Rethinking leadership

It’s not often that you find a good article on leadership in a theological journal, but one arrived in the mail yesterday. It’s in the July-September 2005 issue of Bibliotheca Sacra, and it’s called “The Burden of Leadership: The Mosaic Paradigm of Kingship (Deut. 17:14-20)”. I’ll admit the title could be catchier, but the article is a good one, written by Daniel I. Block.

“The church in America is experiencing a crisis of leadership,” the article begins, “not only with respect to leadership style but also with respect to definition.”

This is true, but it’s also ironic. We have leadership summits and immutable laws of leadership. My bookshelf is full of books on leadership, and yet leadership is still not widely understood or widely practiced, at least at an exceptional level. Books like Leonard Sweet’s Summoned to Lead challenge many of the common assumptions on leadership.

So does Block, who states that the modern definitions of leadership “often sound slightly narcissistic.” They end up being about the leader’s heroism and charisma and reaching our own “leadership potential”.

When God called Moses to leadership, Moses responded with five responses: “I am nobody,” “I have no authority,” “I have no credibility,” “I have no talents,” “I don’t want to go.” Block writes:

Remarkably, in responding to these protestations the Lord refused to answer according to modern definitions of leadership…Instead, in each instance the Lord deflected Moses’ focus from his own inadequacies to God’s absolute sufficiencies. In the mission to which Moses was called the question was not who Moses is, but who God is.

If Block is right, then the focus of Christian leadership is not the qualities of the leader but the sufficiency of God to accomplish what he wants done.

Block spends some time developing a paradigm for leadership from the instructions that Moses gave for selecting a king in Deuteronomy 17:14-20. I won’t outline his whole article here. His conclusions, though, “run against the grain of church leadership definitions” that are normally given. Some of his conclusions:

  • Those who lead the people of God must be chosen by God.
  • Leaders are to exist for the well-being of those they lead, and they are not to exploit their positions for personal advantage or selfish gain.
  • Subordination to God is a critical factor in leadership – more important than administrative gifts or persuasive talent.

And, as well, this paragraph:

Before leaders can presume the right to teach people God’s Word or to create visions of growth and destiny for them, they must embody personally the ideals of covenant relationship to which the people have bound themselves. This may call for a modification of Maxwell’s leadership proverb, “He who thinks he leads, but has no followers, is only taking a walk.” Actually, leaders in the church must be taking a walk, walking according to God’s Word so they may learn to fear the Lord and obey His will.

The leader almost becomes the chief follower of God – prime follower rather than prime visionary, in a way.

There’s more to be said. I’m still waiting for the book that really develops a Biblical model of leadership. It’s refreshing to read something that points us in the right direction. Leadership is less about my own competence and vision, whatever those may be, as much as it is about God’s sufficiency and my commitment to follow him and his call. This isn’t to dismiss some of the other components of leadership, but it’s a good place to start.

Darryl Dash

Darryl Dash

I'm a grateful husband, father, oupa, and pastor of Liberty Grace Church in Toronto. I love learning, writing, and encouraging. I'm on a lifelong quest to become a humble, gracious old man.
Toronto, Canada