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

A R.A.R.E. Definition of Leadership

Written by: on February 9, 2023

In my early years of ministry, I heard repeated ideas about the essence of leadership. “Leaders have a bias toward action” and “Leaders get things done” were common descriptions voiced about the identifying marks of strong leadership. In Rare Leadership, Doctors Marcus Warner and Jim Wilder point in a different direction than outcome-based definitions and performance metrics as evaluators of excellence in leadership. Dr. Wilder brings an extensive background in clinical counseling and a non-Western cultural lens from South America. He serves as the chief neuro-theologian of Life Model Works. Dr. Warner serves as the president of Deeper Walk International, with a background in pastoral work and seminary instruction.

Classified as pastoral theology, the authors state their premise early: “the fruit of four uncommon habits related to emotional intelligence is a dramatic increase in trust, joy, and engagement in the people you lead.”[1]Counterintuitive to results as the measure of a leader, this book argues that relational leadership exists as its most potent form. The four habits that compose the bulk of the book are the acronym R.A.R.E. The first R stands for “remain relational” and relates to a sense of belonging. The A means “act like yourself” by understanding and manifesting your identity. The second R encourages a “return to joy,” found in community with others. Finally, the E invites a leader to “endure hardship,” using difficulty to foster greater collective unity.[2] After an opening introductory chapter, the following ten chapters unpack the premise and the habits that contribute to rare leadership.

            The book is equal parts leadership theory and neurological study. A central tenet of the argument relates to the terminology of “slow-track” and “fast-track systems.”[3] Containing some, but not complete, correlation to Kahneman’s fast and slow thinking, the authors differentiate between the functions of the left and right brain activity. The left brain functions slowly and engages in the dynamics of management. The right brain functions faster than conscious thought and contains the elements of rare leadership traits.[4] The right brain also holds the individual and corporate identity center.

            One book section that jumped off the page for me sought to understand “why accountability doesn’t work.”[5] My experience with accountability groups is not a good one. For example, a staff member, while in an accountability relationship years ago, carried on several affairs during a time of structured accountability. My shallow understanding believed that accountability only works to the degree that the participants want it to work. Warner and Wilder plumb a deeper level of diagnosis. Born in the Enlightenment, the transformation paradigm believed that reason + good choices = transformation.[6] Generally speaking, I believe the American church vests life change with a similar pattern: Bible content + the Holy Spirit = transformation. However, a cursory reading of Jesus’ time and investment in His disciples reveals a personal, dynamic, and diverse approach to spiritual growth.

The authors note how accountability was added to the reason + good choices = transformation model to ensure life change. The goal was not met. “As widespread and apparently sensible as the accountability solution has become, it has proven to be a massive failure at producing the results it promises.”[7] The reason for the failure rests with a motive of fear pervading the accountability group structure. If I have kept my commitments, I will be happy to meet with the group. If I have failed in my commitments, I will be afraid of the consequences. Like Friedman, the authors expose an intentional anxious system bound to fail in its attempts to produce positive change.

I remember the value placed on such accountability groups during the Promise Keeper phenomenon. Unfortunately but not unsurprisingly, the tenure of groups I knew ended quickly. In contrast, Warner and Wilder offer a different paradigm for life change: identity + belonging = transformation.[8] Lasting transformation occurs when a person’s identity changes and they live out their newfound identity. They conclude that section with a critical thought repeated throughout the book: “The best coaches, pastors, teachers, managers, and leaders are the ones who instill a clear sense of identity into their group and help people understand “This is who we are and this is how it is like us to act.”[9] The list of items I never heard in seminary includes the responsibility of a senior leader to establish a corporate identity and shape the values and cultures of the organization they lead. “A groups identity is formed by the answer to two simple questions: ‘Who are my people?’ and ‘How is it like us to act?’”[10] A more significant assignment than a job description of duties centers on a leader’s ability to build a community of trust and develop a corporate identity, shaping a common understanding of values and behaviors.

After I wrote the above paragraph, I went on “churchstaffing.com” to look at several Lead Pastor openings and the accompanying description. Not one list of job responsibilities included anything related to identity or culture. Instead, each list contained many to-dos like preaching, caring, meetings, etc. I wonder if the consensus about the essence of leadership in the church amounts to carrying out certain duties alone.

One section of the book I found mislabeled would be the second R in the acronym of R.A.R.E. Listed as “return to joy,” that portion of the paradigm emphasizes overcoming or healing from negative emotions like shame, fear, hopeless despair, disgust, and sadness.[11] Returning to joy results from emotional health, intelligence, and freedom. Perhaps the second R could be relabeled “Root out negative emotions?” The other three letters of the acronym describe actions of rare leadership. Return to joy describes the result of other actions.

The science and spirituality behind the topic of joy serve an invaluable role in this book. Most people view joy as merely an emotion. Emotions are often viewed as uncontrollable. In a way I have never encountered before, the authors point people toward the source of joy. “We have found in our study of Scripture and brain science that joy, that feeling of being in the deepest part of our soul, is primarily relational. To the human brain, joy is always relational.”[12] Is it any wonder that God intended the church to be a community of deep, trusting, and mutually beneficial relationships? May that be what people encounter as they engage the people of God.

[1] Marcus Warner and Jim Wilder, Rare Leadership: 4 Uncommon Habits for Increasing Trust, Joy, and Engagement in the People You Lead (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2016), 13.

[2] Ibid., 25.

[3] Ibid., 26.

[4] Ibid., 27.

