Charting a Way to Good Leadership – Part Two



Charting a Way to Good Leadership – Part Two

Episode Five: Charting a Way to Good Leadership 2

How do we guard against the pitfalls of abusive leadership?

SIMON: Obviously all of us could write a book about this, but I want to outline a couple of things from the Old Testament, since that is where many Christian preachers go for their models of leadership (I’ve seen countless books on the leadership style of David, Moses and Nehemiah, but precious few about Jesus).

Firstly, despite what we consider the golden age of Israel, the scriptures are absolutely clear that a single overall leader is against God’s will. When the people come to Samuel and ask for a king, God outlines clearly all the terrible consequences of this choice, ending with this killer line: ‘It is not you [Samuel] they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king.’ (1 Sam 8:7). So my starting point is that no Christian church or organisation should have one person who rules over it.

Secondly, once God gives into Israel’s desire for a king, he maintains what I would call a ‘division of powers’. These powers were administrative (king), ritual (priest) and prophetic (prophet). I think in a church context in particular, it’s vital that these powers are kept separate. If the same person controls the organisation, tells the people what God is saying and acts in a priestly function on behalf of the people (leading worship would be a contemporary example), abuse becomes so much easier. If we must have a king, then we need to hear God’s prophetic irritation coming from offstage and we need our worship to declare God’s reign, which is so different from the grasping rule of the tyrant.

Additionally, I want to fulfil my promise to talk about my time working at Oasis Trust, which is headed up by Steve Chalke. Under Steve’s leadership, Oasis has grown from a small Christian charity to being a major contributor to British civil society. I don’t think anyone who has worked with Steve would deny that he is a big, powerful personality of the kind we have been fretting about. Yet my experience of working with him was positive and empowering. That he has been able to resist the temptation to take absolute control comes down – I believe – to a combination of self-knowledge, tough mentors early on, and strong colleagues. There are folk who have worked at Oasis for a lifetime, which is a good sign of a healthy organisation. Steve’s role is now largely prophetic, with CEOs and trustees running the different organisations, and a wide network of church leaders, school principals and others who reinforce the values of Oasis across the country. While sadly we can’t guarantee that people won’t fall, in my eight years at Oasis I learnt a lot about how God can use a powerful, dynamic leader in a healthy way. Having chatted with some of the people who work closely with Steve, they said that the values, ethos and mission of Oasis have always been centre stage, not Steve as a person. I think that’s a fair comment based on my experience.

I was recently privileged to hear some teaching from an American academic called Michael J Gorman, who has written a wonderful book called ‘Abide and Go’. This contrary command comes from his reading of Jesus’ teaching on the vine in John 15. He sees two ‘fruits’ from us being connected to Jesus: one is that we abide in him, which means we become part of his household. At the time of Jesus, becoming part of a household meant that a person would adopt the religion and practices of the host. That means that abiding is not just about welcome and sustenance by God, but also about a change of lifestyle, what we call metanoia or repentance. The second form of fruit, says Gorman, grows once we are situated in the household of God: we are free from the things that bind us, free to go wherever God may call us. These characteristics: a transformed life, a character free from the trappings of this world and a radical obedience to Jesus, are what Jesus means by ‘bearing fruit.’ Sometimes when a church leader is numerically or financially successful, people overlook their character flaws and say, ‘But look at the fruit.’ Gorman has clarified for me an ongoing dis-ease I have always had with that phrase: yes, let’s look for fruit, but we should be looking for the kind of fruit that God wants to grow. Although it may feel that the focus on character is a very modern obsession, it’s clearly there in the scriptures. Given that many parts of the Bible were written during occupation, exile, war, persecution and famine, when we might feel inclined to look for ‘powerful’ leadership, I find that encouraging.


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About the Author

Simon loves helping individuals, churches and organisations through times of change and re-envisioning, and bringing together the people and resources needed to turn dreams into reality. He is also a gifted teacher and preacher and a member of the British and Irish Association for Practical Theology.

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