Thursday, June 19, 2008

Thoughts on Biblical Leadership


This week at Gordon-Conwell has been a journey through the path of leadership. We learned from the esteemed Ray Brunt, the author of the powerful article: “Leaders Growing Leaders” which is the first of two articles in his address to the need to grow leaders for the public service. Particularly helpful is his distinction of leaders in terms of people who grow others to be leaders. Leaders are those who ‘beget leaders and leave a legacy’ (Brunt, “Leaders Growing Leaders,” 12). This is demonstrated through four means, namely; Exemplar, Coach, Mentor and Teacher. Leadership is demonstrated, guided, and for the less initiated; taught explicitly. The more the leader understands his students, the better and more precise his teaching technique. Taking time to build relationships prepares students to learn well. Walter Wright, formerly a President of Regent-College affirms that:

Leadership as Relationship
“Leadership is a relationship – a relationship in which one person seeks to influence the thoughts, behaviours, beliefs or values of another person.” (Walter C. Wright, Relational Leadership, Carlisle, UK: Paternoster, 2000, p2)
Jesus builds relationships constantly. Whether he is doing his miraculous works, or rebuking wrong teachings, he is demonstrating leadership to people around, the onlooking spectators, his disciples and even his enemies. Jesus was popular with the poor, the needy, the marginalized and the outcasts of society. He was hugely unpopular with people in the higher echelons. Yet, Jesus is demonstrating leadership, in the midst of both positive and negative perceptions. That is a key thing. Leadership should be life-giving, based on truth-telling rather than popularity.

“Leaders Growing Leaders” despite all its powerful message, contains a glaring limitation. While it is powerful and effective, it is more applicable for those people who have significant years of leadership opportunity and experience. What about the younger folks? What about people who are relatively inexperienced, who desires to grow in learning leadership but are limited by tradition and hierarchical structures? Of course, while one can argue that the posture rather than the position is more appropriate, the fact is it has been written by a gentleman who is sharing from his years of knowledge and experience. Brunt meticulously weaves in the call for leaders in society to include younger ones in their organization so that the young can observe how leadership is done. This article is clearly for people who are relatively more senior in any public organization. Leaders Growing Leaders is a good article, I must admit. Yet, I would have preferred, from a more inclusive perspective. Perhaps, “Growing Leaders Grow Leaders” will be more encouraging to the young, or the young at heart. I was reading yesterday Paul’s exhortation to a young leader, Timothy.
Let no one look down on your youthfulness, but rather in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity, show yourself an example of those who believe.” (1 Tim 4:12)

Leadership as Learners
A posture of learning is the mark of a disciple. Contrary to what many believe, the word ‘disciple’ does not mean discipline. In Greek, disciple is translated (μαθητής, mathetes), also understood to be ‘student’ or ‘learner.’ A disciple of Christ is essentially a student of Jesus. Discipleship is learning to be like Christ. A Christian is a follower of Christ. I will assert that if we are not able to be good followers, we cannot ever become good leaders. All of us has to learn from someone, or through some circumstance. Nobody can truly begin from a high pedestal. Leadership growth is essentially a series of spirals from one level to another. Different circumstances will draw out different leadership characteristics from us. For example, one who is gifted in one type of skill-set, will be better equipped to learn a second perspective. Timothy is a young leader, close to the heart of Paul. The apostle Paul is his mentor and teacher. Leadership is essentially an attribute that is learned. Leaders are learners.

Leadership as Faith-in-Action
One of the marks of leadership is the courage to take risks. Peter Senge says:
We are coming to believe that leaders are those people who ‘walk ahead,’ people who are genuinely committed to deep change in themselves and in their organizations. They lead through developing new skills, capabilities, and understandings. And they come from many places within the organization.” (Peter Senge)
I rose up this morning thinking about leadership and faith. As one who loves to conjure up creative acronyms, I came up with the following:
F – Faithfulness
A – Availability
I – Inclusiveness
T – Teachable
H – Humble

1) F- Faithfulness
In faithfulness, a leader learns to persevere on in what he believes to be the core values of life. Without faith in something, the person loses his sense of identity. Warren Bennis describes it succinctly:
“The manager is the classic good soldier; the leader is his own person. The manager does things right; the leader does the right thing.” (Warren Bennis, On Becoming the Leader, Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley, 1989, 45)
Though Bennis compares the difference between the manager and the leader, I believe he is highlighting the essence of a leader rather than simply downplaying the importance of a manager. A leader is essentially one who does the right thing because he believes in that right thing. Having established a belief, he holds on to that value and live a life of faithfulness. If we believe strongly in the institution of marriage, should we not be faithful to our spouses? If we believe in the Trinity, should not community figure more prominently in our daily lives?

