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

The Intersection of Leadership Derailment and Domination in the Church

Written by: on December 2, 2023

Dr. JR Woodward set out to write a book that “would offer theological immunity to the disease of domineering leadership in the church.” [1] In The Scandal of Leadership, Woodward dives into the heart of failures and scandals among male church leaders who become corrupted by the power they wield.  In this academic and theological work, Woodward diagnoses the problem of domineering church leadership as resulting from 1) misshaped desires 2) imitating humans and the world rather than Christ and 3) the subversive work of the Powers (Satan and the principalities/systems of evil and sin in the world).[2]  Woodward then offers a remedy that involves dying to self and imitating the life and love of Jesus.

What stood out to me in reading this book were the commonalities to our study of leadership derailment during the Oxford advance. My observations are discussed below.

Factors in Derailment and Domination

The focus of the DGLP Oxford Advance in fall of 2023 was on the topic of leadership derailment. Derailment is anything that takes a leader off a successful course and causes them to fail in their leadership duties in some way. A few examples are burnout, moral failure, and abuse of power (or domination to use Woodward’s term). When I reviewed the presentations from the Advance, I found that many of the factors that the Advance speakers ascribed to derailment were similar to Woodward’s hypothesis of domination.

Jo Nelson & The Toxic Triangle of Padilla

Jo Nelson, an occupational psychologist used The Toxic Triangle of Padilla (shown below) to illuminate three factors that can lead to derailment: 1) Destructive Leaders 2) Susceptible Followers and 3) Conducive Environments.[3] These correspond with Woodward’s domination diagnosis as follows. Destructive leaders takes into account the sinful (shadow side) nature of the leader, which relates to desire and imitation. Likewise, susceptible followers also relates to desire and imitation, but in those whom the leader leads. And finally, conducive environments relates to the organizational structure and mission of the church that Woodward addresses toward the end of his book. Because domineering is one form of leadership derailment, sucessfully avoiding it must include addressing all three of the areas in the toxic triangle.


Simon Walker and the Forces of Power

In both his Advance presentation and his book Leading with Nothing to Lose, Simon Walker focuses on the various forces of power that influence leadership. These relate to Woodward’s discussion of power, but take it to more nuanced and practical levels as Walker introduces front stage vs. back stage force, strong and weak force, and expanding and consolidating force.[4] At the Advance, Walker broke the forces down even further into territorial, dynamic, passive, and responsive (see chart below). [5]  Walker’s dive into the forces of power can help us better understand how leaders can succumb to domineering styles of leadership by the way they stay stuck in certain forces (territorial and dynamic) and do not access all of them (attentive and responsive) as Walker suggests a good leader must practice.

Will Foster and the Importance of Self Leadership

The ability to be self-aware and learn from one’s mistakes are key components of avoiding the pitfalls of both derailment and a domineering leadership style, which relate to Woodward’s discussion of desire and imitation.  Self leadership was the focus of a portion of Will Foster’s presentation at the Oxford Advance. Foster emphasized the necessity of soliciting feedback and being self-aware of one’s strengths and weaknesses as key factors of healthy leaders.[6] I suspect that most domineering leaders did not have healthy models to imitate in this regard.

While Woodward approached the problem of domineering leaders in the church from a theological perspective, the speakers from the DGLP Advance approached derailment (which includes domination) from a more psychological and practical perspective. It’s interesting (and helpful) that there was so much overlap between the different approaches. Thankfully, I do not currently struggle with a domination problem, nor do I work with a domineering leader. However, it is good to have this information (and various ways to address the issue) if and when that does occur.


[1] J. R. Woodward, David Fitch, and Amos Yong, The Scandal of Leadership: Unmasking the Powers of Domination in the Church (100 Movements Publishing, 2023).

[2] Woodward, Fitch, and Yong.

[3] Nelson, Jo, “Leadership Derailment” (DLGP Oxford Advance, Oxford, September 23, 2023).

[4] Simon P. Walker, Leading with Nothing to Lose (Piquant Publishing, 2010).

[5] Walker, Simon, “Plenary Session” (Oxford, September 2023).

[6] Foster, Will, “Self Leadership” (Oxford, September 2023).

About the Author


Laura Fleetwood

Laura Fleetwood is a Christian creative, certified Enneagram Coach, doctoral student at Portland Seminary and Creative Director at her home church, Messiah St. Charles. As a published author, national faith speaker, podcaster and self-described anxiety warrior, Laura uses storytelling to teach you how to seek the S T I L L in the midst of your chaotic life. Find Laura at www.seekingthestill.com

9 responses to “The Intersection of Leadership Derailment and Domination in the Church”

  1. Dr. Laura,

    Such a great post, recap, summary, connecting everything together. Every word had meaning and brought it in a short in length post that created in appetite for more. Great post!

  2. Thanks, Greg. I appreciate you reading and commenting!

  3. mm Becca Hald says:

    Laura, great integration of our learning at Oxford with this book. Thank you for sharing.

  4. mm Chad McSwain says:

    Great analysis of the connections between the different speakers and books. I appreciated the way that you connected the themes of domination and shadow side. How might you coach a leader who is allowing their shadow side to present through domination?

    • Chad – The first thing is that they must be aware of their shadow side and how it typically presents itself. In this way, the Enneagram is very helpful tool because it shows how your personality type tends to respond in times of stress (shadow side) and separates it a bit from you personally, since it’s a universal way for that personality to respond. Second, I would ask questions about the particular fear that they are trying to avoid by being domineering. Unless you’re a sociopath, shadow side behavior usually presents as a way to run from a particular fear and try to fill a need that is lacking. It’s tough, but necessary for us all to recongize that we have a shadow side and do the work, so that Christ can free us from it as much as possible!

  5. Kristy Newport says:

    Great synthesis!
    I would love to hear more about attentive and responsive style of leadership. I am curious if you have worked for a leader who has these styles? What were their best practices, if so.
    I would have enjoyed hearing more from Jo while in Oxford. It would have been great to walk through an assessment of a leader…and to understand what she does!
    Great post!

  6. Kristy – I have not worked for someone with those styles that I can think of, but I hope (and try) to display some of those styles in leading my teams at work. I meet weekly with each of my team members to learn what’s going on in their life and know their struggles/triumphs. I’ve found that my coaching skills aid in helping with those leadership styles because my biggest goal is to truly help each person reach their potential and thrive. Asking lots of questions, helping them think through issues out loud, and letting them know I’m in their corner.

  7. Laura,
    I appreciate how you brought up the issue of having role models or those who you see leading well to help raise up other leaders. This mentorship is so important.

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