[5] Ibid., 45.

[6] Ibid., 44.

[7] Ibid., 45.

[8] Ibid., 46.

[9] Ibid., 46.

[10] Ibid., 92.

[11] Ibid., 166-167.

[12] Ibid., 24.

About the Author


Roy Gruber

Husband, father, pastor, student, and sojourner in Babylon

11 responses to “A R.A.R.E. Definition of Leadership”

  1. mm Henry Gwani says:

    Roy, much thanks for your enlightening comments on accountability, anxiety and Warner and Wilder’s work in general. After mentioning the new “paradigm for life change: identity + belonging = transformation,” you note that “lasting transformation occurs when a person’s identity changes and they live out their newfound identity.” Do you see this new discovery gaining traction soon in the evangelical community across the US? If so, who might the key proponents of this idea be in addition to Warner and Wilder? If not, what might be some key hindrances to the church embracing this new paradigm?

    • mm Roy Gruber says:

      Henry, thanks for your questions. I do not believe that identity and belonging are more than words or ideas at this point in the American church. I do believe, however, that the consensus is growing that what we have been doing is not working. I guess that’s a starting point if nothing else. One name I think of when it comes to emotional health and identity is Pete Scazzero. He has written extensively about that and continues to gain influence in ministry settings. I would highly recommend his work to anyone pursuing the issues of identity and belonging.

  2. mm Andy Hale says:


    What a brilliant take on this book. I was especially drawn to your insight into what is the common expectations of churches for pastors and pastors for pastors today. Do you think this separation from the congregation as a figurehead on the stage with multiple sites and an army of staff is really what the church was designed to be? Even if a pastor lives into that model, how do they create a relational organizational culture among the staff and the team to the members, you know, the actual body of Christ?

    • mm Roy Gruber says:

      Andy, thanks for your questions. “The actual body of Christ” sounds really good to me. Yes, I believe the metrics of success and pitfalls of celebrity culture in the church have skewed the evaluation of the church. I would like to think that’s changing for the better. One of the positive results of Covid is that when churches could not meet in person, we emphasized and measured engagement, not attendance. That’s a good start. I hope the positive lessons of the pandemic are not soon forgotten. In our staff context, I have found that Gen Z folks add a genuine concern for community that extends beyond the job description we all hold. I am hopeful that emerging generations will help to amend the “sins” of past generations that focused on faux definitions of success.

  3. mm Troy Rappold says:

    RG: The combination of neuro-science and faith are always a powerful combination to me. I like it when modern science compliments spiritual truth, and so I liked this book. A worthwhile read. The authors kept it thin and not to heavy on the medical side, although there is room to expand that side. The book was accessible. No questions this week since we are both busy finishing up our Project Portfolio!

  4. mm Eric Basye says:

    Roy, great post. That is really interesting, your observation regarding the job board for pastors. Very interesting, sad, and insightful.

    As you think about “passing along the baton” in the years to come, what will you most value in whomever steps in your place?

    • mm Roy Gruber says:

      Eric, thanks for you question. I anticipate that the next Lead Pastor of our church is already on our staff. That makes me very happy because what I would want the next person in that role to emphasize is the mission of the church and building a community of connected people – connected to each other and the mission. I believe my generation and the one before it drew from secular definitions of success. Rather than pursuing growth, pursue health. Healthy things grow due to their healthy state. I am thankful that the next Lead Pastor is on staff because the values we hold promise to continue rather than the risk of someone coming from the outside with a whole new set of values.

  5. Kayli Hillebrand says:

    Roy: Such interesting insights this week – I thoroughly enjoyed reading your post. Since those writing job descriptions tend not to be the ones who have held the role before, I’m wondering how you would advise elders/boards to reshape pastoral descriptions to be more inclusive of these relational components without it feeling overwhelming as if all relationship depends on that sole person?

    • mm Roy Gruber says:

      Kayli, thanks for your question. One other takeaway from reading the Lead Pastor job description relates to how extensive they were. I fear that we have focused on actions over character too much. In I Timothy, only one action is mentioned in the description for an elder – apt to teach. All the other qualities listed there are character related. The responsibilities of the role are fairly straight-forward. I agree that what comes across in the writing of the role in want-ads is “it’s up to you to do all this.” Boards would do better to describe how decisions are made, who helps the pastoral staff, even what is not expected from the pastor, etc.

  6. mm Nicole Richardson says:

    Roy thank you for digging into the subject of accountability/identity groups! As I pondered the thoughts you unpacked and framed W/W’s thesis around this subject, I wondered if you have given thought as to why the North American church (or maybe the church universal) has functioned by shame and fear? How much of St Augustine’s theology has impacted the church’s approach to identity shaming?

    • mm Roy Gruber says:

      Nicole, thanks for you profound question. I believe the church has often functioned with a motivation of fear and shame in the attempt to bring about life-change. I think that strategy has failed miserably. Fear and shame never serves as a helpful motivation. I do think Augustine’s theology plays a role in that approach. I also think Bebbington expounded on the idea of people’s desire to find confidence with God and how that turned into certain behaviors to assure that. Jason’s dissertation also hit on this theme that came from the Protestant side of the reformation. I wonder how much better off the church would be facilitating genuine connection/community and letting the positive aspects of that aid people in the process of transformation rather than the negative approach as a constant “go-to.” Most of the non-churched people I know, believe that the church is a long list of “you better nots…” I think we need to do better than that for those who belong and those who we seek to engage.

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