For Such A Time As This
I had lunch with a department head of a private Christian university a few weeks ago. This was not unlike any other lunches since I try to make it a point to stay in touch and network with former colleagues. However, in the course of our conversation, she said something that struck me as odd and I have not stopped thinking about it.
My friend had announced her retirement and I was interested in possibly taking her place. I had knowledge and experience of the job and I thought I could provide continuity and stability in her department. I told her part of my aspirations and felt calling is to seek opportunities of leadership and the position she would be leaving met those qualifications. After I had said that, I could tell she wanted to correct me. Her response basically was that she did not consider herself a leader nor were the tasks she routinely did things attributed to leadership. She proceeded to tell me some of the specifics of what she did, like supporting her direct reports, encouraging and advocating for them, etc. To which I said “that’s leadership.”
What’s striking about this encounter was this: Here I was sitting down and talking with a successful leader who obviously had not thought deeply about the subject of leadership. I did not pursue the matter further but I could sense after our conversation that she probably thought of leadership in generally negative terms, i.e., one who bosses people around, dictatorial, traditional top-down, etc.
I came away from that encounter wondering if she ever possessed a personal philosophy or theology of leadership. Would she have been more successful in her work if she did? Would she have had greater influence among her peers? Might she have been more intentional about mentoring women in leadership to realize their potential like St. Francis of Assisi did?1 Whether her leadership practice is intentional or not, lunching with her underscored for me the importance of leadership in the workplace.
Leadership as an academic field of study is relatively new. So it’s high time we have a periodical covering issues related to this nascent and important subject. Volume 1, Issue 1 of the Theology of Leadership Journal gets the ball rolling. Although I wished the first issue laid out and defined what is meant by “Theology of Leadership” or “Christian leadership” in order to frame and lay the foundation for future conversations around this topic. Instead the editors started with models and theories of leadership. To be fair, this was their prerogative and was stated from the beginning.2
As I embark on the second year of my doctoral studies, specifically studying leadership, I am not sure if I am more certain and confident about its nature, specifically in terms of the efficacy of current popular models, as I was when I first took a serious interest in this field years ago. That’s not meant to convey discouragement. If anything it’s a call to stay curious. The Theology of Leadership Journal will be invaluable to help satiate this spirit of inquiry.
If instead of starting with the what of theology of leadership, is there something to be gleaned from starting with the how of theology of leadership? What theological leadership nugget can we emulate from Paul’s use of wisdom in planning and deciding who to include in a missions trip? And what about Servant Leadership? This seems to be a leadership buzzword popular among Evangelicals today.3 There are even large institutions devoted to this and some of its advocates are a who’s who in established leadership circles, i.e., Ken Blanchard, Stephen Covey, etc. Then there are some of whom are more well-known for being servants and less about being a leader such as St. Francis of Assisi, Mother Teresa and Jesus to name a few.
Other models such as Authentic Leadership Theory (ALT) and Lead by Example seemed important to note by their inclusion. Missing were Charismatic Leadership, Humble Leadership, Transformational Leadership models, to name a few. I imagine all of these and ones yet to be studied will compete for space in this journal. In the dizzying array of information on leadership it’s tough to decide which model fits a situation best (Ah, but there’s a leadership model for that: Situational Leadership).
As I canvas my options, I maintain a level of uneasiness when I say no model satisfies. And that’s why I propose two of my own:  Weakness to Strength Leadership (WSL); and  For Such A Time As This (FSTT) based out of Esther 4:14. Incidentally, someone else beat me to the former.4 However I have written a little on the latter and have found the time spent reflecting on it gratifying.5
Perhaps my colleague fits the FSTT model because she never considered herself a leader much like Queen Esther must have felt when confronted with devastating news of genocide. Comparatively, on a much much smaller scale, my colleague probably never thought she’d play a significant role in decreasing the organization’s financial liability. And yet that is exactly what she has done. Her retirement date is fast approaching and many will attend her retirement reception, celebrate her accomplishments and share their good wishes. Will it matter that she knew she was a leader during her tenure? I don’t know.
1 Nathan Harter, Saint and Leader? The Example of St. Francis of Assisi Theology of Leadership Journal Vol. 1, Issue 1, 2018: 30.
2 Russell L. Huizing, Do We Really Need Another Academic Journal? Theology of Leadership Journal Vol. 1, Issue 1, 2018: 3.
