Adventurer, frontiersman, general and politician, Sam Houston's name was a household word in Texas and in the United States when Abraham Lincoln was an unknown backwoods lawyer. It is fascinating to note that the Texas Declaration of Independence was signed on Houston's forty-third birthday, March 2, 1836. Houston and his army of ragtag volunteers defeated the might of a massive Mexican army and established a fledgling nation whose capital was called Washington-on-the-Brazos. Like George Washington, Houston, the beloved general, became the revered first president of the wild and sprawling new nation of Texas.

Less than thirty years later, Texas, now a state, debated whether to join the Confederacy in secession or to remain with the Union it had voluntarily entered in 1845. The vast majority raucously demanded secession. One voice, Houston's, cried out for national loyalty.

The elder statesman of Texas stumped the state to the point of exhaustion with this message: "The destruction of the Union would be the destruction of all the states."

Shunned by young hotheads eager for war and dismissed by a new generation, Houston's pleas for national loyalty were ignored. If Texas had listened, tragedy might have been averted. The refusal of Texas to join the Confederacy might well have dissuaded other states, and the bloodiest nightmare in American history might have been avoided. Unfortunately, Houston's cry to remain in the Union was rejected. Houston, now fatigued and discouraged, must have sensed he was failing physically as well as politically.

"I wish if this Union must be dissolved, that its ruins may be the monument of my grave, and the graves of my family. I wish no epitaph to be written to tell that I survived the ruin of this glorious Union."

Pressure mounted on the old warrior to take the oath of allegiance to the Confederacy, but Houston's loyalty held. He refused, knowing that it meant the certain end of his political career in the South and the ostracism of his family. For Houston, loyalty to his nation was stronger than any hope of a political future. He steadfastly refused the oath.

"In the name of the Constitution of Texas, which has been trampled upon, I refuse to take this oath. I love Texas too well to bring civil strife and bloodshed upon her."

He saw the beginning of the bloodshed he prophesied, but he did not survive to see its conclusion. Houston was hurt by the rejection of his leadership, deeply saddened by the horrible Civil War, but unaltered in his devotion to his nation. Sam Houston was a Texan, the Texan, but he was, above all things, a loyal American.

An ounce of loyalty is worth a pound of cleverness.—ELBERT HUBBARD

LOYALTY IS THE VERY FABRIC OF COMMUNITY. Devoid of basic trust in some kind of mutuality of commitment, relationships cannot prosper. Without loyalty, father and son will live as hated strangers, families will disintegrate, and culture will become bestial. Only invented taboos and fearsome superstitions can restrain such a murderous society from utter criminality.

When loyalty is lost, the very fabric of relationship unravels. Even the disloyal depend on someone else's loyalty. The philandering husband will bitterly resent his accountant's embezzlement. The bribed politician howls over his wife's adultery. The issue is not merely hypocrisy; it is a failure to comprehend the very nature of the virtue of loyalty. No one can translate into relationships a virtue that is fundamentally misunderstood. No society can expect loyalty to anchor its relationships once treachery becomes admirable. The seams of community are ripped asunder when treachery becomes an acquired virtue. In a society thus brutalized, no one is safe. Family ties mean little, and friendship means even less. Life without loyalty is fragile in the jungle of betrayal.

If loyalty is understood only in terms of isolated relationships, disillusionment and bitterness are inescapable. That is to say, a disloyal man is disloyal in his character rather than in respect to particular relationships. The prevailing wisdom of contemporary society contends that marital loyalty is irrelevant to job performance.

Quite the contrary! A man is not simply disloyal to his wife; he is disloyal. The wise employer will reason, "If he will be disloyal to his wife, why should I expect loyalty?"

The president of a certain company finally reduced the candidates for a certain opening to two final applicants. Both were very good. In fact, it grieved him not to hire them both. At dinner following the interview, the CEO analyzed the eager young hopefuls across from him.

