Understanding the Basis of Christian Leadership

Excerpted From
Cultural Insights for Christian Leaders
By Douglas McConnell

Thinking missiologically about leaders begins with acknowledging God’s presence and mission. No matter what role is assigned to a given person within the organization, we recognize that God is the leader; we are followers, disciples and servants. Such a realization is the basis for genuine humility. As Christian leaders, we are entrusted with oversight of the organization or some domain within it, to move it toward the unique mission understood as significant to the broader mission of God. For leaders to live into such an important calling, they must be committed disciples with their focus on following Christ, while leading others toward the goals of the organization collectively. The Bible assures Christian leaders that they are “gifted by the Holy Spirit,” emphasizing the work of the Triune God, instilling the leaders “with a passion to bring glory to God.”

Leadership as a gift from God does not take away from the responsibility or requirement of diligent effort borne by the leader. The organizational leader’s role is to influence others toward the purpose and goals of the organization. Missiologists have identified this in terms of a process of taking initiative; inspiring others; focusing, harmonizing and enhancing the gifts of others; and building the community in the process. In this process, the leader is interacting with followers in serving God’s purpose by working with their gifts (and skills), while recognizing that they are agents of God’s mission. The process then is “influencing a specific group of God’s people, toward God’s purposes for the group.” Intrinsic to the process is the belief that the leader can and will discern the organizational mission in intercultural contexts in ways that reflect the organization’s commitment to God’s mission.

Good leadership is critical to the success of an organizational mission. Likely you share my experience of watching an organization deliberate on the appointment of a leader to an important position such as an international director or president/CEO. Typically, the work of a smaller group of dedicated members in the search process identifies candidates who have demonstrated their ability and giftedness in previous service to a church, institution or other organization. A prayerful discernment process follows, which identifies the person who best fits the current organizational environment and needs. Generally this process yields a leader whose calling aligns with the organizational mission, and a new era begins in the life of the organization.

A more frequent experience is the troublesome process of identifying and appointing leaders in other positions who have not yet demonstrated their ability and giftedness. Giving individuals an opportunity to learn and serve in leadership is always a challenge, particularly in intercultural contexts. I observe this often in the process of identifying local believers to take on the responsibilities of new ministries and as institutional leaders struggle to find minority candidates to fill strategic positions. This points to the necessity of intentionally developing a diverse group of leaders at various levels in the organization to ensure that our organizations do more than talk about intercultural leadership. It requires strategic action and a willingness to deal with the inevitable financial and structural impact. Intercultural leadership is not an easy goal, but it is a core missiological goal.

While we will deal with the cultural and organizational aspects of leadership in subsequent chapters, we must not overlook a core theological issue in the process: the role of the Holy Spirit. In recognizing leadership as a gift, Romans 12:6 and 12:8 say, “We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us … the leader, in diligence,” to which Plueddemann adds, “We are assured that the Holy Spirit gives this gift wherever and whenever it is needed.” Along with other necessary gifts, the gift of leadership requires the community of faithful believers not only to identify the leader but also to faithfully support that person’s leadership. Leaders learn to lead in communities that learn to follow. The two are inseparable.

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Excerpted from Cultural Insights for Christian Leaders by Douglas McConnell. Baker Academic, a division of Baker Publishing Group. Copyright 2018. Used by permission.