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

“Leadership is an Art” by Max De Pree

Written by: on March 22, 2017

Max De Pree says that the art of leadership is “liberating people to do what is required of them in the most effective and humane way possible.” The leader is the “‘servant’ of his followers in that he removes the obstacles that prevent them for doing their jobs. In short, the true leader enables his or her followers to realize their full potential.”[1]

The book is more about ideas than practices. Using interesting anecdotes and incorporating advice from his own mentors, Carl Frost, David Hubbard, and Peter Drucker, De Pree writes about the essentials of leadership. Three important themes run through most of the chapters of the book – Integrity, Nurturing Relationships, and Community Building.

How do you tell if you’ve done a good job in leadership? Max says, “The signs of outstanding leadership are found among the followers.”[2]

In our last chat we talked about the many problems with American Evangelicalism today. The theme for our semester seems to have been ‘how did we get here and what can we do about it?’  Miller talks about commodification and would encourage Christians to work in their cultures bringing life and meaning back to all areas. Hunter advances the idea of ‘faithful presence’ as an ideal for how Christians are to engage the world in the 21st century. Putting together wisdom from Bevans, Garner, Anderson, and Cavanaugh we can be a tremendous influence as we are faithful in our practices. Garner pointed out that until Jesus comes again the Church should be actively involved in justice to the poor, the marginalized, the mourning, and the abused. Heath and Potter ask the conservatives and liberals to disentangle the concern over questions of social justice from the countercultural critique. Finally, Ross Douthat asks Christians to realize that much of Post Modern Christianity is ‘heresy’ and offers as his answer his own solutions for returning to a more orthodox religion as he sees it.

One theme that seems to run through all of the authors’ solutions to the problems is faithfulness. Christian influence will be much greater when the world sees that Christians are people of integrity.

We might think that Max De Pree’s book is somewhat different from the others in that he is talking about leadership in a ‘secular’ place. But I wonder, should we make a dichotomy between secular and sacred? Doesn’t God own the whole world? Isn’t every place sacred then? Most people don’t have jobs in a church so are they not required to take their Christianity with them wherever they go? In connecting this thought to our theme this semester I pondered the idea of the supposed ‘sacred/secular split’. I can’t speak for everyone else, but I know that in my church people definitely have the idea that only the pastor has to evangelize.

So, will Max De Pree’s principles work anywhere? How about church and family?

In a departure from my usual method of posting I want to share something amazing that happened on the same day that I finished reading Max’s book. While pondering the question of faithful practice wherever God leads us, I had three chances to reflect on the idea from three very different sources. This doesn’t happen often!

First of all, I was reading about leadership in another book by Gilbert Bilezikian.[3]  I found it very exciting when I came across this:

“Leadership is a servant ministry, based on spiritual gifts and always plural.”[4]



De Pree says, “Try to think about a leader, in the words of the gospel writer Luke, as ‘one who serves.’”[5]

De Pree – “Understand that relationships count more than structure.”[6]



Bilezikian – “Whenever allowance was made for congregational participation in ministry, the leadership structure receded into the background.”[7]

I could list dozens of other places where both talk about the gifts of the Spirit, training of new leaders to replace you, hierarchy, inclusiveness, justice, Rationality, Covenant, information sharing and much more. I looked up their backgrounds and both were at Wheaton but at different times. Both credit Drucker for ideas. Both have strong beliefs in mentoring. Both are honored as great leaders.

The point is, if there are good ideas because they are God’s ideas then they work no matter where we serve God. I don’t know yet where God will have me serve, but in a ‘religious’ setting or not, I will strive to have a servant attitude and dignity.

Next, I’m thanking God for this confirmation when my thoughtful husband says, “Honey I’m listening to a podcast that I think you will enjoy. It’s about all the things wrong with our culture. Sounds just like the “Rebel Sell” book you told me about.” The speaker on the podcast did criticize our consumerist culture. He also criticized what he called “corporate style’ leadership in churches, you know like what you might find at Willow Creek Church. (Ok, so Bilezikian was one of the founders of Willow Creek. Is this a coincidence or a God thing?) I stiffened as I listened to the rest of the podcast. (Thank you, honey, that was interesting.) The speaker did not have an alternative for what he considered ‘Christian leadership’. In fact, I think he was exacerbating the problem. In my mind he had a presupposition of sacred/secular thinking. He even mentioned Peter Drucker as a bad influence on Christians. This podcaster would probably forgive De Pree for having Peter Drucker as a mentor, after all, he’s only running a business. But Gilbert Bilezikian is not allowed to learn something from a heathen I guess.

