Bethany House Publishers
Are You Leadership Literate?
This book came to life in my spirit on an unforgettable day in the early 1990s as I was reading global forecaster Alvin Toffler's The Third Wave. Toffler had always been quite prescient about the future, and his well-known statement struck me to the core:
The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.
At that time, well into my first years in ministry, I longed to learn the essence of good leadership. I also had a sneaking suspicion that I might need to unlearn and relearn a few things along the way. At any rate, energizing my quest were two different sets of motivations, each based on a leadership model.
The first bubbled up from my unsatisfying experiences with a certain model of small-group ministry. My senior pastor had asked me to apply it as soon as I arrived, and though I chafed at its top-down, authoritarian approach, I used the program "successfully" for a number of years.
Nevertheless, it was exhausting. What enormous effort just to sustain the leaders' vision! People weren't enjoying this, I wasn't enjoying it, and the fruit produced in participants' lives hardly resembled the fruit of the Spirit. Where was the love, the joy, the peace among us? We settled instead for much division, consistent strife, little unity, and feeble enthusiasm.
I decided to look for a new way to do small-group ministry. While reading Toffler's book, it occurred to me that the business community, out of necessity, was moving into innovative structures to accomplish its goals in the work force. This secular marketplace movement, which was starting to look strangely similar to my own direction, was crucially based upon a deeper understanding of leadership. Could I learn from the business gurus while maintaining a thoroughly biblical philosophy of ministry? The idea intrigued me.
Before I continue, please allow me a moment to review the basic thesis of The Third Wave. Toffler suggests that civilization has subsisted in three basic structures, or "waves," down through history.
The agricultural first wave involved living and laboring on extended family farms (which is still applicable for much of the world).
In the second wave, the industrial revolution, people began working in hierarchical organizations built around command-and-control models of leadership. The era of the machine was built upon mechanistic efficiency.
Then, around 1955, we entered the third wave: the information age. Here and now, Toffler says, a new working structure is evolving: less hierarchical, interdependent organizations that gather around communities of commitment. Peter Drucker would later call these "organic organizations," because the master image is no longer the lifeless machine but the living organism.
As I swam around in cutting-edge business thinking, one day it hit me: the New Testament uses the organic as its master image: the body of Christ. However, while we've had this theology of an organic organization from the beginning, the business community seemed to be moving from theory (its "theology") to application with more determination than the church.
This was out of necessity, of course, to meet the demands of a rapidly changing, swirling, exciting, startling world: Globalization. Computerization. Postmodernism and Gen Y. Talk radio, bloggers, and eBay. How else would they survive, thrive, and get their message across? Leaders in every field rose up ... to lead. They tackled the problem on all fronts—they had to, for profits must not fall.
We, the church, on the other hand: Have our prophets fallen? It seemed to me we were holding on to second-wave forms of leadership and structure at all costs. We continued to create and maintain top-down, hierarchical, command-and-control, mechanistic organizations. Sound at all like your church?
That very day I committed myself to reading and digesting as much of the business revolution material as I could find. I drilled far into insights about effective leadership and people-empowering structures. I wanted to learn, in full detail, what it would mean to lead an organic organization. And I figured I had an advantage: My organization is indwelt by the Spirit of God himself.
Human groups are given to anarchy;
Progress comes from discipline, order, and obeying tradition;
Order arises from leadership;
There can only be one leader of a group;
The leader is the dominant member of the group;
Leadership is an exercise of power;
Any sign of weakness will undercut the leader's authority;
Loyalty, effort, and change can be commanded successfully.
O'Toole spends several chapters showing that this view doesn't work in the long run because it's an amoral leadership style that harbors a built-in self-destructiveness:
Leaders in the Realist School are prone, when pressed by the inevitable exigencies of public life, to behave in ways that destroy the trust of followers. Because people will not follow the lead of those they mistrust, contingency leaders will often encounter insurmountable obstacles on the road to leading change.
By contrast, Rushmorean leaders have remarkably different assumptions about the world and people. "Rushmorean" refers to the character and values of people like Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and Roosevelt. They possess authenticity, integrity, vision, passion, conviction, and courage, and they lead by example rather than coercion. Rushmorean leadership is moral leadership, and its axioms would read:
Human groups tend toward self-ordering states, given the right parameters and resources.
