How does one discover a “biblical” understanding of leadership? It is rather obvious to many that some find the “best practices” models derived from the business and corporate worlds and baptize that model into a bowl full of Bible verses and pronounce it biblical — and for the pragmatic, it is confirmed because it works (or disconfirmed if it doesn’t work). Bible people are annoyed by such approaches, but before they get overly annoyed they ought at first to ask if the approach is wise and intelligent and cogent and, at the least, capable of clarifying biblical models.
But what does leadership look like if we begin with the Bible? That is, if we observe God’s own leading, if we listen to what God said to Moses about how to “pastor” Israel and if we listen to what God said to David and the kings of Israel and Judah after him? If we listen to the prophets (which is not the same as leader by the way)? And, what if we go with my friend John Frye and dip into Jesus the Pastor? Or if we go to the apostles: Peter, Paul, and John? I’d delve into women leadership but that would redirect this post in ways we do not intend.
In Dallas Willard and Gary Black, Jr. [pic of Gary and his wife Susie], The Divine Conspiracy Continued, there is a chapter called “Servant Leadership” that takes a biblical approach to leadership by focusing on God the good shepherd and Jesus the shepherd and that measures all leadership by conformity to Christ. I find the term “servant” prefixed to “leadership” to be buzzword-y enough to call forth stereotypes and eye-rolling. Sometimes it’s an excuse for not being a leader, in fact. (There, I said it.)
But Willard-Black are not just interested in sketching servant leadership in the church; they are concerned with the servant/shepherd leader entering into the public sector in order to influence culture and society in a way that brings to all humans what they most want. So this is not a strategy of taking over but a kind of ontology of leadership: being the kind of person that humans long to be. A few observations from their chapter:
1. Leaders are more influential today than ever. Why? social media and the internet.
2. What is a leader? “those who are followed or emulated because they possess the ability, experience, or knowledge necessary for achieving an objective that is pursued, valued, or required by others” (40). So nice to see the total absence of the importance of authority, power, and control. I’ve heard the latter in a definition of leadership that says a “leader is someone who imposes his will on others.” (Can you spell Nietzsche?) And they see this as one of humanity’s greatest temptations — for leaders to go to power and control.
3. When God is omitted from a culture (society, theory of leadership) the virtues disappear: grace, love, and truth.
4. Israel’s leaders mimicked the world’s leaders. They suffered for it.
5. Three gospels end up shaping leadership theory: the gospel of the left turns leaders into social activists, the gospel of the right into revivalists, and the gospel of churchmanship turns into an institutional manager. They see the church for discipleship and discipleship for the world. [This is reductionistic and there is insufficient attention to paid to the church as the embodiment of kingdom realities and the model that calls people from the world into the people of God.]
6. They are concerned with developing leaders for the public sector. I’m not Lutheran nor am I Kuyperian and this chp is Kuyperian or close. Their focus is on developing leaders for the sake of the world, without denying they become witnesses to the gospel. They want to form — out of the church’s leaders — leaders who “enter the world, fully empowered by the Holy Spirit, to take on the responsibilities and duties of representing and pursuing the public good by holding fiduciary relationships with all they encounter” (48). They think a Christlike model of leadership is what the world most wants and needs.
7. They defend the need of leaders by probing Plato’s Republic and the division of labor into people scattering into their callings.
8. “God’s original plan for Israel was to provide an example of what humanity was looking for” (52). I would ask: Where is this to be worked out? In the church or in the public sector?