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.
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.