In their book, authors Marcus Warner and Jim Wilder dare to be rare in their approach to leadership development, and diagnosing common leadership issues, particularly among Christian leaders and pastors. R.A.R.E. is an acrostic which stands for Remain relational, Act like yourself, Return to joy, and Endure hardship, and these habits are said to increase joy and lead to trust and engagement within communities, churches and organizations.
Warner and Wilder’s connections to Daniel Kahneman work in Thinking Fast, Thinking Slow are obvious since both pull from psychological theory and neuroscience, though I’m not sure they cite Kahneman—perhaps this knowledge is ubiquitous within the neuroscience world.
This book creatively brings together the very different disciplines of Christian leadership and neuroscience. Key to their discussion is the concept of joy, which the authors advocate as the fuel that should power the leader in their work. This joy is infectious and a leader who is led by joy will cultivate communities led by joy as well. In one particular podcast interview, the authors described the concept of “joy mountain.” Joy is not always a mountain-top experience—there’s rough hiking, rain, hunger and other trials along the way. Even when leaders make it to the mountain top, they need to return to base camp eventually.
I’m grateful the authors define joy within a spectrum of highs and lows; however, I struggle with their dichotomy between joy and fear. The sense that joy is relational and fear is anti-relational is false. Working extensively with emotions such as fear in my research and project, Warner and Wilder’s definition of fear is not in fact fear, but more akin to the avoidance of fear. Fear is not the antagonist of joy; the antagonist of joy is avoidance of that which is real. Thus, joy is the result of engaging and integrating what is real. Their suggestion that fear leads leaders to rigidity and pain avoidance is simply false. In my research and work, fear can be a torch lighting the way forward, when made conscious in the presence of others. What we fear is often the very thing we must move toward, name, and deal with.
Overall, this book is conceptually helpful. I found myself reflecting on my experience working under two different senior pastors. These two pastors were quite opposite in terms of leadership still, strengths, and experience. The first ran a tight ship as an executive, with a top-down approach. He preached 90% of the time, and delegated efficiently. However, he had very little room for dissent and questioning. No one really disagreed with him until they left. He was the image of the “Sandbox Leader” the authors discuss; however, his beef was always with the kids in the other sandboxes (aka, other senior pastors). Conversely, the second senior pastor was young, inexperienced, and new to leadership of any form. I’ll never forget the time he stood up on a Sunday morning and said, “My name is [name] and I’m kind of the senior pastor here.” He often said his primary strength was harmony, but it was clear that his desire to please everyone was creating a leadership vacuum and ultimately weakening the community.
In both cases, I can see the RARE Leadership model being potentially helpful, but only in a behavior modification sense. To invoke Erin Meyer’s work on culture mapping, the RARE Leadership model leans heavily towards effectiveness in low-context cultures, like the US, where communication is highly explicit and precise. My question is, are church contexts and the communication norms therein, built more on high-context communication? In other words, are people in churches listening to and watching what leaders say and do, or are they more so reading between the lines and vigilant for what is going unsaid, and unacknowledged?
The RARE Leadership model restores something, something good and essential, but it does not address the shadow. In fact, joy is so highly illuminated in this book that the model may serve to create an even larger shadow in leaders, and their communities. I find the leadership development and ethos of Frederick Buechner much more compelling in his book, Telling the Truth: The Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy, & Fairy Tale. I will let Buechner have the last word:
“[Christian leaders] must address themselves to the fullness of who we are and to the emptiness too, the emptiness where grace and peace belong but mostly are not, because terrible as well as wonderful things have happened to us all. […] The task […] is to hold up life to us […]”
 Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2011).
 “The Culture Map – Google Books,” accessed February 9, 2023, https://www.google.com/books/edition/The_Culture_Map/nWAHAQAAQBAJ?hl=en&gbpv=1&dq=the+culture+map+erin+meyers&printsec=frontcover.
 Frederick Buechner, Telling the Truth: The Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy, and Fairy Tale (HarperCollins, 1977). 4, 16-17.