Leaders who Overcome!

I gave the following speech four years ago today at an MLK Breakfast.  May it bless you! 


First giving honor to Christ my King…to our hosts, to our Mayor, and to all other clergy, business and educational leaders, and distinguished government officials who serve the great City of Chesapeake and the surrounding cities…good morning!

My name is Carlton McLeod and I have the unbelievable pleasure of being the Pastor of Calvary Revival Church Chesapeake.  It is indeed an honor to speak to you this morning..I’ll admit to being surprised to be asked.  Surely, some of you heard Calvary Revival Church and thought Bishop McBath would be here…but no worries…I’m taller. ☺

Leaders Who Overcome

I’ve been given the distinct honor of speaking on a topic near and dear my heart….Leaders Who Overcome.  Not only that, but I’ve been given this honor in the context of celebrating the life and achievements of one of the greatest leaders of the 20th Century, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

So often, leadership is portrayed as the ability to accumulate things, fame, or notoriety.  Leaders we hold up as models are often brash, arrogant, greedy, and uncaring.  But I’ve been asked to speak on the “Leaders Who Overcome.”  The word “overcome” is steeped in both biblical and human history.  The ultimate connotation of overcome always has to do with defending and advancing a righteous cause or describes those who suffered for righteousness ultimately being vindicated.

Dr. King is a wonderful example.  Like many of you, I’ve always been impressed by Dr. King’s unbelievable tenacity, especially in the face of such opposition and with so many challenges.  But his belief in what he was doing—that it was a righteous and just cause that it was rooted in truth and that it was godly and honorable and loving and worth dying for—has always amazing me.  J. Oswald Sanders wrote that “Leadership is Influence.”  If this is true, then Dr. King influenced a nation, and in his case, for good of that Nation.  He overcame threats, actual violence, lack of resources, fears over his family, imprisonment, and even death.

And friends, as we examine this topic of “Overcoming Leaders,” I wanted to give you 5 characteristics of a true overcoming leader by quoting the words of Dr. King.


The Overcoming Leader is COMPELLED!

In his letter from a jail cell in Birmingham, Dr. King wrote:  “Beyond this, I am in Birmingham because injustice is here. Just as the eighth-century prophets left their little villages and carried their "thus saith the Lord" far beyond the boundaries of their hometowns; and just as the Apostle Paul left his little village of Tarsus and carried the gospel of Jesus Christ to practically every hamlet and city of the Greco-Roman world, I too am compelled to carry the gospel of freedom beyond my particular hometown. Like Paul, I must constantly respond to the Macedonian call for aid.

This is so good.  As he sat in that jail, Dr. King poured his heart out.  Can you get a sense of his drive and determination?  

He wasn’t just mildly interested in freedom from oppression.  It wasn’t a hobby.  It wasn’t a cultural interest that would fade when the next issue came around.  It was a calling.  It was a deep-seated conviction.  It was a commission.

The Overcoming Leader feels called, convicted, and commissioned.  He or she refuses to settle for the status quo or cultural norms.  They are driven towards “what could be and should be.”  They cannot just “let it go.”  They must fight the good fight, keep the faith, and finish their race.


The Overcoming Leader COUNTS the COST!

“As in so many experiences of the past, we were confronted with blasted hopes, and the dark shadow of a deep disappointment settled upon us. So we had no alternative except that of preparing for direct action, whereby we would present our very bodies as a means of laying our case before the conscience of the local and national community. We were not unmindful of the difficulties involved. So we decided to go through a process of self-purification. We started having workshops on nonviolence and repeatedly asked ourselves the questions, "Are you able to accept blows without retaliating?" and "Are you able to endure the ordeals of jail?"

Friends, the Overcoming Leader isn’t naïve.  They understand that there will be tremendous costs to their dignity, emotional strength, resources, family, and maybe even their bodies and their very lives.

Dr. King implied that he and those who would follow must be willing to present their bodies as living sacrifices to their righteous cause.  They worked through scenarios that outlined the possible and very likely sacrifices they’d endure.