I didn’t think this was right, but even more I sensed that there was something deeper that was wrong with this podcast. What could it be?

Well, later that evening I watched a documentary about one of my favorite women mentors – Catherine Booth. (founder with her husband William of the Salvation Army.) When William was walking through the East End of London one night he received his call to work among the poor. Knowing how much poverty they would be living in, but sure of Catherine’s willingness to trust God, he said, “Catherine, these are our people!” (emphasis mine) Tears started streaming down my face. Yes, that’s the answer. Those people that Jesus died for. That’s the other thing missing from the podcaster’s talk. He could have all of his theological ducks in a row but if he didn’t have love he was just a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. He missed the most important part.

De Pree, on the other hand, did not. Max De Pree goes beyond treating his regular workers with dignity and trust and respect. His company works at helping the disadvantaged. In his search for elegance of leadership he provides joy, space, equality of humanity, and even ownership of the company to his employees.

We have spent time discussing leadership this semester. How will we influence the culture? For myself, I hope to show faithfulness in whatever calling I have as I share the Gospel of peace, joy, and love in my corner of the world.

Have a great Spring Break, everybody!!!



[1] Max De Pree. Leadership is an Art (Crown Business: New York), xxii.

[2] Ibid. xxiv

[3] Gilbert Bilezikian. Community 101: Reclaiming the Local Church as Community of Oneness (Zondervan Publishing House: Grand Rapids, MI).

[4] Ibid. 130.

[5] De Pree. 12.

[6] De Pree. 28

[7] Bilezikian. 91.

About the Author

Mary Walker

6 responses to ““Leadership is an Art” by Max De Pree”

  1. Geoff Lee says:

    A really nicely written piece Mary, and you, like Katy, do a great job of summarising much of our semester’s reading. Thank you for your emphasis on love and valuing people and for your faithful presence as part of our cohort!

  2. Katy Lines says:

    Mary, I love that you’ve found other voices that affirm and/or challenge what we’ve been working through this semester. It’s great when the conversation grows larger!

    As I read through your post, I caught a potential contradiction. At the beginning of the post, you stated, “The book is more about ideas than practices.” As I prepared to challenge that statement, you nicely concluded “De Pree goes beyond treating his regular workers with dignity and trust and respect. His company works at helping the disadvantaged. In his search for elegance of leadership he provides joy, space, equality of humanity, and even ownership of the company to his employees.” I would agree, that all of the ideas he presents are ones he’s lived out in his ministry to his company– ideas that have been practiced. You hit the nail on the head with that. Thanks.

  3. Jim Sabella says:

    Enjoyed your post Mary. You bring up an interesting point: “I wonder, should we make a dichotomy between secular and sacred?” I remember talking to both you and Chip about this concept—for you it was in a business context, for Chip it was in the church context. Since then, I’ve often thought about it and looked for it the setting in which I serve. I was surprised that when I became aware of it, I found it in unexpected places. I think that the dichotomy has its place, but sometimes it does get in the way of living out our lives as Christians and our engagement with culture. I would like to talk more about it again sometime.

  4. Thank you, Mary, for your wonderful insight on leadership in this culture. I can’t see you any other way but faithful to your calling. God gave you the perfect mate for your journey. He supports and encourages you regardless of the culture.

  5. “Max De Pree goes beyond treating his regular workers with dignity and trust and respect. His company works at helping the disadvantaged. In his search for elegance of leadership he provides joy, space, equality of humanity, and even ownership of the company to his employees.” This is where I think the church could benefit from De Pree’s principles, Mary. I fear we have become cynical, viewing those in need as lazy or unwilling to try when they have often been beaten down by life AND the church.

  6. Mary what I enjoyed about this book was that Max was not telling us what he thinks might work. He was sharing with us what he actually practiced and found to be successful. He is a real life example of what it means to have a faithful presence daily within the context we are called to serve.

    side note: I chuckled when I read your comments about your husband inviting you to listen to that podcast.

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