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

Jesus and John Wayne

Written by: on September 11, 2023

My preferred genre of books is the biography, which is the account of someone’s life written by someone else.

I also enjoy a good autobiography (emphasis on ‘good’), and yet, those quite often are self-serving, short-sighted, and elbow-bending/back-patting. You always know when a celebrity, I mean, politician, is gonna declare a run for US President because a “look how awesome I am” autobiography is released just prior to an election cycle!

Admittedly, I feel the same when I’m asked to provide a personal/ministerial bio for a speaking engagement. It feels kinda funny talking about myself. Which is odd for me to admit…because I LOVE talking about myself.

But then again, don’t we all?

Especially leaders. It is kind of our superpower, and, mind you, not a good superpower.

Simon Walker, in Leading with Nothing to Lose: Training in the Exercise of Power delves into the power of a leader, specifically how we manage and manifest our personal (and corporate) strength. The term that immediately emerges is “ecology.” I have previously only known this term to relate to that of nature, oceans, plants and animals. Ecology, however, encompasses all organisms living on earth, which, previously unbeknownst to me, would include, well, me.

And you.


Ecology encompasses how we, as humans, interact with each other. Walker says that “each…human system is different, but the kinds of forces that can be applied to each are the same” (Walker, 10). The forces that Walker expounds upon are, front/back-stage forces, strong/weak forces, and expanding/consolidating forces. These forces work together with eight corresponding strategies: Commanding, Foundational, Pacesetting, Visionary, Consensual, Self-emptying, Serving, and Affiliative, to form a construct for how leaders (in particular) relate to and create dynamics within relationships.

Walker summarizes his sequel to Leading Out of Who You Are with this: “This book has explored eight different leadership strategies, each of which ‘does something’ to the space around you. Used in concert, they offer a repertoire of social and emotional skills that allow a host to create and sustain a healthy, enriching, dynamic and (most importantly) humane space in which people can grow and give their best” (Walker, 152).

Ultimately, isn’t that what we want for ourselves and for others? We earnestly want an opportunity whereby everyone has space to grow and give their best contribution to humanity. That feels both beautiful and biblical. It feels like a space in which our “boundary lines have fallen in pleasant places” (Psalm 16:6 NIV). This “pleasant place” was selflessly lived out by Jesus of Nazareth in his various interactions throughout the New Testament Gospels. It is seen in His heart for the lost, the least and the last. It is felt in His interactions with His disciples, as well as sick, lame and marginalized. It is displayed in the ultimate self-emptying moment upon the cross of Calvary. Jesus’ death represented a “physical withdrawal [which] made possible the greater release of his spiritual power, in the gifts of his Holy Spirit, who Christians believe empowers the church for a self-sacrificial life of witness and worship” (Walker, 126).

I believe (and I don’t think I am alone in this) that followers of Jesus ought to listen to Jesus, learn from Jesus, and then live and love like Jesus. This should be the way it is. Sadly, it is not always the case, and increasingly becoming so more and more, as Christians, particular of the Evangelical brand, are aligning themselves with (in my opinion) unhealthy models of power.

Enter Jesus and John Wayne.

Simon Walker has given us a number of vivid character studies of the ecology of power, such as Abraham Lincoln, FDR, Ronald Reagan (our family grew up eating his government cheese, thank you Ronny), Jimmy Carter, Churchill, MLK Jr., and Nelson Mandela. In 2020 Kristin Kobes Du Mez added to the lexicon with her work entitled Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation.

Having read her work, and subsequent books such as Testimony: Inside the Evangelical Movement That Failed a Generation by Jon Ward, and Jesus v. Evangelicals: A Biblical Critique of a Wayward Movement by Constantine R. Campbell, I am ever more convinced that I…you…we, yes, US in our evangelical ecosystem sincerely need to, in the words of Walker, lead with nothing to lose. For far too long evangelicalism has been far too “defended,” power-hungry, achievement-centric, politically motivated, and self-centered.

When biographies are written about the collective “US” – oh, wait, they are already being written and released, the picture (in my opinion) will not be pretty. And that’s unfortunate, because Jesus is absolutely beautiful. My prayer for me, you, US is that we, Jesus’ bride, The Church, could look just as beautiful as Jesus.

I believe we can. Yes we can.

About the Author


John Fehlen

John Fehlen is currently the Lead Pastor of West Salem Foursquare Church. Prior to that he served at churches in Washington and California. A graduate of Life Pacific University in San Dimas, CA in Pastoral Ministry, and Vanguard University in Costa Mesa, CA with a Masters in Leadership and Spirituality. He and his wife Denise have four grown children and four grandchildren. John is the author of “Intentional Impressions," a book for fathers and their sons, "Don't Give Up: Encouragement for Weary Souls in Challenging Times," a book for pastoral leaders, and "The Way I See You," a children's book. You can connect with John on Instagram (@johnfehlen) as well as on his blog (johnfehlen.com).

11 responses to “Jesus and John Wayne”

  1. mm Russell Chun says:

    Thanks John for your insights.

    Travis posted about seasons for different strategies. Especially when one is moving from one environment to another. Do we implement the same strategy (used in the previous organization) or do we evaluate the new place and implement the strategy that best fits the situation. I had never thought about it in that way. I am in that situation and now is a good time to pause and think that through.

    I was under the impression that once you found your leadership strategy hub that you were stuck with it. Much like the Enneagram Personality Test, which it appears that everyone on earth has taken, except for me! But I digress.

    I am going to look for the book you mentioned…Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation. It sounds oddly weird and fascinating.


    • mm John Fehlen says:

      In 2009, after 16 years of serving in a church in Washington State, we were asked to assume the leadership of a larger church in Oregon. I remember at the time writing a personal document (later to be revised and submitted for broader distribution). I was all about my 1st 90 Days at the new church, and how I was determined to lead, what to do, how to do it, etc.

