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Christian Leader; Who, What or How is that? 1/2

11 Mar

Never before were people so occupied by the theme of leadership as today. If Christian leaders do not pay attention to this gentle relation between leadership and culture we might find ourselves sooner or later lost in the mixture of biblical teaching and cultural influences.

Leadership in its Complexity

Before we dive straight into the topic of leadership I believe it must be remarked that this single subject could be easily spread over thousands of pages and dozens of books due to its variety. Any further discussion about leadership will strictly depend on the very group of people it is exercised over, considering their socio-economic background, history, geographical location, intellectual level, age group, but among others also religion, denominational ranges and individual personality traits.[1] All these contribute somehow to a resulting sum of attitudes, leadership chaosexpectations, perceptions, customs, practices and the whole atmosphere in, from or towards a Leadership Culture (further only LC) in any given environment. LC will substantially influence matters such as assertiveness, gender differentiation, terms of hiring (Nepotism[2] and Cronyism[3] vs. Meritocracy[4]), power distance (top-down or flat), focus (task or people), mutual mindset (collectivistic or individualistic), communication (specific or diffuse), time horizon, space orientation, desired leadership traits, emotional relation and decision making processes all the way to the very core definition of what is leadership.[5]

For instance, taking into consideration only the attribute of power distance, while openness and room for discussion given by a leader is well appreciated in most parts of Africa and Western Europe (flat), in many Asian and Latin American situations this would be perceived as a weak leadership. On the other hand, if we tried to employ strong dictatorial power (top-down) in the first countries we might easily run into strong resistance, lack of respect and eventually fragmentation of a team, in other words – a total failure.

Therefore while many of these properties deserve greater attention, I will not try here to adequately address each one of them. Instead I will try to answer two overarching questions with respect to leadership in our missional theology.

  1. Is there a universal Christian leadership?
  2. How should culture affect the way we lead?

What do I mean by “leadership”?

For the purpose of this work a most basic, dictionary definition of leadership will be used. Stripped of the many secondary, supplementing layers we will work with a relatively simple notion. Leadership is “the position or function of a leader, a person who guides or directs a group.”[6] Notice that the method for directing or guiding is not closer specified. So whether, taking the previous example, he is applying the flat or top-down fashion of leadership is at this point irrelevant, together with all the other secondary attributes.

leaderSometimes the word leader is also used in connection to an individual who is well disciplined, prudent or is leading a well-organized life. Such an understanding of a self-leadership is too excluded from our simplified definition.

All it proposes is that a person has a certain influence over a group, thus guiding and directing it based on the position he was given or a function he is performing. Naturally this implies there are followers that are heading the same way as the leader. Yet whether they had to subordinate to him leaving their own opinion behind or if they simply agreed with his initiative is again unrelated. As long as this person was the reason for the group to move in a certain direction, it goes in line with our definition of a leader.

Is there a universal Christian leadership?

Putting all the culture aside, is there anything we might say ought to be present in any form of Christian leadership? Or in the contrary is there something that should never occur in our circles? Even though Bible does not provide for us a thorough presentation on the methods and strategies of the Christian leadership, it is surprisingly clear on the traits of anyone who would aspire for such position. In the first epistle to Timothy, Paul extensively writes about the proper conduct in the house of God (1.Tim. 3:15) with a practical emphasis on recognizing godly leadership.[7] Leadership alone is merely an abstract concept that is given a particular, actual form only through the person performing it – leader. That is why persons are inseparable part of any given leadership structure. In 1.Timothy 3:1-7 we can find scriptural guidelines for universal characteristics of an “episcope” a leader who will rightly uphold his leadership in any given circumstance.

“This is a faithful saying: If a man desires the position of a bishop, he desires a good work. 2 A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, temperate, sober-minded, of good behavior, hospitable, able to teach; 3 not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, but gentle, not quarrelsome, not covetous; 4 one who rules his own house well, having his children in submission with all reverence 5 (for if a man does not know how to rule his own house, how will he take care of the church of God?); 6 not a novice, lest being puffed up with pride he fall into the same condemnation as the devil. 7 Moreover he must have a good testimony among those who are outside, lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil. [8]

In other words before solving any other question regarding LC in the Christian Leadership we ought to attentively look at this list, study it and draw a comparison between our (potential) leaders and this record. Everything else timothycomes as second. Surely thorough exegesis is always essential in finding the timeless biblical principle to conclude correct hermeneutics. Yet one ought to be careful in ascribing too much cultural attachments to these verses. In the moment one thing is taken out as mere cultural suggestion, the entire chain falls and it becomes a sort of cherry-picking – everyone takes what feels right for him depending on his own current culture or context leaving the rest behind as outdated and obsolete. Such an approach would massively undermine the relevance of this passage for us today. Since we have no reason to assume that Paul intended only leaders in Ephesus not to be e.g. violent, quarrelsome or greedy while leaders in other cities, ages and cultures could easily be so; we should perceive also the rest of the paragraph in its entirety and magnitude.

Either we engage in thorough examination, contrasting ourselves with the Biblical teaching, personal example of Jesus Christ and guidance of Holy Spirit to shape our thought and our culture. Or we let the culture shape the way we read the Bible. All in all universally appropriate Christian Leadership will always seek God first and only then approach the culture around.


[1] . Vol. 15: The Magnetic fellowship: Reaching and keeping people. 1988 (L. K. Weeden, Ed.). The Leadership Library. Carol Stream, IL; Waco, TX: Christianity Today, Inc.; Word Books. pp. 18-19.
[2] Nepotism: favoritism (as in appointment to a job) based on kinship. Merriam-Webster, I. (2003). Merriam-Webster’s collegiate dictionary. (Eleventh ed.). Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster, Inc.
[3] Cronyism: favoritism shown to friends and associates (as by appointing them to positions without regard for their qualifications) Thesaurus  (2012)
[4] Meritocracy: 1. a system in which the talented are chosen and moved ahead on the basis of their achievement. 2. Leadership selected on the basis of intellectual criteria. Merriam-Webster, I. (2003). Merriam-Webster’s collegiate dictionary. (Eleventh ed.). Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster, Inc.
[5] Bentley P. (2004) Cross-Cultural Leadership. MIT Open Courseware, 15.996. Inspired by http://ocw.mit.edu/courses/sloan-school-of-management/15-996-cross-cultural-leadership-fall-2004/index.htm (19th February 2013)
[6] Retrieved from http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/leadership (19th February 2013)
[7] Nelson T. (1997). The Nelson Study Bible New King James Version. USA, Thomas Nelson, Inc. pp. 2040
[8] The New King James Version. 1982 (1 Ti 3:1–7). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
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Posted by on March 11, 2013 in Mission, Theology

 

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