Introducing "The Christian Leader"
Years ago I wrote a book called, The Christian Leader, and at the top of this year, I wanted to introduce this book to you by providing the introduction from the book here (with the permission of the publisher).
I will be posting excerpts from this book on The Bonhoeffer Project blog throughout 2018, because I think the message is as relevant today as it was when I wrote it.
Introducing The Christian Leader:
Beside my desk, on my desk, on the bookshelves that surround me are more than seventy-five books on leadership. Over the last year I have read them, scribbled in their margins, underlined passages, and typed what I liked into my research notes. I am not even counting the hundreds of biographies of leaders I have read over the years: evil Mao, funny Mo Udall, confused John Lennon, good John Stott, great Winston Churchill, and mysterious Carl Jung. I have toughed my way through book summaries, YouTube seminars, and personal interviews. I have attended so many seminars on leadership that I can't remember them all. I have led and I have been led. I have a lot of information on leadership theory, skills, and personalities. I have taken the leadership profile assessments, I have given them to others, and I have been through the charts, graphs, and all the "twenty-six ways to be a leader" type of stuff.
Most leadership literature talks about a "right kind" of leadership personality. You know the type: big-picture visionaries who serve others and get the best out of people. They suck all the oxygen out of a room when they enter and their big smiles reveal their artificially whitened teeth. They are exciting speakers who move their followers to tears or laughter, as desired.
The question that has nagged me is this: Did Jesus fit the successful leadership profile? From everything I know about him, he didn't, nor does he intend or expect that any of us fit the profile. I am writing this book because I believe we need to change how the church views Christian leadership. We have paid homage to a secular model. We have secularized Christian leadership. Actually, we need to change the way Christians practice leadership.
The word secular comes from the Latin saecularis, which means "this present world." Its synonyms are nonreligious, profane, temporal—words associated with humanism, which puts man at the center. It is a worldview that puts God in the margin; he is brought in only to bless humankind's best efforts to achieve. Sadly, many Christian leaders today do not take Jesus seriously when it comes to getting things done in our churches, ministries, and organizations. They look to him for how to pray and what to believe about God, but they don't look to him as a model for how to be a leader. They seem more determined to be like successful secular leaders rather than distinctly Christian in their influence of others. As the late John Stott pointed out, "Leadership is a word shared by Christians and non-Christians alike, but this does not mean that their concept of it is the same." No wonder we have lost the culture.
This is not a book about improving Christian organizations; it is about changing how Christians lead. It is about how rehabilitated leaders change everything they touch. It is for anyone with a megaphone, a platform to speak, who wants to lead others in being a witness for truth. It is for people with a pulpit, whether that pulpit be a business or a position of influence in a domain of the culture: entertainment, sports, politics, industry, the arts, academia, or religion. If you are someone to whom others listen, you have a pulpit—and this book is for you.
I will make my case for Jesus as more than whom God revealed in the Incarnation and the resurrected King of kings and Lord of lords, but additionally as our leader, and our model for any leading that is to be done in his name. I find Jesus fascinating. He was the smartest, most effective leader in history, and yet he didn't seem to try to be a leader, nor did he formally teach others about leadership. He did, however, teach his students to teach others. In this book we will explore how Jesus' style of leadership leads to sacrifice, humility, and suffering. His disciples labored more than three hundred years in obscurity before achieving a level of power that we today would recognize as important. Jesus had a message and he set his course to deliver it, no matter what. He was a natural leader; he had followers because he influenced people from his person, his innate character. Contemporary leaders don't do this much.
Most contemporary Christians believe that being noticed in the secular and Christian press is critical to success. It's not that people would state such a belief, but one only has to listen to the excitement generated when some Christian effort is promoted in the press. It is exciting to be noticed, and it is normal to direct any future behavior to getting more notice. After several successful forays into this method of doing what works and getting rewarded, we are hooked. In time, a leadership character is developed in persons, institutions, and finally in cultures.