Overcoming Leaders ask these types of questions of themselves: 

  1. Will you be able to endure?
  2. Will you be willing to maintain both your composure AND your integrity when opposition comes?
  3. Is the vision worth more than my pride?
  4. Am I willing to be seen as “going backward” in the eyes of my peers and contemporaries?  A popular American pastor once wrote:

The irony of being a leader with character is that your willingness to do what is right may jeopardize your forward motion.  Leading and being who you want to be don’t always line up.  But it is in those moments that you discover a great deal about yourself.  You discover what you value most.


The Overcoming Leader is CORRECT….he or she fights for what is authentically and morally TRUE!

When taken to task for breaking civil laws by using non-violent civil disobedience, Dr. King responded, “One may well ask, "How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?" The answer is found in the fact that there are two types of laws: there are just laws, and there are unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that "An unjust law is no law at all."  Now, what is the difference between the two? How does one determine when a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man-made code that squares with the Moral Law or the Law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the Moral Law.”

Although controversial, and indeed, anathema in our culture, Dr. King’s words here are authentically and morally true.

There are in fact just and unjust laws and the determination of such IS based on the Law of God.

Adultery is still wrong.  Bearing false witness is still wrong.  Dishonoring parents is still wrong.  Lying is still wrong.

A Leader who truly Overcomes lines up on the right side!  Hitler had a lot of influence, but he didn’t “overcome.”  He was evil and tyrannical.  By contrast, FDR, Churchill, and Eisenhower fought for a righteous cause…one in line with the Law of God.  

The Overcoming Leader understands that to fight for something contrary to the Law written on our conscience is foolhardy and destructive.


The Overcoming Leader is extraordinarily COMMITTED….willing to be called Extreme!

“But as I continued to think about the matter, I gradually gained a bit of satisfaction from being considered an extremist. Was not Jesus an extremist in love? -- "Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, pray for them that despitefully use you." Was not Amos an extremist for justice? -- "Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream." Was not Paul an extremist for the gospel of Jesus Christ? -- "I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus." Was not Martin Luther an extremist?  -- "Here I stand; I can do no other so help me God." Was not John Bunyan an extremist? -- "I will stay in jail to the end of my days before I make a mockery of my conscience." Was not Abraham Lincoln an extremist? -- "This nation cannot survive half slave and half free." Was not Thomas Jefferson an extremist? -- "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal." So the question is not whether we will be extremist, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate, or will we be extremists for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice, or will we be extremists for the cause of justice?”

Amen Dr. King!

The Overcoming Leader understands that what he or she will advocate for, again, in line with the Moral Law, will increasingly be called extreme by purveyors of the status quo.

As one example, I believe we are beginning to lose sight of how an honorable society is built.  Instead of the bedrock of society being the family, with a father and mother who strive for integrity in their relationship and the raising and training of their children, it is becoming something else.  But may I say that those of us who advocate for the traditional family structure are increasingly being called extreme?

The Overcoming Leader must be able to deal with the hurt and pain of unfair accusation and keep teaching and leading.


And lastly, the Overcoming Leader is willing to CARRY a CROSS.

When Christ told his disciples that “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me,” I want you to be 100% assured that He wasn’t talking about gold chains! ☺

He meant they must be willing to die for Him.

There is no escaping this fundamental truth: the things truly worth fighting for are worth dying for.  

On April 3 1968, in Memphis Tennessee, Dr. King preached a messaged called, “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop.”  In his closing words, uttered just ONE DAY before he was murdered, he said:

“Well, I don't know what will happen now. We've got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn't matter with me now, because I've been to the mountaintop.

And I don't mind.

Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!

And so I'm happy, tonight.  I'm not worried about anything.  I'm not fearing any man!  Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!!”

The Overcoming Leader, in the truest sense of “Overcoming” is willing to lay his or her life down.  

May each of you, by God’s providence, be given a cause about which you will live so passionately.  It might be your family and children.  It might be serving others in other countries.  Perhaps it will be helping to restore godly principles to America.  It might be to raise up an authentically honorable civil government that serves the people well. 

Whatever it might be, may we all be so blessed to find such a thing, and by the grace of God, may you all my friends, OVERCOME!

Thank you for your attention, and God bless you.