"Do you mind if I ask a question now?" one of the young men asked. "My wife advised me to get a clear reading on one point, and I really trust her counsel."

The CEO totally ignored the question. Instead he seized the moment to test the other candidate. "What about you? Did your wife send you off with any questions in hand?"

"Hardly," the young man snickered. "She wouldn't know what to ask."

The old businessman chuckled conspiratorially and leaned close, hoping to draw the young man out.

"No head for business, eh?"

"No head for much of anything, actually," he answered. "A classic beauty from Boston. As they say, the porch light is on, but nobody is home."

As the two men shared the joke, the boss noticed that the other applicant sipped his coffee and ignored the jest.

"And your wife?" the employer asked the candidate who said he had a question from his wife. "Does she always tell you what to ask?"

"She certainly doesn't control me, if that's what you mean. She is very bright, and I trust her advice in many areas of life. She's really a wonderful person. I wish you could get to know her."

In that one moment the CEO knew he had his man. Someone who will mock his own wife was not for him. Loyalty was clearly in the character of the man he hired, and character was what he wanted.

The moral and social consequences of venerating the wicked are substantial and incredibly shortsighted beyond words. Loyalty is not a matter of trading off. One does not gain six points for voting a straight ticket, then lose three for company disloyalty, finishing at a good, solid plus three. Efforts to isolate or compartmentalize loyalty from the professional aspect of life are misguided and dangerous. A man does not simply act disloyally in some particular arena of his life, unrelated to the rest. A man is either loyal or he is not.

Merritt was a secure, four-term congressman. Only twenty-four hours ago he seemed invincible. Now he held the front page in his hand like a man holding his own death sentence. "Indicted!" the headline screamed. The article went on to outline the charges of influence-peddling and money-laundering. To add insult to injury, his secretary, Margaret, had revealed (along with other things) their long-standing affair in a full-color pictorial spread in Playboy. He calmed his jangled nerves and massaged his temples. Don't panic! He was sure he could plea-bargain the charges against him down to a misdemeanor and plead nolo contendre, taking a reduced punishment. He must show a sad disappointment with his own humanity but never admit culpability.

Later, in a painfully emotional press conference, he would denounce the newspapers for pouncing on the irrelevant sex scandal. His teary little mouse of a wife would stand bravely at his side while he suffered like a martyr. He played the scene in his mind. "My wife and I have come through this difficult time. We have a new depth through this incident, and our relationship is closer now than ever before." At that point he must embrace her protectively. "We believe the voters of this district are sophisticated and intelligent enough to separate these personal matters from my performance as their congressman." He would then boldly announce his candidacy for reelection. Oh, sure, many votes would be lost, but he knew he could count on the evangelical vote. He was "right" on their issues, and Christians love to forgive people. In fact, he would be hailed as a hero by many.

This was not going to be fun, but he could make it through. Life goes on, he thought.

Loyalty is the willingness, because of relational commitment, to deflect praise, admiration and success onto another. This loyalty may well be at great personal expense, but it will edify and bless its object.

Loyalty never usurps authority. It refuses to accept inappropriate love or praise that might properly exalt another. Loyalty is the glue that holds relationships together, makes families functional and armies victorious. Loyalty is the fabric of society. Without loyalty, no enlisted man can dare to hope that his general cares whether he lives or dies, and no captain can expect an inconvenient order to be obeyed. Without loyalty, marriage becomes a competitive minefield, companies become dangerously paranoid, and ruthless power politics will turn bishops into Machiavellian princes.

Loyalty is the basic element that validates and cements relationships. If husbands are disloyal to their wives, if children are disloyal to their parents, parents to children, employees to employers, there is no secure relationship, and the fabric of community soon unravels.


Every month, on a certain day, the king's court in Israel was held for people who had exhausted all possibilities of adjudication in civil and criminal matters. On that day anyone could appeal directly to King David. His decisions, just or otherwise, were final. Of course, the backlog of appeals soon became tremendous.

