Is Leadership Everything? Exploring servant-hood, leadership and the imitation of Christ, as modelled in the early church
Revd Canon Dave Cooper OSL is Director of Care for a group of residential mental health facilities and a psychotherapist, holding credentials with the Association of Christian Counsellors. He holds a Masters’ Degree in Applied Theology from Regent’s, as well as post-graduate qualifications in psychology, psychotherapy and leadership.
“…the Church, the bride of Christ, upon which the eternal destiny of the world depends, will flourish or falter largely on the basis of how we lead.” 1
Bill Hybels’ dramatic description of the significance of Christian leadership may, initially, appear emotive and, perhaps, sensationalist in its message. It does, however, underpin the stark responsibility incumbent upon leaders – and adopts a suitably provocative stance from which to undertake an analysis of the nature of true Christian leadership and its impact upon the mission of the church. This paper will seek to establish the earliest examples of Christian leadership and clarify the communal criteria out of which it evolved. The founding of the faith, in areas where there was often great hostility and tightly knit traditions, called for members of the communities themselves to step forward and fill the leadership roles, taking guidance from and imitating others in the process. The research will examine the ministry of Jesus as the epitome of leadership put into practice and it will identify those qualities and characteristics that portrayed Him both as a servant and a leader.
A subsequent discussion on New Testament passages in which the early churches were encouraged to emulate Christ and others, such as Paul, will focus further on the attributes that exemplify a good leader. By comparing and contrasting the different recognised styles, the paper will then seek to establish not only which one is most appropriate and effective but also the extent to which it impacts upon, and facilitates, the church and its mission. Is leadership everything?
If so, as Rawley asks:
“…what sort of Christian leader is required to get us from where we currently are in a largely post-Christian, post-modern, hurting, skeptical and somewhat disillusioned pluralistic society – to where God wants us to be? Put simply, what sort of Christian leader is worth following and worthy of imitation?” 2
There are arguments both for and against powerful and professional leaders. Is the church correct in trying to copy the commercially coherent and driven leadership styles of the secular sphere or is it right to set its sights much higher, fixed on the face of God? Is there a necessary self-discipline on leaders with large personalities to limit their own perceived indispensability? What are the advantages and disadvantages of a long-standing incumbent and how does the church prepare for and cope with his demise or departure? Is leadership vision the same as the mission of the church? How much emphasis should be placed on putting together a team with which to lead? Having considered these questions the paper will draw together all of the evidence amassed from the selected sources and come to a conclusion concerning Christian leadership, its life force and its legacy.
Christianity and the changing community
The richest source of information on the early Christian church in the New Testament comes from The Book of Acts and also Paul’s Letters, within which lie many references to the changing complexion and make up of communities. It is of vital importance, however, that before examining the Apostle’s advice on how the early congregations should live, we should have an appreciation of the social transition taking place around this time. As Segal acknowledges in his essay on the
first Christian gatherings, the Scriptures describe the Temple as the place where God was manifested and where his presence was to be found. However, for Christians the presence of God was “replaced by the spiritual presence of the risen Christ.” 3
As more and more small gatherings took place, usually in the homes of the growing number of believers, it is reasonable to conclude that the hierarchical structure inherent in the household was eventually absorbed into the Christian church. Unlike the “nuclear” family of modern Western society, the Israelite home would consist of several generations all living in one household and the “elders” within any given group would make decisions and dispense directives as befitted their seniority. However, in the very earliest “model” of the church Banks argues that although Paul placed a great deal of emphasis on communities as a whole, the Apostle firmly believed that it was not as a community but as individuals, families and smaller groups that Christians defined and fulfilled their responsibilities.4 Dunn clarifies this “corporate image” of the burgeoning Christian community further as he describes the shift from a nation state, identified by ethnic and traditional “boundary markers” to one where its members, driven by their faith, came from different nationalities and social backgrounds. The growth and prosperity of these pockets of people depended on their “mutual cooperation and their working harmoniously together”.5 In support of this, Banks observes that Paul’s approach to the whole question of community preserved some of the distinctions that divided people in the ancient world whilst, at the same time, abandoning others. Yet even those aspects it retained underwent a transformation and, rather than continuing to be seen as a way to maintain an advantage over others, these distinctions now “provided the basis for serving others.” 6
What exactly constituted authority within these groups has been the subject of sustained scholastic debate. Dunn returns to Paul’s own vision, as popularised by Sohm at the end of the nineteenth century and later supported by Campenhausen, wherein the Spirit is seen as the “organizing principle of the church” and that ministry “rests in principle not on some human organisational plan”, rather it is the “employment of a gift which the Spirit bestows.” The structure upon which the early Christian community was founded was one of free fellowship; which developed through “the living interplay of spiritual gifts and ministries, without benefit of official authority or responsible ‘elders’.” 7 In his chapter on community formation and leadership in Acts, Bartchy sums up the primary principles of familial relationships in the first century Mediterranean world. Luke’s frequent use of the Greek term ἀδελφοὶ (adelphoi) meaning, literally, “brothers” or “brethren”, but more adequately translated as “brothers and sisters”, reflects the positive impact of the family unit at that time. In stark contrast to an individual’s interaction with the wider community, one of exerting authority and control over others, the family context was one of kinship, respect and working together for the good of the group. 8
