the_king.jpg Last summer, I asked if Jesus was a failure as a visionary Leader. I think I mostly made my point, but there will remain some who are unconvinced, I’m sure. To suggest anything wrong with the way our Lord did things is a serious breach of Christian etiquette, perhaps enough to get one run out of town on a rail. But there it is. I left it alone for a while, thinking maybe I’d write further on it at some point, but never did. This spring, Ruth Tucker posted a “provocative” piece on Acknowledging Jesus as a Failed Leader, which received a fair bit of blogosphere linkage. I had hoped to resume this dialogue sooner, but Tucker’s post disappeared for some time, reappearing online just recently. She may be even more provocative than I was:

That Jesus was a failed leader both by example and by teaching is something we already know at least unconsciously. Jesus taught that the first shall be last; take up your cross and follow me; to be a minister or to be great in the eyes of God is to be a servant. His teaching on leadership was upside-down and backwards. Indeed, it was no leadership teaching at all. We all know that, but we easily try to fix Jesus’ teachings or put the prefix servant in front of the word leadership. But the effort falls short.

It falls short because with Jesus we get a lot more than theory. He modeled his teachings. He was a servant, to be sure. But he was not, I argue, a servant leader.

That’ll get some notice. And I rather strongly suspect she’s right and am interested to hear her entire case. The article is just a preview; in her forthcoming book, Leadership Reconsidered: Becoming a Person of Influence, her emphasis “is not merely the wrong-headedness of leadership training, but the right emphasis that must take its place that of legacy.”

And it’s true. A lot of Christian leadership rhetoric is composed of corporate principles with eisogeted proof-texts to back them up, but under an even moderately critical eye, it doesn’t wash. It all comes down to this CEO-styled megachurch pastoral model, doesn’t it? One of the people linking to Tucker’s post also pointed out an article by Michael Horton, who laments,

These days, even in more confessional denominations, it seems that instead of being the Lord’s servant, ambassador, and minister of reconciliation, a pastor is supposed to be the community’s quarterback, class president, or the one voted “most likely to succeed.”

It used to be that the pastor had an office and worked in his study, but today the pastor has a job and works in his office. Whereas Peter organized the diaconal office so that the apostles could devote themselves to the Word and to prayer, ideal ministers seem increasingly to be managers, therapists, entertainers, and entrepreneurial businesspeople.

Open up the average issue of Christianity Today to advertisements for pastoral positions and you’ll find descriptions like “team builder,” “warm and personal style,” “outgoing,” “contagious personality,” and “effective communicator.” (Catholic friends tell me that something like this affects Catholicism, too.)

I think they’re looking for a Director of Sales and Marketing, whom they may (or may not) call “Pastor.” I’m not against directors of sales and marketing; I just don’t think that this is what we should be looking for in the way of shepherds.

It’s likely that not all of the readers of this blog will concur wholeheartedly with what Horton has written, but he describes the situation quite rightly. Christendom is vocationally chasing after the wrong sort of leader, and as Tucker notes, our educational institutions are providing the training to fill the misguided request. When in composing this post I returned to a related article I had saved, I found that the CT article Jesus is Not a CEO, which is subtitled “A guide for the next time you pick up a Christian leadership book,” was preceded by a two-panel animated banner ad depicting a certain Christian university’s leadership program as suitable training for a military career. Biola Leadership Banner Since I’m not even sure quite where to start with that one, I’ll just skip down to the article content, which opens by saying, “Beware of any literature that starts with these words: ‘Jesus was the greatest leader of all time.’ The sentiment behind those words may be true, but the point they make is irrelevant.” Of course, the point being proposed is that the words are in fact not true… certainly not in the primary senses in which we understand the term “leader.” Farther down, the article’s author, Chris Blumhofer, editor of, states:

Reading the Gospels for leadership principles like team building, vision casting, or “seeing the potential in others” makes a mockery of authorial intent and historical-cultural backgrounds. Such readings appear to take the Bible seriously, but they don’t do it justice; they simply create anachronistic interpretations. Could Jesus-as-leader book be flirting with recreating Jesus as one of us (or one of who we hope to be)?

Jesus has much to say to leaders, but we (especially those of us who lead) can only hear him clearly when we remember that Jesus is not primarily a leader. He is God’s Anointed One, the Suffering Servant, the prophet greater than Moses.

The Christian leadership books that get Jesus right operate in that realm, never assuming that there is a “leaders track” in discipleship. Instead, they believe there to be a “servants track” for all Christ-followers. Our leadership books should move us toward this, challenging us to go down to Jesus’ level, not attempting to bring him up to ours. As Henri Nouwen writes in In the Name of Jesus: “I am deeply convinced that the Christian leader of the future is called to be completely irrelevant and to stand in the world with nothing to offer but his or her own vulnerable self.”

Quoting Nouwen, eh? Now we’re getting somewhere. In a post a back in June, Mark Sayers wrote about Jim Jones and the “problem” that arose there out of his own hidden issues that he brought into his leadership role. As Mark aptly noted, “When you are a leader you place a megaphone to your dysfunctions, amplifying their devastating effects on those in your sphere of influence.”

I wrote recently encouraging post-charismatic and missional bloggers to spend some time during September thinking and writing on the forms of leadership we need to see in the church today, and what characterizes this sort of leadership. In a sense, this post would be a part of that series. Some are planning a synchroblog on this topic for September 22nd — if you want to sign on, you can do so below. In the meantime, we can be tossing out further thoughts and observations around leadership in the church — what does it really look like if we use Jesus as the model?

Share This

Share this post with your friends!