Thursday, December 10, 2015

Deconstructing the "Good" Leader

"Leadership" is less important, according to the Apostle Paul 
Gradually I came to see that the results which can be called good are few. And they cannot be the criterion for whether or not what we do is worth-while. It is hopeless to try to weigh up the good, the bad, the futile, and the merely harmless, and hope that there will be enough of the justify all the rest. Elisabeth Elliot, quoted in Servants and Fools
In Servants and Fools (2015), Arthur Boers launches a sharp critique of the Christian leadership genre- and constructs a consistently Biblical theology of leadership. Boers, who holds the R. J. Benardo Family Chair of Leadership at Tyndale Seminary in Toronto, describes the inadequacy of the endless supply of church leadership volumes, presenting easy to follow recipes for effectiveness and success.  
So many books are simply business manuals with an anecdotal use of a Moses or Nehemiah thrown in: " 'best practices' drawn from Moses leading people from slavery through the wilderness do not translate neatly to what it takes to manage a nonprofit organization or pastor a congregation large or small, let alone run a corporation or launch a business or manage a store." Boers notes the worn out "servant leadership," a creation of Quaker writer Robert Greenleaf. A fictional Herman Hesse character is the origin of the idea. Jesus contrasts servants from leaders- the "leaders" of his day are examples of what not to emulate.  
From Israel's Judges and Kings to Herod's Banquet, Boers substantiates his main contention that "the scriptures are predominately pessimistic about human leadership, especially when it comes to rulers." The Bible's wariness of leadership is summed up in words of Psalm 146: "Put not your trust in princes."

The Prophets are the one leadership institution that survived (he lifts John the Baptizer as a model of New Testament leadership). The prophet's primary role "was always to undercut the pretentions of the mighty and to give God's voice to the voiceless." Boers also contrasts saints with heroes: the biblical "leaders" such as kings, rulers, and princes, are not included in any of the litany of the saints- and are in fact left out of the "cloud of witnesses" named in Hebrews 11.

God's Kingship and Lordship in Jesus from the beginning were political rebukes of human leaders who held those titles as "they were a denial of other messiahs and other lords (i.e., Caesar)." The chapter titled "The Plattered Head and Five Smooth Loaves," presents a grim contrast of two feasts to show that the world's kingdoms are in deadly competition with God's reign.

In Paul's Epistles, "leader" is far from synonymous with charismatic and self-promoting entrepreneurs. It is functional, and of secondary importance. The Apostle Paul's mention of "administration" (NAB) as one of the spiritual gifts in 1 Cor. 12:28 is also  translated "leadership skills" in the CEB - or "patronage" in other cited scholarship. Boers notes that the term, aside from being ambiguous, is actually listed second last in priority among Paul's ranking of the gifts, only higher than different kinds of tongues.
What would Paul have to say about the "branding" fad? Would he have likened it to "boasting?" First, he mocked self important leaders as "super-apostles." (2 Cor.2:11). Second, he leveled the traditional leadership categories so important in the Roman world: boasting, wisdom, intelligence, rhetorical skills, and social status. (I Cor. 1:20- 21, 26- 31) Finally, he boasted of his own weakness: "We have become the scum of the earth, the waste that runs off everything..." (I Cor. 4:13)
How can a leader be called good? Are there good leaders? These questions take up the last part of the book as Boers builds his theology, describing the actual spheres of leadership. It's not just about good leadership, it is about Christian leadership. Here is his definition: "Inspiring, challenging, or empowering people or groups to join God's mission of redemption and healing." All Christians are called to some form of leadership, not to "brand ourselves or to proclaim  great things about who we are or what we accomplished." Jesus simply commands us to be who and what we already are- salt and light.  
Convictions, people skills, and effectiveness, according to Boers, do not define the good leader, because opinions are not always worthy, reasonable, or true, even sociopaths are able to work well with others, and "making and selling junk can be effectively profitable."  Instead Christian leaders have ethical goodness and bear fruit consistent with justice and righteousness. Because fruitfulness is elusive, we don't judge by what we harvest, but by the seeds we plant. The value and rightness of the work is more important than the results. 
This is what Merton wrote about fruitfulness: "All the good that you will do will come not from you but from the fact that you have allowed yourself, in the obedience of faith, to be used by God's Love. Think of this more, and gradually you will be free from the need to prove yourself, and you can be more open to the power that will work through you without your knowing it."

Refreshing in its approach and scholarship, Servants and Fools is a rigorous biblical examination, and a welcome departure from Jesus CEO and its offspring. It's a journey to the spiritual core of serving in the name of Christ. Along these lines, it has much in common with Peterson's Working the Angles or Nouwen's In the Name of Jesus than even Good to Great, (whose author, Jim Collins has written a follow-up volume explaining that Good to Great does not translate to non-profits -Good to Great and the Social Sectors: Why Business Thinking is Not the Answer).


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