Thursday, May 29, 2008

That Vision Thing

George Barna writes: “A person who attempts to lead others without vision is simply playing a dangerous, arrogant game” (Barna G 1997:55). I asked my mentor, a well known minister, whether he had a vision. He said, “We’re a family. Like a family, we just muddle along.” He has a postgraduate degree. He’s been in his present Church for more than a decade, and it is vibrant and prosperous. It would also seem to have its heart in the right place, having just taken in some 200 refugees (see my ministry blog). QUESTION: Is the vision of one man or woman really necessary? Might it not engender resistance? or place an undue sense of burden on a minister? Could it not be stirred by the Spirit among all? The photo shows George Barna.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

God and Church Authority

Andy Stanley, in The Next Generation Leader, relates an incident where he disagreed with a major decision of his elders. He writes: “I was really tempted to do an end run around the elders' decision. But I had been brought up believing that God works through channels of authority. ... Now, five years later, when I think back on how close I came to ignoring the advice of that discerning group of men, it makes me feel sick” (Stanley A 2003:97). In my own Church, the official view is that the decisions of the Church Meeting (the whole membership) are “those which Christ Himself imparts”. Personally, I take this further, and believe, with Stanley, that the decisions of the elders and deacons are given by God, both when I agree and disagree. I take a dim view of those who pick a decision apart, asking who decided what why and how. QUESTION: Agreed? How is a Church to know God's will through its routine governance? Could the prudent decision of a meeting be the wrong one in God's plan -- and vice versa?

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Coercive Leadership: Mixed Signals

Transformational Christian leadership generally disavows coercion. On the surface of it, that is. My M.Th. thesis has required a semantic analysis of the literature, which reveals the following. On the one hand, the literature explicitly rejects (I’ll put all the citations in one place) power, force, authoritarianism, power-seeking, control, command, coercion, domination, cajoling, and manipulation (Banks and Ledbetter 2004:86,108; Engstrom 1976:40; Wofford 1999:92,182; Hunter 2004:16,53,55,108; Jinkins 2002:24; Thomas 1999:19; Halcomb, Hamilton, and Malmstadt 2000:219; Thrall, McNicol and McElrath 1999:21; Ford 1991:43; Munroe 2005:43). On the other hand, it regularly describes transformational Christian leadership in terms which suggest much the same: power, forceful power, authority, inducement, enforcement, control, and strength (Hunter 2004:62,63,67; Hybels 2002:64; Halcomb, Hamilton, and Malmstadt 2000:46; Stanley 2006:118; Munroe 2005:76; Maxwell 1998:36,70). Leadership, writes Engstrom (1976:114), is “to control others”, while Wright (2000:16) considers that it is “the exercise of power ... Power is at the heart of leadership, ...” Servant leadership (which is generally synonymous with transformational leadership) “does not avoid the exercise of power ...” (Banks and Ledbetter 2004:108). QUESTION: So which is it? Why the apparently conflicting language -- often by one and the same author? What would represent a genuine alternative?

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Ordained by God

Ted Engstrom is one of the “early” writers on Christian leadership. In The Making of a Leader, he states: “That God ordains men to serve is clear from Psalm 75:6,7: ‘Promotion cometh neither from the east, nor from the west, nor from the south. But God ... putteth down one, and setteth up another’” (Engstrom T W 1976:35). QUESTION: What is the meaning of “putteth down” and “setteth up”? To what extent, then, is leadership dependent on a leader’s contribution to the leadership situation? And how would one discern that one is ordained by God? (also see “Definition of the Call/Calling”). The photo shows Ted Engstrom.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Is It Manipulation?