With the good news of the gospel and the coming kingdom as the catalyst, the Spirit who created the Jesus community continued to sustain it as it grew. Acts 2 tells of those who went around “praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.” (2:47 NKJV) In fact, Acts, in its entirety, is widely accepted as a carefully crafted and fairly fundamental link between the Gospels and the Epistles. The events chosen by Luke and the characters who are introduced, such as Paul – whose origins would otherwise be unknown as he does not appear anywhere in the Gospels, are very deliberately chosen by the author. Pawson explains how the “irresistible force” of this new religion spread throughout the Roman Empire. “It is as if the death and resurrection of Jesus are like a stone thrown into a pond. Luke shows how the ripples have spread…until eventually they reach Rome itself.” 9 Acts is a well documented fulfillment of Jesus’ opening statement: “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (1:8). Luke follows this process closely and shows how, through the word of God, the church, strengthened and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, spread and grew in numbers, “walking in the fear of the Lord.” (Acts 9:31).
Acts is also one of the earliest records of church leadership in action. A close examination of Acts 15 reveals a process, which begins with the leadership of the church in Antioch sending Paul and Barnabas to Jerusalem to seek advice on a crisis (15:2). They are welcomed by “the church and the apostles and the elders;” (15:3) who gather together “to consider this matter” (15:6). The use of the word consider
leaves little room for doubt that this assembled group are the authority within the church. Having listened to Peter (15:7), who is both an elder and an apostle, the leaders hear from Paul and Barnabas (15:12). Finally, when everyone has spoken, James, brother of Jesus and the apostle most widely regarded by scholars as the main authority in the Jerusalem church, then summarises what has been put forward during the council (15:13-18). He then proceeds to pronounce his judgement on the matter (15:19-21), prior to everyone coming into agreement that they should send their own representatives – Judas and Silas, bearing a letter containing the decision – back to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas (15:22-27). The authority of the leadership in Jerusalem is recognised by the church in Antioch, who will note that both the council and the Holy Spirit are happy with the outcome (15:28).
Thus, in the space of these few short chapters, there is substantial evidence of not only the process, but also the people who became leaders in the early Christian church. However, Luke goes further and there is a strong school of thought, started by Allen in the early twentieth century, which suggests that Acts should not only be used as a “model for church behaviour”, but also as a “missionary manual for Church expansion.” 10 The mission of the church will be addressed in more detail in section six of this paper. With the earliest roots of leadership now identified within the first churches, it is necessary to look more closely at the original ἀπόστολος (apostolos) “the sent one” Jesus, His ministry and His role as leader.
Follow The Leader
In turning to the Gospels to gain an insight into Jesus’ role as a leader it is fairly obvious, as Watson observes, that Christ was far more passionate about discipleship than he was about leadership. In fact, in His understanding, the two categories were largely synonymous and overlapped almost entirely. Only through comprehending the central elements of Christian discipleship – “coming to Jesus, following Him, waiting for His timing and responding to His missionary call” – could anyone hope to learn the values of true leadership. 11 As He clearly stated, “whoever wants to be first must be your slave – just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20: 27-28). This style of ministry, though ageless in application, was first termed servant leadership by Robert Greenleaf in his work of the same name. 12 There is a wealth of evidence to support this paradigm in the New Testament and Jesus is very clear in outlining the motivation of His ministry. First and foremost, in John 15:9, he proclaims, “As my Father has loved Me, so have I loved you.” He then promises, “If you obey My commands, you will remain in My love, just as I have obeyed My Father’s commands and remain in His love” (John 15:10). In return for this obedience, His followers become friends, rather than just submissive subjects. He has taught us everything that He learned from His Father and this, in turn, empowers us, with His authority, to “go and bear fruit – fruit that will last” (John 15:16). Nouwen explains that “As Jesus ministers, so He wants us to minister – ministry is a communal experience and, also, a mutual experience.” 13
Nowhere is this concept more clearly illustrated than in John 13, where Jesus is seen as knowing “that the Father had put all things under His power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God” (v.3). The physical act of washing the disciples’ feet is, at the same time, a symbolic representation of the relational leadership He would have them practice. When He has finished, He is at pains to ensure that this process has not been lost on them. He asks if they understand what has just happened and elaborates saying, “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.” (v. 13-15). As Paul writes in his letter to Philippi, Christ Jesus, having been made flesh but “being in the very nature of God”, did not deem equality with God to be “something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant” (Philippians 2:6-7). In so doing, He “humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on the cross!” (v.8).