David's son Absalom exploited this frustration for his own advantage. Standing tall in his fine chariot, the strikingly handsome Absalom created quite a stir. As the resplendent chariot rumbled through Jerusalem, Absalom's youthful good looks and flowing hair were admired by men and desired by women. It became his habit to wait at one of the city gates for those coming on the day of the king's court. Flattered at being summoned into Absalom's chariot, the aggrieved shared openly. He wooed them like a true politician, kissing their babies and consoling their hurts, yet offering no hope that David would prove helpful.

"It's not altogether David's fault," Absalom would explain sarcastically. "He's overworked, to be sure. We all understand that. The problem is that he stubbornly refuses to appoint a deputy. Now if I were deputy, or even king, I'd make sure you got justice. The appeal ought to go your way, but with David on the throne, well, who knows?"

No one loves a demagogue like the disgruntled. Grateful malcontents bowed down before Absalom and longed for him to be their champion. Absalom's personal embrace in traditional Middle Eastern style was an act weighted heavily with symbolism. Absalom's familiarity was calculated to seal their loyalty to him personally. Of course, he had no right to such dedication. Only David had a right to that.

So Absalom stole the hearts of the men of Israel.—2 SAMUEL 15:6

The throne was Absalom's by birth. It should have and would have gone to him. His untimely and tragic death, which cost him his destiny, was the inevitable end of his disloyalty and rebellion. His disloyalty caused his rebellion, and his rebellion cost him his life. When outward rebellion occurs, it is always because loyalty was not added to faith.

Loyalty refuses to accept inappropriate credit, receive improper admiration or usurp the respect due others. Such loyalty is usually carved into character at no small cost.


The pastor of a small Midwestern church announced to his five adult Sunday school teachers, "God has laid on my heart that for the next three months all of you should teach on evangelism. I've prepared these lesson outlines for you. You can adjust them to suit your classes." The next Sunday, all five began the series.

Teacher 1 said to his class, "The pastor said we have to teach this stuff for the next three months. I want you to know that if I were the pastor, we wouldn't teach this, but I'm not the pastor, and this lesson isn't mine."

Teacher 2 obediently taught the material. Her class, responding enthusiastically, actually became soulwinners and caused the class and the church to grow. At the end of the series, they sang her praises.

"What a great idea you had to teach this series! What great lessons and marvelous outlines you had!"

"Thank you so very much," she said humbly. "I really prayed over it. I knew God was guiding me as I prepared and taught." Obedient in action, she stole the hearts of the people. It was the pastor's vision, and she should have deflected the praise onto him.

Teacher 3 taught the series of lessons, but it went badly. Everyone in the class ferociously objected, "We don't want to be soulwinners. We like the easy, comfortable Sunday school class we've had for forty years, and you're pushing us out into the streets. We don't want this."

To this the teacher replied, "It wasn't my idea. I never wanted to teach this stuff in the first place! You know how the pastor is. Complain to him." This teacher's unwillingness to shield the pastor is characterless and disloyal.

Teacher 4's Sunday school class also complained to her, but she said, "I felt it was what God was telling me to do. I tried to do my best. If the pastor could only have taught it himself, I know he would have done better. So if you're angry, be angry with me." She loyally accepted the brunt of the criticism, allowing all respect and admiration to pass on to higher authority. Furthermore, she probably told the truth; the pastor would have done better.

Teacher 5's class proclaimed, "This is the most wonderful thing that's ever happened to our Sunday school class!" To which the teacher replied, "I can agree with you because I had nothing to do with it. God and the pastor worked this out. Pastor wrote it and handed it to me. Frankly, I had my misgivings, but I now see that the pastor was right. I thank God that he gave us this series, don't you?" That is loyalty in action.