H.B. London Jr. quotes Lyle Schaller: “Three-quarters of all church ministry is significantly reduced because of nonproductive conflict.” He then recalls a meeting with Dr. Norman Shawchuk: “He told me the number one reason for conflict is that leaders generally have poor interpersonal skills. A second major reason is that many congregations are determined to resist change even though they must inevitably come to grips with the sweeping changes all around them. When a church resists a leader's efforts to change strategically, it is only a matter of time before the church becomes riddled with conflict” (Barna G ed. 1997:118). But notice the language. The leader needs to exert “efforts”, and these need to be applied “strategically”. Further, such efforts are necessary in view of apparently widespread “resistance”. Presumably therefore the need for the “interpersonal skills” to gain the advantage? QUESTION: Is it manipulation? Can the priesthood of believers be reconciled with “efforts” applied against an intransigent Church? Why should the Church be intransigent in the first place? And why is the leader apparently thought to have a special advantage of foresight? The photo shows H.B. London Jr.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Professed Agreement

There’s a fascinating object lesson of the difference between Global North and Global South in Global Missiology for the 21st Century (Taylor W D 2000). It is the contrast between the introductory paper of Samuel Escobar (a South American), and the response of Jonathan Bonk (a North American). Escobar highlights eleven major themes. Bonk then follows up with professed agreement on all of them: Escobar is “right”, he is “absolutely appropriate”, and so on. But on closer examination, a different picture emerges. Here are just three examples which go to the core of the differences: Escobar emphasises the need for "spiritual power " among Christians (:38). Bonk responds that, yes, Christians need to be "powerful advocates of ... values" (:49). Escobar proposes that poverty will be solved “only [by] the redemptive power of the gospel” (:33). Bonk replies that, yes, the gospel is the solution through the “sharing of resources” (:52). Escobar considers that, in all its diversity, the Church has unity through "the work of the Holy Spirit" (:28). Bonk responds that, yes, the Church is united through various “elements” in its midst (:48). Bonk, as a matter of interest, does not refer to the Holy Spirit even once, where Escobar does so many times. And so the fundamental contrasts pile up. In the very process of “agreeing” with Escobar, Bonk demonstrates just how far he is away from him. QUESTION: Do you see the incongruities here? If so, why Bonk’s professed agreement on all points? What is happening here?

Monday, May 5, 2008

Naïve Faith in Leadership

I often encounter in ministry what I would term “naïve faith” as opposed to “mature faith”. Naïve faith is a faith in outcomes (e.g. “I have faith that God will heal me”), while mature faith is a faith in the God of outcomes (e.g. “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him.” Job 13:15). Yet in the leadership literature, I repeatedly come across an attitude to leadership that would seem close to naïve faith. Here are a few examples. Oswald Sanders states that “faith is vision”, where faith merely refers to “the goal” (Sanders J O 1994:55,56). Bobby Clinton considers that faith refers to a “God-given vision” that is about “some future plan” (Clinton J R 1988:117); while Walter Wright defines faith as “a vision that makes a difference ... seeing tomorrow so powerfully that it shapes today” (Wright W C 2000:66). It is not hard to see that this is, in each case, a faith in outcomes. QUESTION: Is it possible to distinguish such an approach to leadership from naïve faith? How would Christian leadership look different with mature faith? The photo shows Bobby Clinton’s The Making of a Leader.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Theological Excluded Middle

It was Paul Hiebert who first introduced the term “excluded middle” to theology. This is originally a philosophical term which refers to the exclusion of “middle cases" between logical alternatives (Blackburn S 2005:125). The theological “excluded middle” has been a pervasive characteristic of the Church in the Global North. The Church in the Global North has had “a theology of God in cosmic history” (Hiebert P G 1994:198) -- that is, a God who is “the origin, purpose, and destiny” of all He has created (:199) -- and “an awareness of God in natural history” (:199) -- that is, a God who ordains “social relationships [and] the natural world” (:199). However, it has tended to exclude “a theology of God in human history” (:198). This may refer either to the reality of “the spirit world” (:200), or to God’s present acts in “human history and . . . personal biography” (:218). Thus missionaries of the Global North have frequently found themselves in situations where they have been unable to address questions of “the middle level” (:198), to relate the gospel e.g. to demonic influences or the need for divine guidance. However, Hiebert considers that there are two extremes against which we must guard. The first is to tend too much towards “denying the spiritual realm” (:200). The second is “a Christianized form of animism in which spirits and magic are used to explain everything” (:200). QUESTION: Are God’s involvement in the spirit world / human history / personal biography on your leadership menu? Should they be? The photo is a recent one of Paul Hiebert.