Humility and vulnerability are two of the main characteristics displayed by Jesus during His ministry and, as a precursor to a more detailed examination of leadership models in the modern church (see section 5), these two traits warrant closer scrutiny here. Nouwen confirms the need for Christian leaders to be “completely irrelevant and to stand in this world with nothing to offer but his or her own vulnerable self. That is the way Jesus came to reveal God’s love.” 14 Berntsen argues that “Only dying to self takes the worry, and its evil twin, arrogance, out of our watchfulness and enables us to proceed in faith , active in the works of love.” 15
This letting go of self is firmly founded in biblical precedent, most notably perhaps in Paul’s letter to the Galatians, in which he proclaims that he has been “crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” (Galatians 2:19-20). Stott takes this idea and develops it further, claiming that “At no point does the Christian mind come into more violent collision with the secular mind than in its insistence on humility, with all the weakness it entails. The wisdom of the world values power, not humility.” 16 Where this would, at first glance, appear to be a criticism of true Christian leadership, weakness is, in fact, the very power at the centre of this paradigm. Stott points to Revelation (4-7) where, at the very centre of God’s throne (the symbol of power) stands a slain lamb (symbol of weakness). 17 This principle of power through weakness was acted out most vividly in the life of Jesus who, when tempted with the prospect of power in the desert chose, instead, to give Himself, voluntarily and unreservedly, to the ultimate weakness and total humiliation of the cross. As Adair affirms “Both by His teaching and example, Jesus prepared His disciples to be leaders in His spirit, and many of them would, like their master, ‘take up the cross’.” 18
“Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ”
Much has been written on the Pauline or mimesis model of imitation, which runs through the Apostle’s letters to the early Christian communities. De Boer identifies “a certain accent which keeps recurring in the passages on imitation. It is the accent
of humility, self-denial, self-giving, self-sacrifice for the sake of Christ and the salvation of others…” 19 It is necessary to note that Paul only ever urges congregations he has founded – namely Thessalonica, Corinth, Galatia and Philippi – to imitate him, using the word group μιμέομαι (mimeomai: to imitate) and [συμ]μιμητής (imitator). In 1 Thessalonians (1.6) Paul commends the congregation for becoming “imitators of us (μιμηταὶ ἡμῶν) and the Lord”, praising them for their welcoming of the gospel message with joy, in spite of their suffering. Best suggests that it was the Thessalonians who had first told Paul that they had been using his life as an example, thus explaining the development of this theme in his subsequent writings to them. 20 The “us” in the passage refers not only to Paul, but to Silvanus and Timothy, both of whom had formerly visited Thessalonica to help establish the Christian community there. The success of the earlier mission was such that not only are all three cited as worthy role models but the Thessalonians, though young in their faith, are themselves held up as a success to which believers in Macedonia, in the north, and Achaia, in the south, should aspire.