Progress comes from vision and values given as parameters, where self-discipline, creativity, and passion are allowed to stretch people forward.
Order arises from common commitments to mission and common understandings of values.
There are many types of leadership and leaders within an organization.
Different leadership energies are needed at different times to keep an organization moving to its prime.
Leadership is an exercise of stewardship, where everyone shoulders the trust given to the organization.
Weakness and vulnerability on teams create an atmosphere of trust, where members feel needed for their strengths as well as needing others for the areas where they do not have strengths.
In this approach, everyone involved buys into any change effort as members together craft a common vision out of various agendas. In this way they capture the best future for the organization and take advantage of the stakeholders' diverse gifts and passions. As Toffler puts it:
No leader can command or compel change. Change comes about when followers themselves desire it and seek it. Hence the role of the leader is to enlist the participation of others as leaders of the effort. That is the sum and essence not only of leading change but also of good management in general. In reality, such leadership is extremely difficult because it is unnatural.
As I reflected on these contrasting paradigms regarding the world, people, and leadership, I came back to one of Jesus' clearest statements. He too lifted up a basic leadership contrast—the difference between leadership that reflects God's kingdom and leadership that works against His purposes in the world.
"You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and 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."
Peter reinforces Christ's words when writing to early church leaders:
To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder, a witness of Christ's sufferings and one who also will share in the glory to be revealed: Be shepherds of God's flock that is under your care, serving as overseers—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.
1 Peter 5:1-4
I began to see that the New Testament establishes a crystal-clear difference between leadership that "lords it over others" and leadership that proceeds from the Holy Spirit to build the kingdom. How similar to James O'Toole's Realist/Rushmorean distinction! In fact, how similar to everything I'd been reading in the business revolutionaries, those who knew that "business as usual" must radically alter its approach in order to impact its world.
I was inspired by and excited about the possibilities. I also thought, Wouldn't it be great to have a book that shows how scriptural truths can work hand in hand with the best insights of business research?
That's what Christ-Based Leadership hopes to do. We'll explore in detail the differences between these leadership types, launching into each theme from a pivotal question appearing in each chapter title. The questions will drive to the core of what today's leaders must be asking themselves in order to choose between the pathways open to them. Each chapter will also compare the components of leadership to the human body, showing by way of analogy the "look" of health or disease in the organic organization.
The result? Pain!
Lots of pain was being created in the church, manifesting in all kinds of ways. I could broadly categorize the hurt in three forms of woundedness:
Alongside such painful situations, though, I encountered hope-inducing examples of moral leadership in action. These leaders had the opposite effect on laypeople, staffers, and congregations. Where is all the pain? I wondered at first. Then I realized how very different the assumptions about people and the world were in these healthy scenarios. They blossomed with vitality and ministry, bringing glory to God in myriad ways. There is something irrefutably wise about working within Christ's body as if it were an organic organization. Which, of course, it is!
(1) Missed opportunities for laypeople to live out their giftedness and callings. They ended up in disillusionment and often rejected the institutional church as a place of fulfilling their life's purpose.
(2) Hurt, confused, abused, and stifled staffers and layleaders. These folks wanted to give their best to their leaders, but found the amoral leadership patterns hindering and obstructive at least, offensive and destructive at worst.
(3) Divided and diminished congregations. Within their communities, they never had the impact they were designed to have.
Here, then, were two very different "wisdoms," those of which the apostle James spoke long ago:
Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by
deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you harbor bitter envy
and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth.
Such "wisdom" does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the
devil. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and
every evil practice. But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure;
then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit,
impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of
In each chapter ahead, while considering a key question about effective leadership, we'll look at (1) the biblical wisdom supporting the principle involved and (2) the specific business theory it upholds. Get ready to enjoy "mini-book reviews" of pivotal volumes; those you don't yet own may end up on your bookshelves eventually. My hope is that churches will begin applying these wonderful principles, along with their moral bases and structural implications. If this can ease and eliminate some of the pain caused by unbiblical, hierarchical leadership patterns, I will be deeply gratified and grateful to God.