A particularly ironic confusion arises from our society's general disregard for the virtue of loyalty. We have contracted an inability to prioritize our loyalties. That is to say, confusion in society results from failure to establish appropriate levels of loyalty. Not all loyalties are created equal. Spheres of loyalty will often conflict. Weakness and instability in character will be the result of failure to distinguish levels of loyalty and to resolve this inner conflict.

A double-minded man is unstable in all his ways.—JAMES 1:8

Only by working downward from the ultimate loyalty can such dissonance be avoided. By first establishing the nonnegotiable, which can never be denied, the tension is eased at descending levels. Once that loyalty among all loyalties is settled, questions of conflict are more easily resolved.

A woman came to me for counseling claiming that her husband was ordering her to engage in prostitution. He was not a Christian, but he knew she was. He made this perverted demand by exploiting her convictions. He was head of the household, and she must be loyal to him. She evidently had accepted some kind of strong, legalistic teaching that convinced her that, no matter what her husband said, she had to submit to him as head of their household. This Christian woman was actually considering acceding to his demands.

She was deceived by confused loyalties combined with a false sense of submission. By allowing a secondary loyalty to her husband to supersede her ultimate loyalty to Jesus Christ, she nearly entered into serious immorality. Her unsaved husband was using her slavish misunderstanding of Scripture to manipulate her into doing what he wanted.

Another woman with whom I once counseled was awaiting her criminal trial for embezzlement. She had gotten involved with a man who was heavily in debt. He had pleaded with her to get some money for him or he would go to prison. She embezzled a substantial amount of money from her job to help him, fully intending to repay it. The scandal of her arrest was a bitter shock to her church and her family. When I asked how she could have fallen for such a tired old line, she responded that "she had no idea."

She was right! She had no idea. She rationalized her disloyalty to her God and to her employer by hiding behind loyalty to a man, and not much of a man, at that.


For the married, loyalty to spouse is second only to loyalty to God. A marriage can struggle along racked by bitterness and unforgiveness, but once the cracks of disloyalty appear, only the grace of God can save it.

My wife and I have counseled with many couples whose marriages have been shaken by extramarital affairs. We try to bring them to the point of being honest with each other about the adultery. In so doing, we have found that husbands and wives generally ask very different questions.

Betrayed husbands typically ask questions about the sex. "Was he a better lover than I am? Was there something he did for you that I didn't? Did you enjoy him more than me?" Wounded wives more frequently ask, "Did you talk about me with her?" That shocked me the first time a woman asked it. I thought to myself, Of all things, that's what you want to know? You want to know what he was talking about? Her husband was sleeping with another woman, and she's interested in what they talked about!

I came to realize why the wives and not the husbands were asking the truly important question. The wives wanted to discern what the act of immorality really meant. They intuitively grasped that in the pillow talk the true depth of the disloyalty could be discerned.

Loyalty in marriage is quite the same as loyalty in any other relationship. It means constantly building up the other, even at one's own risk or expense. I cannot imagine a woman being more loyal to her husband than my wife is to me. When I go to preach where my wife has previously spoken, I am often asked, "Are you really as wonderful as your wife says?" Of course, that makes me feel like a million dollars. I must, of course, humbly defer to my wife's wisdom and discernment.

Her loyalty, in turn, makes me want to respond in kind. It escalates, and we begin to race with each other to see who can build up the other more. For many couples the same cycle seems to work in reverse. My wife and I are always shocked to hear couples argue and contradict each other in public.

The husband will say, "I remember back in 1957, we moved to Topeka."

"No, no, dummy," the wife interrupts. "It was 1956."

"No," he insists, "it was 1957 because it was the year Charlie was born."

"Great!" she cries. "That's typical! It was the year that Charlie was born, but he was born in '56. You don't know any of the birthdays of the children."

This tedious argument goes agonizingly on and on until I imagine myself jumping on the table like the Mad Hatter, stamping about in the tea cakes shouting, "I don't care! I don't care whether it was in '56 or '57. And I don't care about Charlie's birthday!"