Again in 1 Thessalonians (2:14) Paul acknowledges the community’s willingness to imitate others, this time “the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea”. The subject of suffering is raised again in this passage and Paul is only too aware that such hardship would, almost certainly, befall any who chose to proclaim the gospel. As Sumney observes, “The paradigm of the crucified Messiah was already in place when he preached at Thessalonica and was already reflected in both his
message and his life.” 21 Paul presents his own sufferings as an imitation of Christ
but, as Rawley explains, “It is not simply a case of him saying ‘Look at what I do for Christ and copy me,’ but rather ‘Consider who I am in Christ and become like me’.” 22
It is interesting to note the ways in which Paul chooses to entreat the different communities, towards imitation, in his letters. To the Thessalonians, he uses the sustained imagery of parental concern and responsibility, echoing Jesus who warned “unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:3). His implication is that of humility being a fundamental prerequisite in order to live a life worthy of God. Paul describes his work in Thessalonica as that of a nursing mother cherishing her own children (1 Thessalonians 2:7). He describes how he “exhorted, and comforted, and charged every one of you, as a father does his own children, that you would walk worthy of God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory.” (1 Thessalonians 2: 11-12). In Graeco-Roman culture, the parent as a model to the child, the teacher as a model to the pupil and the leader as a model to the follower was in common use and easily understood. So, here we see Paul cosseting and caring for a community who were already fully compliant in their behaviour and, thus, his example to them as a leadership figure was one of encouragement and enthusiastic praise. This same imagery is utilised in his letter to the Ephesians, in which he asks that they be “imitators of God as dear children.” When they do so, they should “walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us” (Ephesians 5:1-2).
In stark contrast, the situation in Corinth necessitated a somewhat more insistent approach. When Paul urges them to imitate him it is in direct response to the problems they are experiencing, as the community appears to be close to collapsing. He begins by telling them that he does not wish to shame them for their errant ways but, as his “beloved children’, he warns them against listening to those who might tempt them away from their faith. “For though you might have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet you do not have many fathers; for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel. Therefore I urge you, imitate me.” To help them in their time of trouble he sends Timothy, his “beloved and faithful son in the Lord, who will remind you of my ways in Christ, as I teach everywhere in every church.” The idea that they should be reminded of Paul’s “ways in Christ” is reiterated later in the letter when he implores them to “Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1). Although his leadership is, in itself, the most fitting example they have of authentic Christian discipleship, Paul’s pleas are self-effacing and designed to draw attention not to him, but to The One who lives in him.
In his letter to the Philippians, Paul again begins by warning them against earthly influences. He tells them to “worship God in the Spirit, rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh” (Philippians 3:3). He calls his brothers and sisters to “join in imitating me,” looking to those “who walk according to the example you have in us” (3:17). His aim, once more, is to spur the community on to a greater understanding, to draw them closer to God and inspire them to be more like Him. Paul admits that he, himself, still has some way to go in reaching this objective: “Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me.” (3:13) In writing to the Hebrews (though there are many arguments against Paul’s authorship of this epistle) the call is, once again, that, as Christians, they “do not become sluggish, but imitate those who through faith and patience inherit the promises” (Hebrews 6:12). As the letter draws to a close, the community are asked to “Remember those who rule over you, who have spoken the word of God to you, whose faith follow, considering the outcome of their conduct.” (13:7). They are asked to imitate their leaders “….cross-shaped leaders, following the model of the cruciform life given to us by the apostle Paul, as he, in turn, sought to imitate Christ.” 23
“The world around us keeps changing. Our organizations continue to change. The people we lead are changing. Leaders and leadership must change as well. Only God remains unchanged…in Christian organizations, that is where it all starts.” 24
Wright recognizes the prevailing predilection for constant change and revision which has become synonymous with the Post Christendom, post modern age of increasing secularisation. As the world struggles to recall the story of Christianity and the church is constantly seeking new ways to make itself and its leaders relevant, the only constant, he argues, is the immutability of the Triune God. In the midst of this, with the attendance at “traditional” churches on the decrease, the trend towards megachurches and their charismatic, celebrity-style leaders has increased significantly. More and more leaders have become social commentators, but Nouwen takes the view that it is not enough for the leaders of the church to be well informed on the burning issues of our time. Whilst an awareness of the “cares of this world” must surely help to make a leader more relevant and rounded, their ministry should be “rooted in the permanent, intimate relationship with the incarnate Word, Jesus.” 25 Butt elaborates on this, identifying the chief characteristic of a Christian leader as being “submission to Christ”. He goes on to say that only those who have learned that submission is the key to power can be effective as leaders in the church. 26 Only with this grounding, this recognition that humility, vulnerability and the complete laying aside of the self is a fundamental factor in the job description, can a leader even begin to hope that he or she might be fruitful and fully effective in the role. Schnackenburg describes good leaders as “simply God’s instruments ….who possess an essentially different character from all bearers of appointed office by merely human state and constitution.” 27
