“So, who sets the vision for this church? You or the congregation?” I was sitting with a prospective member when this question came up. It was the question that he really wanted to ask me. Just moments before, I had heard a story about how this person held a leadership position at their previous church when a new pastor came in, only to promptly dismiss the existing leadership board. I understood the question behind the question. I offered that sometimes I set the vision and other times I champion the vision within the congregation, no matter what, we all have to own the vision to be successful.
This conversation happened while reading Simon Walker’s book, Leading with Nothing to Lose: Training in the Exercise of Power . Not only is the book timely in my life, but I would suggest it as required reading for anyone in leadership. It is a master-class level exegesis of leadership in the way of Jesus. In fact, I found the very words of Jesus echoing with each sentence unpacking the interplay between power, leadership and the ways to employ them properly.
Power and Leadership
In one of the great exchanges between Jesus and the disciples, in a moment in which they wanted power and authority, Jesus responds in this way, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and the those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that”. Those words of Jesus, “you are not to be like that” open up alternative possibilities in the use and exercise of leadership and power, but it requires reflection. This is the very aim of Walker’s book as he writes, “If we want to be effective leaders, we will find it worthwhile to get an understanding not only of weakness but also of power; its source, its structure and its very nature” . He also observes that “…leadership is concerned simply with the application of power to exert influence, to achieve things” and that power can be “lethal” if not used improperly .
Walker masterfully nuances the way power is expressed through multiple forces that give expressions to different leadership approaches. Walker observes that there are front of stage and backstage, strong and weak, and expanding and consolidating forces that allow for unique leadership expressions when applied to various circumstances . This approach to employing the forces of power within leadership to be especially compelling because of the various environments and circumstances a leader will employ power toward achieving particular results.
Power as Hospitality
While I found the various examples of the different combinations of the forces of power worthy of deeper reflection, I was most struck by the idea of power as hospitality. Walker argues, “If you think of a leader not as a hero or a servant but as a host, you immediately think in terms not of her fundamental assets but of the space she creates around her” . This idea is the game-changing idea of the book. Leadership is about creating spaces for people to thrive and achieve common goals. The reason a leader should be able to employ different approaches is to create spaces for the people and situations that inhabit them. These spaces are not concerned with getting desired results from a person, but inviting them to reach excellence in themselves and for the team’s common goal.
Leadership is the use of power to achieve desired results. Good, effective and healthy leaders use power in ways that create spaces that bring out the best in others. This seems like the same invitation that Jesus was offering to his disciples to practice leadership differently than they had experienced. That is what I heard in the question from the prospective church member. It was a question of how I use the power I have as a local pastor. Do I create spaces that invite the best in others? Will my leadership be employed in ways that can bring the best out of the people and situations? I hope so. That is what Simon Walkers’s book will help me to do.
1. Simon P Walker, Leading with Nothing to Lose (Carlisle, UK: Piquant Editions Ltd, 2007).
2. Luke 22:25-26, New International Version.
3. Walker, 6.
4. Ibid., 5.
5. Ibid., 9.
6. Ibid., 33.
7. Ibid., 152.