3 No less than two specific articles were exclusively devoted to Servant Leadership in the very first issue of a new academic journal: The Theology of Leadership.
4 Larry F. Ross, Weak Enough To Lead: What the Bible Teaches Us About Powerful Leadership Theology of Leadership Journal Vol. 1, Issue 1, 2018: 98.
5 How To Be Weak To Become Strong DMINLGPcom, n.d. https://blogs.georgefox.edu/dminlgp/how-to-be-weak-to-become-strong/.
8 responses to “For Such A Time As This”
Leave a Reply
You must be logged in to post a comment.
Thanks for your reflection in this blog, Harry! I am so excited to hear more about this potential prospect for you! I resonate with your thoughts about your colleague not seeing herself as a leader. I also feel like part of it is that women aren’t generally trained to think of themselves as leaders. We’re rarely told we’re leaders when we exhibit leadership qualities. Instead, we’re told that we’re bossy. We’re rarely told we’re strong; instead we’re too dominating. I wonder if maybe your friend never was taught to see herself as a leader, and so instead, shied away from the negative associations and connotations of women in leadership – and don’t even get me started in on women in leadership in Christian circles too.
Perhaps you’re right Karen. I hadn’t really thought of the fact that leadership might not have resonated with her because she wasn’t accustomed to seeing women as leaders. Like I said it was odd that she saw leadership as separate from what she did — and her current department has approximately 50 working under her.
Hi Harry. Just posted my reflection and then read yours. It seems we are of but one questioning mind about so many things 😉 I like the way you articulated your queries about theology and doing so in regards to the interaction with your colleague. I’d be interested in your reflections re the difference between theology, doctrine and practice. Personally, I think the journal is confused on those points. Great articles, but not enough clarity around term definition.
Hi Digby. Always a pleasure interacting with you. Read your post and yes, we’re wondering about the same thing.
I don’t know about you, but I expected the very first issue to grapple with the “what” of theology of leadership and less about the “how.” The editors did mention that in the beginning and so it’s not like they were unaware. But I still maintain that they should have started with some definitions and a more robust justification for this journal — especially this being the first issue.
Real quickly, theology, as you’ve already stated is the study of God. It’s a big subject, obviously — one that provides job security for theologians (sorry, cheeky comment). From there we’re able to establish doctrines, i.e., Trinity, Sin, Human Nature, etc., which hopefully are consistent with our understanding of God (specifically, the God of the Bible). Then from there flows how we ought to behave in daily living. In theory, practice leads all the way up the chain to our theology.
Interesting that you ping me on this, because I’m no longer convinced that there is an exclusive causal connection between doctrine (orthodoxy) and practice (orthopraxy). I’m not saying there is no connection. I’m just saying there is no exclusive connection. I used to think narrowly that the former causes the latter. We know there are other causal factors involved in our behavior.
Great post and great thoughts for reflection. Perhaps because I perceive you are much more of an academic than I, the “what” of leadership precedes the “how” of leadership. As a coach of church planters and pastors, I am much more interested in the “how” than the “what”. I actually really appreciated the journal’s attempt to weave threads of theology, bible, and application together. Per your final reflective question, I wonder what the 50 something people who are part of her organization would say about her “leadership”. Blessings and I will be praying as you discern this potential new path of opportunity from the Lord.
Hi Harry. Thanks for your comments. Undoubtedly they’ll all consider her a wonderful leader. And just so I’m not misunderstood, starting with the “how” of leadership instead of the “what” was only a preference. The editors wanted it this way and since it’s their journal, they can do whatever they want. 🙂
I still benefited a lot from it. Looking forward to future ones.
Thanks, Harry. I appreciate your perspective on the journal. Frankly, I seems journals are typically like this one, a general theme but little rhyme or reason to the articles selected. I have viewed them as a “pick and choose” resource.
Your colleague sounds like many women I have interacted with who do not see what they do as leadership as they have been culturally shaped to believe what defines a leader is not who they are. It is not all bad, they often do good work and don’t really care what it is called. 🙂
Thanks Tammy. I wonder if maybe that might be the key to success for some leaders — that is when don’t see themselves as leaders but act as one. I have a feeling more leaders see themselves as managers instead of leaders — and I believe there is a difference.