In searching for more clues for the most suitable style of Christian leadership today, it is fitting to turn, once more, to Jesus, who said, “Woe to you when all men speak well of you” (Luke 6:26). Stott echoes this warning, pointing towards the potential pitfalls of being a popular preacher. It is impossible, he maintains, to be both popular and faithful at the same time. 28 Nouwen supports this notion when he recalls, “Too often I looked at being relevant, popular and powerful as ingredients of an effective ministry. The truth, however, is that these are not vocations but temptations.” 29 Fee is even more forthright in his argument that “The demand for power and the insistence on wisdom….are still the basic idolatries of our fallen world.” 30 Dawn draws a parallel between the Christian and secular worlds, asking why we have turned pastors into successful CEOs instead of “shepherds for the weak?” The search is on for leaders who are “handsome, sophisticated and charismatic – instead of models of suffering.” Our churches adopt the practices of business life and its models of achievement instead of practicing an “unadulterated handling” of the Word. 31 Too much emphasis, it seems, is placed on the physical aspect of leadership – with individual strengths being encouraged and accentuated, often at the expense of collective unity. Paul tells the Philippians that, although he “can do all things” it is only through Christ, who strengthens him (4:13). It is not sufficient to even attempt to fulfill the task in the physical alone. A true leader must move away from the mundane and into the mystical, from the natural into the supernatural. Lawrence maintains that they should be a follower of Christ, the Leader, possessing of the Leader’s character, gifted and enabled by the Holy Spirit – “marked by self-sacrificial ambition, motivated by an others-centered love, and a pursuer of servant authority.” 32
The concept of centredness figures prominently in both secular and Christian writings on leadership styles. Koestenbaum, a secular philosopher, argues that centredness is what makes people appear powerful. Where it is not evident, it makes people perceive themselves, and be perceived by others, as ineffective and even impotent. It is, he claims, “the source of authentic faith, belief and realistic self-confidence.” 33 Wright describes it as “getting my life in perspective before God. It is knowing that I am loved, kept and called by God.” 34 Just as the potter takes time to ensure the clay is centred before beginning to shape the vessel, so too must a Christian leader be aligned inside before applying themselves outwardly. Hybel states that leaders are best when they are “working in tandem with God,
humbly bowed before the Heavenly Father, acknowledging His sovereignty, listening to His promptings, submitting to His leadership, and then courageously carrying out His orders.” 35
So, the evidence would appear to point back to the concept of a more spiritual, servant or cross-shaped leadership. Piper describes it as “knowing where God wants people to be and taking the initiative to get them there by God’s means in reliance on God’s power.” 36 The ability to serve the elders, the trustees, the leadership team and the congregation whilst, at the same time, inspiring others and pressing on in the face of adversity is of fundamental importance. Griffin maintains that leaders hold something “very fragile” in their hands, namely “the hopes and dreams and ideas and contributions of their people. They must be held gently, with respect, not crushed in the fist of power.” 37 Goleman, Boyatzis and McKee describe how great leaders move us, igniting passion and bringing out the best in people and, rather than any complex, commercially driven characteristics or parades of personal power being the impetus, it is much more primal; great leadership, they argue, works through the emotions. 38 Nouwen talks of the servant leader learning “new ways to let go of power and follow the humble ways of Jesus” and, in the process, allow themselves to be led to “unknown, undesirable and painful places.” 39 The “Crucified” leader is, as Berntsen describes, “the doer who disappears into the deed” and when restored to their hidden wholeness by the cross, the “falsifications of the self” are remade into the gifts of servant leadership and servant life. 40 Peterson presents possibly the most vivid analogy of all when describing the leader’s need to stay focused and forward looking, picturing them “lashed fast to the mast of Word and sacrament” and “unable to respond to the siren voices” of distraction and temptation. 41 Sweet sums it up succinctly when he describes leadership as “the art of the future” and a leader as “one in whom the future shines through in support of the present in spite of the past.” 42
The Mission of the Church
“…we are living in the painful tension between the already and the not yet.” 43 This statement perfectly describes the precarious position the church currently occupies, caught between divine fulfillment and human reality. With the exception of the Word of God, the only other weapons the church has at its disposal are its vision and the mission. Although the two can sometimes be confused it is important