2) Availability
It is one thing to say that we are available when needed. It is yet another to be physically present. These past two weeks, I have been blessed to sit through and listen in to wonderful teachings from the faculty at Gordon-Conwell about leadership and workplace theology. Dr Haddon Robinson, the revered preacher and servant of God, currently interim president of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary made an honest effort to be with us, in spite of his busy schedule. That made a lot of difference, at least for me. Being available to us makes a lot of difference. He exemplified leadership by being with the ‘least’ of us, taking questions from younger students willingly. I am reminded of Jesus’s words in the oft-quoted verse in Matthew 28. Sometimes, Christians remember ‘Go ye therefore’ to the point that they failed to equally stress Christ’s presence: “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Maybe, people who are afraid of sharing the Christian faith with their neighbours have read the first part of Matthew 28:19 and failed to comprehend more fully the meaning of Christ being present with us ALWAYS. Put it another way, if we know that Christ is with us and for us, should not Christians be people full of courage in Christ? Christian leadership is that willingness to be available for others, because Christ is with us.

3) I – Inclusiveness
This is where I feel is a good supplement to “Leaders Growing Leaders.” Leaders must constantly learn to be inclusive, and not imagine themselves to be so high up in the hierarchy that they have no personal touch at the lower levels of the organization. This truth was brought home by a presenter yesterday about her organizational culture which allows a subordinate three levels below to report certain aspects of an important project to an executive three levels above her. Jesus calls ordinary men to follow him. Paul calls young Timothy into his ministry. Young Samuel was called by God. All these people were included in the wide ministry of the Word.
“A Christian leader is someone who is called by God to lead and possess virtuous character and effectively motivates, mobilizes resources and directs people toward the fulfillment of a jointly embraced vision from God.” (George Barna, The Second Coming of the Church, Nashville: Word, 1998, p107)
Barna hits it rightly. A ‘jointly-embraced vision from God’ cuts across all ranks. Being inclusive means mobilizing all available resources, all people who catches the vision of God. We cannot exclude people based on any form of human-differentiated device.

4) Teachable
This is the mark of a disciple, as mentioned earlier. As long as one adopts constantly a disposition of learning, as long as one remains teachable, one is exhibiting one of the biggest traits of effective leadership. Thrall et al, asserts that ‘change and growth require teachability.’ This is even more important as we are in the midst of one of the most fast changing and rapidly growing period in history, with technology and frantic pace of life becoming the key drivers of society.
“One of the first signs of an endangered leader is a decrease in his willingness to hear and learn from the experiences of others. Beware of this trap! Remember, fifth-rung experiences come from God, not your own superior abilities or character. Protection and direction come from listening, hearing and aligning with the truth others have to tell us.” (Thrall et al, The Ascent of the Leader, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1999, p154)
That is a wonderful reminder that leaders do not stop growing and learning. They must remain teachable. That is a mark of a leader.

5) Humble
“The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say thank you. In between the two, the leader must become a servant and a debtor. That sums up the progress of an artful leader. ” (Max de Pree, Leadership is an Art, New York: Doubleday, 2004, p11)
Max de Pree’s book is becoming one of the classics on leadership. It is a short book but long in valuable insights about leadership. It is also very Christian. The gospel writer Mark sees Jesus from the lens of a servant leader, one who is humble to come to serve and not to expect to be served.

“For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many..” (Mark 10:45)

Jesus did not come first and foremost to be a servant for the sake of becoming a servant. He came out of love. This is important. Sometimes Christians debase themselves so much that they think being humble is simply to look down on oneself. Wrong! Being humble is essentially putting on Christ, to put God’s purpose before us. Robert Greenleaf hones in on this point.
“The great leader is seen as servant first, and that simple fact is the key to his greatness.” (Robert K. Greenleaf, Servant Leadership, New York: Paulist, 1977, p7)
I should end with a story from the desert fathers.
I have intentionally chosen to use 'humble' rather than 'humility.' I feel that using humble as a verb is more vivid. 'Humility' as an adjective tends to imply having attained that state.
A brother went to find Abba Serapion. According to his custom, the old man invited him to say a prayer. But the other, calling himself a sinner and unworthy of the monastic habit, did not obey. Next Abba Serapion wanted to wash his feet, but using the same words again, the visitor prevented him. Then Abba Serapion made him eat and he began to eat with him. Then he admonished him saying, 'My son, if you want to make progress stay in your cell and pay attention to yourself and your manual work; going out is not so profitable for you as remaining at home.' When he heard these words the visitor was offended and his expression changed so much that the old man could not but notice it. So he said to him, 'UP to now you have called yourself a sinner and accused yourself of being unworthy to live, but when I admonished you lovingly, you were extremely put out. If you want to be humble, learn to bear generously what others unfairly inflict upon you and do not harbour empty words in your heart.' Hearing this, the brother asked the old man s forgiveness and went away greatly edified.

This is truly one of the greatest marks of Christian leadership, that of a watchful disposition to tell the truth at the right time, to the right person in the right capacity. This can never be done on our own strength or wisdom. It has to be led by the Spirit of God, so that no man will ever boast.


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