This pattern of doing what works and getting rewarded is the enemy of Christian leadership. It thrives on making Christian work impersonal and exploitive. It serves the leader rather than those the leader leads. Sadly, this pattern dominates Christian leadership in the West. It is so powerful that its flow is pulling us all along and sometimes even under.
I propose that we need a different style of leadership—one patterned after Jesus. We need to learn to influence others out of our character; that is what Jesus did. He taught us that the key to world revolution is to be yourself in the normal and common parts of life. If this sounds too theoretical for you, let the words of Dallas Willard help you and give you the courage to believe that it can actually be done:
If [Jesus] were to come today as he did then, he could carry out his mission through most any decent and useful occupation. He could be a clerk or accountant in a hardware store, a computer repairman, a banker, an editor, doctor, waiter, teacher, farmhand, lab technician, or construction worker. He could run a house-cleaning service or repair automobiles. In other words, if he were to come today he could very well do what you do. He could very well live in your apartment or house, hold down your job, have your education and life prospects, and live within your family, surroundings, and time. None of this would be the least hindrance to the eternal kind of life that was his by nature and becomes available to us through him. Our human life, it turns out, is not destroyed by God's life but is fulfilled in it and in it alone.
Jesus influenced others because of who he was, not because he was well-known or a person of power or because he had
mastered a set of skills or implemented an effective leadership strategy. He could have completed his mission living in your house, driving your car, married to your spouse, working at your office, and raising your kids because leadership comes down to character. Many who aspire to leadership are looking for the right circumstances so they can lead. Many in positions of leadership find it difficult to lead because of obstacles, such as a lack of funds, authority, and or confusion about methods. Jesus faced all of these—and more—yet he accomplished his mission. He said, "Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light." Any leader who submits to him and learns from him what it means to lead will be able to lead.
Many have deconstructed the divinity of Christ, the veracity of Christ, the teachings of Christ, and the claims of Christ. I am calling for the deconstruction of the irrelevancy of Christ as a leader. I am calling for the rehabilitation of the Christian leader. Think of reading this work as going into rehab. Rehab normally requires leaving normal routine and committing oneself to a new environment. In this case, you will need to provide your own way of withdrawing from society. It all begins in the mind. The belief that you can feel your way into change is false and dangerous. Knowledge is the starting point. Knowledge in this case is used more broadly than the stimulation of the intellect. It is what we might call an experiential knowing. You begin by reading, then you ponder and meditate on the principles and examples, and then train yourself to think and act differently.
We will learn from Jesus, my personal story, and the examples of numerous leaders such as Winston Churchill and the first-century historian Josephus how to lead and how not to lead.
Underlying it all is the firm foundation of Jesus and his example found in Scripture. Each chapter begins with a title and statement about Jesus' life that will be familiar to many. Regardless of where the book takes you, you will not be far from Christ himself. Jesus was a different kind of teacher. He spoke with a natural authority; it was the nature of his knowledge that set him apart. The Pharisees focused on doing the right thing. Jesus emphasized becoming the kind of person who wants to do the right thing. Others taught the importance of doing good; Jesus taught how to be good. He didn't teach behavior modification alone; he taught how to change the sources of behavior. It's my hope that you will begin to think of Jesus as your leader. Then you will know what to do with your calling to lead others.
1. John Stott, Basic Christian Leadership (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2002), 11.
2. The plan is commonly called the Great Commission. See Matthew 28:18-20 and Acts 1:5-8. It is not that the church has ignored these instructions; it's that we have misunderstood and misapplied them.
3. The church became legal with the Edict of Milan in 313 CE. This was both the apex of its success and the beginning of its decline. One hundred years later, it was compromised and corrupt.
4. Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1998), 13.
5. Matthew 11:29-30.
Written by Bill Hull
Taken from The Christian Leader by Bill Hull. Copyright © 2016 by Robert W. Hull. Used by permission of Zondervan. www.zondervan.com.