here to make the distinction. Whilst vision is seeing where the church wants to go, mission describes what the church is meant to do. Jesus and his disciples had a vision in common on their journey, namely the inbreaking or approaching kingdom of God. He lived the vision so others could see it in His life, leading by example. The leadership vision for today is still the same as it was in Jesus’ time, it is still the kingdom of God. Adair compares vision to a “constellation of stars by which the helmsman steers the ship, not a destination that will one day be reached – at least in the world as we know it.” 44
Keating elaborates on the subject and further defines what it is to be a Christian leader in the process. Christian leadership, he maintains, “is different from secular leadership in that it is expected to have a faith vision, a specific mission of influencing the activities of an individual or group in efforts toward accomplishing goals that contribute to the coming of the Kingdom of God.” 45 This echoes perfectly the life and work of Jesus Christ and reiterates the need for us to follow his example in all things – “Let this mind be in you which was also in Jesus Christ” (Philippians 2:5). So it is the responsibility of those blessed with the supernatural gifts of leadership to yield themselves fully to God and, “lashed to the mast” of the Word and sacrament they must, above all else, ensure that:
the gospel be preached,
the lost be found,
the believers be equipped,
the poor be served,
the lonely be enfolded into the community,
and God gets the credit for it all. 46
“He who is not with Me is against Me, and he who does not gather with Me scatters abroad.” (Matthew 12:30). Here Jesus very clearly calls for us all to be united in our mission, there can be no room for what Krallman describes as “a ‘neutral’ strategy; either our efforts serve the purposes of God or they promote the interests of the powers of darkness.” 47 In short, in a world in which disasters and atrocities continue to provoke questioning of the Christian faith, our commitment to the mission, as believers, is everything. Jesus reminds us all that, in the encroaching darkness, we are “…the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14) and that we should let our light “…so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” (5:16).
The mission is all and, whilst leadership is by no means everything it is of paramount importance in maintaining the focus and the impetus of the church. Berntsen observes that, like all human groups, the Christian assembly is engaged in “a subconscious tug-of-war” between its publicly stated mission and the primitive anxieties to be taken care of. As individuals, as well as collectively, we face the daily dilemma of whether “to fight or flee from an unseen enemy”. In the face of growing consternation would it not be easier to retreat and await the “better days ahead that an unborn savior will bring”? 48 The human condition is one of confusion and, although we have all the vision we need in Jesus Christ, our conduct can, at times, be anything but Godly. Fairholm describes the task of the leader as being “to integrate behaviour with values.” 49 Binding together the body of Christ and urging it onwards in the face of the storm is what concerns all great Christian leaders. “Leadership is a dance: it always means getting on with the mission at the same time that one tends to the unconscious life and health of the body” 50 Sweet confirms that great leaders tell stories or embody stories which resonate with and unite others. Mission, he maintains, needs to be related in narrative form. It is narrative flair and rhetorical prowess that go a long way in persuading people to join in, and journey on, with the mission. Everyone has their own story to tell, their own secret to impart – their own song to sing. The leader’s job, above all else, is “to find a melody line around which everyone can harmonize.” 51
Strength through submission, power through weakness, authority through service, leading through following. All of these juxtaposing elements typify what it is to be an effective Christian leader. For many years the corporate world looked upon this leadership style as a quaint, antiquated attempt to simply hold the church together and yet when Jim Collins produced his now famous “Good To Great” study of successful corporations in 2001, the definition of what constituted a great CEO was amazing to say the least. Collins observed how these individuals:
“…function with an odd combination of humility and doggedness. They seem to have very few ego needs; they do not seek the limelight, nor are they worried about who gets credit for what. Often, they are all but faceless to the public, known only by industry insiders. They tend not to go on talk shows or to produce “inspiring” business autobiographies. They direct their professional energy and effort exclusively toward the mission.” 52
It is somewhat satisfying to note that in our postmodernist, pluralistic society spirituality appears to be gaining the upper hand over rationality. Sweet comments on how more and more commercial organisations are “redefining their mission statements” to favour a more caring approach in their business model over the driving force of profit margins. The assumption is that if a company functions correctly and efficiently and, in the process, deals fairly and compassionately with all concerned, then profitability will naturally follow. He concludes, “It may seem ironic to look to the business world for spiritual enlightenment, but the new emphasis on spirituality in the marketplace ought to be an encouragement for church leaders. After all, isn’t that our speciality?” 53
Wherever Christianity and, in particular, its leaders choose to turn for enlightenment and encouragement it is, ultimately, to Christ that we must undoubtedly (re)turn for our example. As a servant He subjected Himself to the greatest single act of submission and humiliation in order to lead us back from the loveless obscurity of the wilderness. Not only did He display all of the qualities to which our leaders should aspire, He also encapsulated the essential and all consuming mission of the church, namely to embody God’s love for the world and to spread the good news of His coming kingdom.