Such pathetic arguments are a complete breakdown of marital loyalty. The loyal wife allows her chronically confused husband to state categorically that it was 1957 even if she knows it was actually before the Crimean War. Alone in the car, away from everyone else, she tenderly reminds him, "I know you said 1957, and you're probably right. You almost always are. It just seems to me we were driving a DeSoto that year. Did we own a DeSoto as late as '57?"

That affords him a little latitude. If she shouts "1956!" like the volcano goddess, he is going to fight back. It is naive, if not insane, to think he is going to admit in front of five other couples, "Oh, yes, dear, you're right. What a donkey I am."

Husbands, on the other hand, often say the most outrageously disloyal things disguised as jokes. "Are you going to eat all of that?" the husband asks as his wife's banana split arrives, borne by two waiters.

Her spine rigid with wounded, feminine pride, she announces, "Yes, I'm going to eat this and five more. By Christmas I intend to be as big as the Hindenburg."

A small gathering at our house was attended by a couple who were desperately trying to dig their way out of debt. The woman loudly complained ad nauseum that her husband had taken a second job. The family never saw him, the children were neglected and she felt like a widow.

When my wife suggested that the woman help her in the kitchen for a few minutes, they were gone for nearly half an hour. When the woman came back, she looked like a naughty child returning to class from the principal's office. For a while she sat quietly. Then, completely out of nowhere, having nothing to do with the conversation, she announced, "That reminds me of what a wonderful man my husband is! Did you know he has taken a second job? He works so hard just to take care of me and the kids."

Alison had helped her realize she was being disloyal to her husband. She was tearing her husband down in front of others, which in turn elevated her stock with no one.


In criticizing the wisdom and ability of a superior, a subordinate lowers himself. Logic dictates that the lesser works for the greater. Therefore if the boss is the champion nitwit of all time, what kind of people would work for him? If the boss is an all-around great person of tremendous insight and wisdom, the happy conclusion is that surely he showed wisdom in his hiring decisions. When I lift up my boss, I am lifted up. When I brag on my wife, I shall be held in honor by others. If I speak of her disloyally, others will agree with me that she certainly is stupid, stupid enough to marry me! Likewise, if my parents are the village idiots, well, they raised me.


Loyalty must function both upwardly and downwardly. Upward loyalty is shown to our superiors. It is being willing for them to get the credit while we take the blame. This is the key to corporate loyalty. If the middle-level employee, with subordinates beneath him and superiors above him, shows any disloyalty, the fabric of community in that corporate structure begins to shred.

The CEO of every corporation should periodically invite someone to teach his employees about corporate loyalty. They must know how to deflect praise and admiration onto the boss while being willing to accept the blame when things go badly.

I have sometimes had the unfortunate experience of calling someone's office only to have a secretary say, "I don't know where he is. Many times he doesn't even come in until 10 or 11 o'clock. I guess he's playing golf somewhere."

That is a blatant disloyalty, a deliberate attempt by that secretary to make her boss look bad. Perhaps it is an attempt to convey that she is working while the boss plays. It may also be an effort to prove her own value. Perhaps she is saying, "I don't know what my boss would do without me."

Upward loyalty helps to fulfill the superior's dreams. Lower-level managers are generally not hired to be visionaries. Any institution must operate on only one vision. An obvious example of this is an ambassador. Ambassadors do not get paid to have opinions, but to clearly communicate for the head of state. When a U.S. ambassador presents himself to a foreign government, no one there cares much about the ambassador's ideas. They only want to know what the president thinks.


Some time ago I went to a certain place of business owned by a man named John. I was there to meet him and several others for lunch. As we waited for our last arrival out in John's reception area, we chatted amiably with John's private secretary, a receptionist and a junior executive. Finally the last of our party arrived, quite late. As he rushed into John's reception area he apologized, "I'm sorry I'm late. My secretary didn't show up, and everything's crazy at my office. I'm having a terrible time with my staff."

