Leadership: Casting the Right Vision

Posted on June 5, 2010 
Filed under Opinion

In some Christian circles at the moment there is quite a deal of talk about leadership and vision. It is the language of international politics with aspiring Prime Ministers and Presidents seeking to position themselves as genuine leaders with expansive (and yet still economically responsible) vision. As so often happens, churches then echo the concerns and the rhetoric of the community at large.  

A Christian fascination with leadership theory has characterised evangelicalism for at least the past 30 years. The journal Leadership first hit Christian bookshops in 1980. However, it certainly does seem that there is a fresh enthusiasm for the rhetoric of leadership, vision-casting and entrepreneurial skill. Perhaps it’s just the present moment, with its sense of a new generation poised to take greater responsibility within our denominational structures.

It would be wrong to suggest this is an unprincipled enthusiasm. The necessity of a specifically Christian adaption of what works so effectively in the world at large is not denied for a moment. In conversations I have had in the past few months friends have justified the embrace of corporate leadership and management theory as ‘plundering the Egyptians’ or ‘redeeming the wisdom of the world’.

What is so often forgotten, though, is the simple fact that Christian leadership is, and is meant to be, revolutionary and counter-cultural. It subverts the so-called wisdom of the world. After all, Jesus did not say that leadership amongst his disciples would take the best the world has to teach us in this area and filter it through the gospel of grace. His words were stark: ‘it shall not be so amongst you’ (Mk 10:43).

Christian leadership, first and foremost, is characterised by service. Freed from our need to prove ourselves to each other and to our- selves, such service can be genuinely focussed on the welfare of others. We don’t love people in order to get the best out of them. We don’t show an interest in them in order to generate loyalty or commitment. We don’t serve them as part of any other agenda at all. In the best sense of the word, we serve, we love disinterestedly.

This can only be possible because Christian leaders do not see themselves as leaders in the ultimate sense. It is Christ who leads his people by his word and in his Spirit. That must become more than just a pious cliché. If I really believe in Christ’s headship, then I cannot claim a proprietary interest, no matter what level of responsibility I might shoulder for the time being. Christian people gather as Christ’s church, not mine. Peter spoke of the responsibility of shepherding ‘God’s flock’ (1 Pet. 5:2). Those with such responsibility have a particular opportunity to serve, to be sure. But it is always an opportunity to serve. And that service takes place with an awareness that the day is coming when the Chief Shepherd will appear. We are here for such a little time and what has been placed in our hands is not ours.

Leadership is not ‘all about me’. In fact, a humble preoccupation with God’s agenda
doesn’t mind not being noticed at all. Christ is building his church (Matt. 16:18) and he is its cornerstone (Eph. 2:20). His agenda directs the present and future of the local congregations towards the great eschatological and multi-ethnic gathering around the throne of God and of the Lamb (Rev. 7:9–12). Faithful pastors and teachers will put Christ’s vision before God’s people. They sublimate their dreams and plans to his great purpose — a purpose on the largest scale imaginable and yet of vital relevance to the smallest congregation.

I don’t think for a moment the talk about leadership is about to stop. In fact, I’m not sure it should. But let’s remember the deeply radical nature of the Bible’s view of leadership and use that as our measure.

– ACL President Mark Thompson writes in The Australian Church Record, June 2010. (1MB PDF.)