1.Hybels, B. Courageous Leadership (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2002), 27.
2.Rawley, I. The Cross-Shaped Leader: Paul’s Quest to Imitate Christ (Cambridge: Grove Books, 2012), 23.
3. Segal, A.F. The Jewish Experience: Temple, Synagogue, Home, and Fraternal Groups in Longenecker, R. (ed) Community Formation in the Early Church and in the Church Today (Peabody: Hendrickson 2002), 21.
- Banks, R. Paul’s Idea of Community (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1994), 2.
- Dunn, J. D. G. The Theology of Paul The Apostle (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1998), 551.
- Paul’s Idea of Community, 127.
- The Theology of Paul The Apostle, 567.
- Bartchy, S.S. Divine Power, Community Formation, and Leadership in Acts, in Longenecker, R. (ed) Community Formation in the Early Church and in the Church Today (Peabody: Hendrickson 2002), 21.
- Pawson, D. Unlocking The Bible (London: Harper Collins, 2nd Ed, 2003), 866.
10. Allen, R. Missionary Methods – St Paul’s or Ours?; The Spontaneous Expansion of the Church; The Ministry of the Spirit cited in Unlocking The Bible, 877.
- Watson, A. The Fourfold Leadership of Jesus (Abingdon: The Bible Reading Fellowship, 2008), 17.
- Greenleaf, R. Servant Leadership: A Journey into the Nature of Legitimate Power and Greatness (New York: Paulist Press, 1977).
- Nouwen, H. In The Name of Jesus (London: SLT, 1989), 44.
- In The Name of Jesus, 17.
- Berntsen, J. Cross-Shaped Leadership (Herndon, Va: The Alban Institute, 2008), 21.
- Stott, J. Basic Christian Leadership (Downers Grove, Il: Inter Varsity Press, 2002), 17.
- Basic Christian Leadership, 51.
- Adair, J. The Leadership of Jesus: And its legacy today (Norwich: Canterbury Press, 2001), 145.
- De Boer, W. The Imitation of Paul: An Exegetical Study (Kampen: Kok, 1962), 207.
- Best, E. Paul and His Converts (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1988), 69.
- Sumney, J. Paul’s Weakness: An Integral Part of his Conception of Apostleship in Journal for the Study of the New Testament no.52 (1993), 89.
- The Cross-Shaped Leader: Paul’s Quest to Imitate Christ, 9.
- The Cross-Shaped Leader: Paul’s Quest to Imitate Christ, 23.
- Wright, W.C. Relational Leadership: A Biblical Model for Leadership Service (Carlisle: Paternoster, 2000), xiv
- In The Name of Jesus, 31.
- Butt, H.E. Jr. The Velvet Covered Brick (New York: Harper & Row, 1973), 50.
- Schnackenburg, R. The Church in the New Testament, trans. O’Hara, W.M. (London: Burns & Oates Ltd, 1990), 25.
- Basic Christian Leadership, 108.
- In The Name of Jesus, 71.
- Fee, G.D. The First Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987), 75.
- Dawn, M. Powers, Weaknesses and the Tabernacling of God (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001), 57.
- Lawrence, D.W. Distinctives of Christian Leadership in Bibliotheca Sacra vol. BSAC 144:575 (July, 1987), 329.
- Koestenbaum, P. The Heart of Business Dallas: Saybrook Publishing Company 1987, p.354
- Relational Leadership: A Biblical Model for Leadership Service, 7.
- Courageous Leadership, 122.
- Piper, J. Brothers, We Are Not Professionals: A Plea to Pastors for Radical Ministry (Nashville: Broadman and Holman, 2002), 11.
- Griffin, E. The Reflective Executive (New York: Crossroad, 1993), 53.
- Goleman, D; Boyatzis, R.E; McKee, A. The New Leaders: Transforming the Art of Leadership into Scientific Results (London: Time Warner, 2003), 3.
- In The Name of Jesus, 62.
- Cross-Shaped Leadership, 57; 47.
- Petersen, E.H. The Contemplative Pastor: Returning to the Art of Spiritual Direction (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans [2nd Ed], 1993), 139.
- Sweet, L. Summoned to Lead (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004), 11.
- Basic Christian Leadership, 30.
