Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

7 Leadership Lessons from Apartheid

Written by: on May 25, 2017

I read David Welsh’s huge tome, The Rise and Fall of Apartheid specifically looking for some leadership take-aways. I know the history is important and that details matter. Trust me, this book is packed, maybe too much so, with details. Since this is a leadership class and not a history class though, I decided to look for leadership lessons. Specifically, as I read Mr. Welsh’s opus, I continually had this question playing in my mind, “How does this make me a better pastor?” I am happy to blog that this book has the potential to make me a better pastor if I would just do the following.

  1. Growing church leaders know that it is rarely about one cause and one effect.

The thesis of the book is that we cannot pinpoint one cause for the end of Apartheid. It’s more complicated than that. The same is true with leading a church in the 21st century. Churches are complicated; church systems, relationships, theology and ministry are all very complicated animals. Just like there is no single rain dance that can summon the Holy Spirit’s presence every Sunday, there is no single event or person who created or ended Apartheid in South Africa. People are complicated. Leaders recognize the many layers in their own life and the subtle intricacies, hiding and open, in the lives of the people we lead. This leads to number 2.

    2.  Growing church leaders seek to keep unity.

The secret to Mandela’s and De Klerk’s success was that they kept their contentious own coalitions together. Welsh shows how the ANC and the NP were each filled with complicated and often times warring factions. Leaders often walk a tightrope when leading. Pastors can learn a lot from how De Klerk and Mandela not only treated one another, but how they lead the many groups they represented. Strength and humility are key here. This leads to number 3

   3. Growing church leaders don’t succumb to the power of greed.

Welsh writes about an insatiable appetite for land and demand for labor. Chapter 2 basically indicts everyone and all the major players with great greed. Paul tells us that all of us have fallen short, but leaders who want to continue to be effective do not succumb to greed. A version of pastoral greed is a desire to be powerful. This leads to number 4.

   4. Growing church leaders are not afraid to stand up to the government.

The World Council of Churches wrote a document that stood up to Apartheid but many local churches did not sign it for fear of the government. Really this is about power. I wonder why over 80% of evangelicals in the United States voted for Trump. I don’t think it was because they believed he was a good man but that evangelicals could potentially have more power if Trump was president instead of the alternative choice. Power can make people do some really bad things. This leads to number 5.

  5. Growing church leaders are comfortable on the fringes.

Welsh writes about a movement in the early 1980s called Voëlvry . Made up of mainly musicians this movement played in smaller clubs and lived on the fringes of society and is credited with keep the anti-Apartheid movement alive and growing. Speaking truth to power, the church does it’s best work on the fringes of society. The best stories, Psalms, and prophecies are written when we are in exile. This leads to number 6.

  6. Growing church leaders recognize that the past matters.

Welsh spends a lot of time explaining the “rise” of Apartheid because the past matters. He explains the precedent of internment of Boer women and children a hundred years before hellish places like Soweto were created. European imperialism and first nation peoples intra-conflicts all played a role in settling on the policies of Apartheid. Pastors should learn the history of their denominations and their town. They should also learn the history of their own local church. What were the pastors like before? Are you the first woman pastor this church has ever had? Are you the first who will not be fired due to an impropriety? The past matters. This leads to number 7.

  7. Growing church leaders can see a future that many cannot. 

Like a growing chorus, the major players realized that war would not end Apartheid. Mandela and De Klerk especially, could see a future South Africa that did not have the abscess of Apartheid with it. Pastors attempt to take their church into an unknown future in an often shifting context. Patience is key. All those years in prison and Mandela was able to work with De Klerk and others because of the specific vision of the future of South Africa he possessed in his heart. Leaders can learn a lot by taking some down time and imagining a future that currently does not exist for in their church.

This book is full of leadership lessons. Unfortunately variations of Apartheid are alive and well in different places of the world today. The Apartheid that is present in Palestine and Israel could be potentially be ended if leaders and church leaders would learn the lessons found in this book and applied it to the West Bank. I bet the self and cultural segregation that exists in so many churches in American could end if church leaders learned and applied the lessons found in the rising and falling of Apartheid.

About the Author

Aaron Peterson

I am a working priest which means that I am a husband(to Lisa), dad(to four wonderful children), senior pastor and church planter(The Hub Vineyard Church), and high school social studies teacher(Verdugo Hills High School LAUSD). I am currently working towards a DMIN in Leadership & Global Perspectives @George Fox Seminary.

5 responses to “7 Leadership Lessons from Apartheid”

  1. Phil Goldsberry says:

    Great leadership “takes” from a book on Apartheid. You used the word “power” several times. Do you feel that power was the root cause that propagated Apartheid?

    Do you feel that there were two other challenges: money/land and security of the known? It seems that labor costs were kept down if they could marginalize the entry level worker into a camp.

    Your thoughts.


  2. Marc Andresen says:


    You have given us a very insightful blog; creative to be able to draw principles from the book for pastors. Brilliant.

    You mentioned the election of Mr. Trump. If he were to read this book what to you think should be his primary take-away(s)?

    Or, perhaps a question closer to home: If you could address the Evangelical Church in America, what you would say to the Church based on this book?

    Your choice of what to answer.

  3. Rose Anding says:

    Thanks Aaron P,
    You gave us an excellent take away on the book, by pulling out the effect of leadership. Also, mention about how “Pastors attempt to take their church into an unknown future in an often shifting context”. Does it seem as Christians leaders sometime forget who commissioned them?

    Since apartheid carried the favor of racism, I would say most institutions, cultures, and people have elements of racism, but do you think the church has any?
    As the Black Lives Matter movement and immigration concerns continue to shine the national spotlight on racism in the United States, surely church leadership shouldn’t be taking a step back. However, I think we’re more complacent to racism both as church and society today. The struggle has been going on so long that it’s hard for people to respond the same way when it initially came to our consciousness in the ’60s.

    We ought to embrace our intercultural nature. But how do you see your roles as a theologian is bringing different frameworks types in addressing prejudices within the church?
    Your blog was great and very interesting ! Thanks Rose Maria

  4. Claire Appiah says:

    I agree with others who have replied to your blog that it is a creative and brilliant work of deriving coherence between Welsh’s book and your personal growth in church ministry. I especially like points two and seven regarding unity and being a visionary. Do you currently have a plan or plans for your congregation that they may not be able to conceptualize yet? And if so how will you maintain church unity in the face of any dissenting voices?

  5. Garfield Harvey says:

    I love the leadership approach you took with this book. Unfortunately, cultural differences affect how we lead. Now that we get to add the “ABD” after our name, I started looking into opportunities both in ministry and education. However, I’ve never looked at the opportunity independent of the geographic location because I understand that segregation exists in some cities. If a leader in one of those locations were to offer me or my wife an opportunity to lead with them, that would tell me that they lead differently. Unfortunately, I’ve been overlooked by other leaders because of my skin tone and background as an Islander. While we may not see people marching in the streets like they did in the 1960s, segregation exist in the most subtle way. When I speak of segregation, this goes beyond race because there’s always the tendency to think differently of people outside our community. These principles you provided could find itself helpful in many leadership settings.


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