      All that to say, I DO BELIEVE we have to access different leadership strategies for different seasons. Some time we have to step UP and INTO new roles that require new approaches.

      • mm Russell Chun says:

        Prayerfully, I desire that God will show the right “strategy” (besides unconditional love) that he wants me to use as we establish GoodSports Ukraine. God has launched us in that direction…not sure where we will land.


  2. mm Tim Clark says:

    John, I found it fascinating that Walker explains power and how to use it, and then reminds us that using power for anything but the good of those served is anathema.

    The “Jesus and John Wayne” folks use and abuse power, while people like… Jesus… emptied Himself.

    Yeah, I’d rather be like Jesus than John Wayne.

    Did you find a certain style of power that fit you best? Your ‘go-to’ that helps you be most like Jesus? What about any styles that you struggle with personally implementing?

    • mm John Fehlen says:

      You’ve alluded to Philippians 2:5-11 – the great “kenosis” passage, which likes to autocorrect to ketosis!

      Kenosis – the emptying of Christ, “made himself nothing.” I see this as our high mark, our goal in leadership. We are invited to ‘have the same mindset as Christ Jesus’ in this.

      Of course, this is the ongoing struggle, due to our, nay MY, pride and ego.

  3. Travis Vaughn says:

    First, if you do like reading autobiographies, then you might enjoy reading Dave Grohl’s The Storyteller: Tales of Life and Music. But don’t just read it — get it on Audible, because Grohl narrates it. I’m listening to it right now. Of course I have no idea if you like that sort of thing. BUT, Grohl was also a drummer, like you. I don’t think he should ever run for a political office, though.

    Second, you mentioned, “Christians, particular of the Evangelical brand, are aligning themselves with (in my opinion) unhealthy models of power.” I’m getting ahead of this post a bit (but I’m quite sure you’ve already read the next several books), but I enjoyed learning about Bebbington’s quadrilateral and survey of Evangelicalism. That book, combined with Fukuyama’s book on identity AND James Davison Hunter’s “To Change the World” (not a book in our reading list) are three that have been quite helpful in understanding the intersection of Evangelicalism and power. I’ve not yet read Kristin Kobes Du Mez’s book, but I want to (maybe after all of our doctoral reading is done!).

    Thirdly, amen to your statement, “My prayer for me, you, US is that we, Jesus’ bride, The Church, could look just as beautiful as Jesus.” I thought Walker’s commitment to — and finding identity in — the “Other” (Other being God) to be instructive for the leader(s) doing just that — centering on Christ and being re-shaped/renewed in the image of Christ so that one can lead out of weakness. Great post.

    • mm John Fehlen says:

      Travis, I LOVED Grohl’s book – read it in print, but would really enjoy it on Audible for sure. If you haven’t already, please do yourself a great favor and get Bono’s “Surrender” in audio version. It’s absolutely the best audiobook – of course, I’m an Uber-fan of Bono and U2.

      Perhaps like you, I have had to do a significant “shedding” of my evangelical upbringing (and in addition, my charismatic upbringing as well). Not everything, mind you! So much of it I am please with, and grateful for. It’s the nutty stuff – the non/extra-biblical stuff. My journey has been one of rediscovering the Gospel, and its simple and uncluttered beauty.

  4. Jennifer Vernam says:

    If you like Jesus and John Wayne, may I also recommend The Making of Biblical Womenhood? Those two books had me really looking at the ecology around my own religious experience. What a disruptive experience!

    “For far too long evangelicalism has been far too ‘defended,’ power-hungry, achievement-centric, politically motivated, and self-centered.”

    Well, you have opened QUITE the topic, which, I hope we will be uncovering more with Bebbington’s work? More to come!

    • mm John Fehlen says:

      What Bebbington has added to my journey is the simplicity of the Gospel – now to be clear – reading is Bebbington is not simple (he’s a densely smart fella), but the essence of what he has reduced the Gospel down to (without being reductionist), is profound and helpful.

      The cross.
      Active evangelism.
      High value for Scripture.

      And to that I would add what a number of good voices adds: The presence and work of the Spirit.

      What I don’t see in this is power, politics, pride, and all the extra-biblical hooey that gets so easily added to the purity of the Gospel. Oh, that we could just keep the main thing the main thing!

  5. Kally Elliott says:

    So, it’s interesting being what I label/call myself a “progressive” in a more evangelical space than I am comfortable. Being quite honest and vulnerable here (and call me out if I am also being judgy). What I have found beautiful in this program though those who call themselves “evangelicals” and who are also spacious in their faith, incredibly gracious, thoughtful, talented, and who push me to think and consider in deep ways. I am grateful.

    That said – yes, you’re absolutely correct that “Christians, particular of the Evangelical brand, are aligning themselves with (in my opinion) unhealthy models of power” and it is truly terrifying. I know plenty of evangelical “Christians” (they are my extended family members) who claim to follow the way of Jesus and in many ways they DO! They are so giving and caring AND they pray that “Trump will be restored to his rightful throne.” No freaking joke. It is “God ‘n country” for them. Christian nationalism. Conspiracy theories. Q-Anon. It’s getting more and more difficult to admit that I am a Christian – AND a pastor! But perhaps more and more important that we do admit our faith.

    • mm John Fehlen says:

      Kally, you are not alone in this. There are folks on the progressive end as well as the more conservative/evangelical end of the spectrum that can’t believe what has happened to “evangelicalism.” It has become nearly synonymous with the Republican Party. I am currently reading “The Great De-Churching” by Jim Davis and Michael Graham and they have the stats to back it up. Evangelicalism has been co-opted for nefarious ends.

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