- Adair, J. The Leadership of Jesus: And its legacy today (Norwich: Canterbury Press, 2001), x.
- Keating, C.J. The Leadership Book (New Jersey: Paulist Press, 1982), 128.
- 46. Courageous Leadership, 28.
- Krallman, G. Mentoring for Mission: A Handbook on Leadership Principles Exemplified by Jesus Christ (Hong Kong: Jensco, 1994 – 2nd Ed), 101
- Cross-Shaped Leadership, 99.
- Fairholm, G.W. Perspectives on Leadership: From the Science of Management to its Spiritual Heart (Westport, CT: Quorum Books, 1998), 57.
- Cross-Shaped Leadership, 5.
- Summoned to Lead, 106-107.
- Collins, J. Good to Great (New York: Harper Collins, 2001), 17.
- Summoned to Lead, 110.
Adair, J. The Leadership of Jesus: And its legacy today. (Norwich: Canterbury Press, 2001).
Allen, R. (Missionary Methods – St Paul’s or Ours?; The Spontaneous Expansion of the Church; The Ministry of the Spirit) cited in Unlocking The Bible.
Banks, R. Paul’s Idea of Community (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1994).
Bartchy, S.S. Divine Power, Community Formation, and Leadership in Acts, in
Longenecker, R. (ed) Community Formation in the Early Church and in the Church Today (Peabody: Hendrickson 2002).
Berntsen, J. Cross-Shaped Leadership (Herndon, Va: The Alban Institute, 2008).
Best, E. Paul and His Converts (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1988).
Butt, H.E. Jr. The Velvet Covered Brick (New York: Harper & Row, 1973).
Collins, J. Good to Great (New York: Harper Collins, 2001).
Dawn, M. Powers, Weaknesses and the Tabernacling of God (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001).
De Boer, W. The Imitation of Paul: An Exegetical Study (Kampen: Kok, 1962).
Dunn, J. D. G. The Theology of Paul The Apostle (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1998).
Fairholm, G.W. Perspectives on Leadership: From the Science of Management to its Spiritual Heart (Westport, CT: Quorum Books, 1998).
Fee, G.D. The First Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987).
Goleman, D; Boyatzis, R.E; McKee, A. The New Leaders: Transforming the Art of Leadership into Scientific Results (London: Time Warner, 2003).
Greenleaf, R. Servant Leadership: A Journey into the Nature of Legitimate Power and Greatness (New York: Paulist Press, 1977).
Griffin, E. The Reflective Executive (New York: Crossroad, 1993).
Hybels, B. Courageous leadership (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002).
Keating, C.J. The Leadership Book (New Jersey: Paulist Press, 1982).
Koestenbaum, P. The Heart of Business (Dallas: Saybrook Publishing Company, 1987).
Krallman, G. (1992) Mentoring for mission (Hong Kong: Jensco, 1992).
Lawrence, D.W. Distinctives of Christian Leadership in Bibliotheca Sacra vol. BSAC 144:575 (July, 1987).
Nouwen, H. In The Name of Jesus (London: SLT, 1989).
Pawson, D. Unlocking The Bible (London: Harper Collins, 2nd Ed, 2003).
Petersen, E.H. The Contemplative Pastor: Returning to the Art of Spiritual Direction
(Grand Rapids: Eerdmans [2nd Ed], 1993).
Piper, J. Brothers, we are not professionals: A plea to pastors for radical ministry. (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2002).
Rawley, I. The Cross-Shaped Leader: Paul’s Quest to Imitate Christ (Cambridge: Grove Books, 2012).
Schnackenburg, R. The Church in the New Testament, trans. O’Hara, W.M. (London: Burns & Oates Ltd, 1990).
Segal, A.F. The Jewish Experience: Temple, Synagogue, Home, and Fraternal Groups in Longenecker, R. (ed) Community Formation in the Early Church and in the Church Today (Peabody: Hendrickson 2002).
Stott, J. Basic Christian Leadership (Downers Grove, Il: Inter Varsity Press, 2002).
Sumney, J. Paul’s Weakness: An Integral Part of his Conception of Apostleship in Journal for the Study of the New Testament no.52 (1993).
Sweet, L. Summoned to lead (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004).
Watson, A. The Fourfold Leadership of Jesus (Abingdon: The Bible Reading Fellowship, 2008).
Wright, W.C. Relational Leadership: A Biblical Model for Leadership Service (Carlisle: Paternoster, 2000).