John, in whose office we stood, said, "I know exactly how you feel. The worst thing I face is getting good help!" He said this in front of his own staff! I was so surprised that I couldn't keep from looking at his employees' faces. They looked as though they had been slapped. The younger associate literally slumped, and his secretary spun on her heel, went into her office and closed the door rather too loudly.

The receptionist sat down and started pounding her keyboard like Lizzie Borden. I searched John's face for some sign of hostility, and, finding none, I realized that he was not being cruel but insensitive. He had no idea what he had done.

As soon as John and I were alone, I said, "Brother, do you realize you just lacerated three of your employees? You badly hurt your own stock with those people." He was genuinely surprised, but when I rehearsed the scenario for him, the light gradually dawned. I said, "Think about how you would feel if that had happened to you. Your employees felt betrayed. You were disloyal to them. Furthermore, you missed a golden opportunity to strengthen their loyalty to you."

Downward loyalty happens as people at the top say, "I couldn't get this done without my employees."

Bosses should constantly be saying, "Our success is largely due to my great team of associates." They should be praising their employees, not just to their faces, but to other people.


The redemptive grace of loyalty is so powerful it can literally infuse any situation with healing and miraculous blessings. Any force that powerful, however, cannot be violated without dire consequences. There are few virtues in the kingdom more honored by God than loyalty. Absalom's doom was sealed by his disloyalty to David, but David's loyalty to an unworthy Saul confirmed his destiny for the throne.

In the household of Naaman, a Syrian general, there lived a young Jewish slave girl. She had been captured by a Syrian raiding party. Plucked from the bosom of her family, alone in a foreign land, she served as a personal body slave to Naaman's wife, hardly a circumstance to inspire loyalty. Even the most outwardly obedient slave might murder his master mentally. Yet this little girl chose to be loyal with her whole heart. Somehow her family in Israel had deeply instilled loyalty in her character at a tender age. Now a slave in Syria, her well-shaped character found genuine concern for the one who owned her just as he owned his horse.

When Naaman contracted leprosy, the slave girl told her mistress, "Would God my lord were with the prophet [Elisha] that is in Samaria! for he would recover him of his leprosy" (2 Kings 5:3).

Amazing! She sent him who held her captive to her home country, where she surely longed to be. She sent him to be set free of his disease, though he held her in slavery. She genuinely wanted Naaman to be healed, and he was. The miracle that Naaman received by the ministry of Elisha never would have happened without that slave girl's unlikely loyalty.

Grateful for the miraculous healing, Naaman offered Elisha a substantial reward, which Elisha declined. Elisha's servant and understudy, Gehazi, shook his head in amazement. The Syrian had been miraculously healed! Why shouldn't Elisha be blessed? Gehazi reasoned in his heart. Do not muzzle the ox, he thought to himself.

Elisha refused the luxurious gifts of the Syrian, but Gehazi would not. He waited until Naaman was out of Elisha's sight, and then he raced after the foreign general. Elisha had changed his mind, Gehazi explained to the Syrian. Two visiting prophets had arrived, and Elisha would now be happy to accept some gifts after all. Naaman was only too delighted to give.

Elisha, however, discerned the deception and struck the hapless Gehazi with leprosy. In other words, if Gehazi wanted the Syrian's money, then by all means he should have the Syrian's disease as well.

The greed of Gehazi is obvious. The subtler issue of disloyalty is more easily overlooked. For personal gain he misrepresented his employer's motives. Acting out of self-interest, he denied his superior's nobility, goals, purpose and will. What an ironic contrast!

A slave girl's character and loyalty brought miraculous healing and blessing, while the disloyalty of a prophet in training brought scandal, disease and death. Loyalty is a gemstone virtue whose luster, in a golden setting of faithfulness, brings glory to God and health to all it touches.

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