“Secular” Leadership in the Church?

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September 5, 2012 by cbbeard

As we consider the kind of leadership the church needs to fulfill its God-intended mission, the reference par excellence is of course, the Bible.  I believe whole-heartedly that if a church is to resemble God’s intended design, form, and purpose, then we must return to Scripture to see what areas we have abandoned or allowed to be compromised.  However, Augustine rightly said “All truth is God’s truth.”  Actually he wrote, “A person who is a good and true Christian should realize that truth belongs to his Lord, wherever it is found, gathering and acknowledging it even in pagan literature” (as cited in Green, 1999,p. 47).

The point Augustine is making, is that truth is true regardless of the source, and since God is the God of truth, all truth comes from him.  What does this mean for the church?  It means that while our primary resource is indeed THE truth of God’s Word, that we should not be afraid to use resources that are found to be true outside of Scripture.  One area in which this principle can be applied is in the practical application of leadership.

The amount of leadership theories and methods known in the world today are quite vast (Northouse, 2010, offers a great examination).  Certainly there are valuable pieces to most of the leadership approaches and theories, and the Christian leader can glean truth from each of these theories to put into practice.  If I were to choose a single leadership theory for use within the church, however, I would suggest transformational leadership is the best theory as a whole.  This theory is valuable for the fluidity of the our era because, as Northouse (2010) stated, “Transformational leadership fits the needs of today’s work groups, who want to be inspired and empowered to succeed in times of uncertainty (Chapter 9, para. 1, emphasis added).   This theory is valuable for times of uncertainty because it focuses on changing and transforming people, with concern for the follower as well as organizational goals.

This leadership theory is an excellent choice for the church because it is essentially an extension of “making disciples,” the God-given mission for the church.  The type of transformation a leader in the church should be most concerned about is the transforming of people to resemble Jesus Christ. Those who are in the church should look less like “me” and more like “He.”  Of course, this transformation is a partnership between the disciple and God, and church leaders can be guides for this disciple-making process.  It is also ideal for the diverse and globalized context because it is focused on the follower and his or her uniqueness rather than a “cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all” approach to leadership and organizational goals.

Northouse (2010) identifies four factors of transformational leadership, and each of these factors is appropriate for the church and for leadership in contemporary society.

  • “Idealized influence” has a resemblance of “authentic leadership theory” in that the leader is considered to be an example for followers.  The followers see the “ideal” in the example of the leader. Paul knew the power of this when he wrote, “I urge you to imitate me.” (1 Corinthians 4:16)  Paul was an example of idealized influence because he was an imitator of Christ.
  • “Inspiration” is important because people want to be a part of something bigger than themselves.  This means inspiring people to think outside of their own perceived limitations to see their potential (God-given and God-expected, of course). Paul urged the Colossians to “Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things” (Colossians 3:2) so that they would focus on the God-sized intention for their lives.
  • “Intellectual stimulation” is always necessary for transformation because it challenges beliefs and values and causes reconsideration and evaluation of things that might be hindering the potential of the individual or organization.  A leader must always call into question basic underlying assumptions that do not align with God’s desire for the church and individual.  The “renewing of the mind” that Paul talks about in Romans 12:2 requires a replacement of old selfish thoughts and ways with the thoughts and ways of God. This results in transformation.
  • “Individualized consideration” is important in that people “come to the table” with a variety of worldviews, presuppositions, and needs.  The leader must understand that not every person is identical and people often need to be led in different ways to help them reach their potential. Of course this is reflected by Paul in his discussion of the church in 1 Corinthians 12 in which he writes that the church is “one body with many parts.”

Of course, this theory also fits nicely with transcendent needs; regardless of the uncertainty and diversity of individuals, this theory will help meet people where they are and transform them.  This leadership theory would be effective in a church in Paris, France or Paris, Texas; and everywhere in between.  Specifically in the church context, it can help people to be more like Christ, the ultimate transcendent need!  As a church leader, I understand that the goals of the organization (the church) greatly depend on the transformation of the people (the disciples).  The church’s mission relies on God using transformed people to partner with him in taking transformation to others!

Here’s the kicker…I believe every follower of Christ is called to be a transformational leader!  Certainly God has different roles for people in the church, and some are called to be leaders on a broader scale.  But making disciples absolutely requires the four factors of transformational leadership that we discussed, therefore this “secular” leadership theory can be helpful for every man, woman, and child who claim to be a disciple of Jesus Christ!

So what do you think?  Which of the four factors of transformational leadership is most absent from the church?  Which of these factors is the most difficult to apply?  Do you think all followers of Christ are called to be transformational leaders?

Augustine, & Green, R. P. H. (1999). On Christian Teaching [De Doctrina Christiana.]. Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press.
Northouse, P. (2010). Leadership: Theory and practice. (5th ed.). Los Angeles, CA: Sage Publications.

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