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

Upside Down Leadership

Written by: on September 5, 2019

The Theology of Leadership Journal provides a refreshing perspective on leadership based in scripture, church history, and biblical narrative, a theological rather corporate CEO model. Though there are important pragmatic lessons to be learned from business leadership, the Kingdom of God does not function according to human values and systems. This was well described in various articles throughout this journal and it continually pointed the reader back to one’s calling, servant leadership, and Kingdom principles of relationship when discussing leadership. This was particularly evident in the article, “Prophets, Priests, and Kings.” Woodworth points to metaphors as a transformational communication means in order to transcend “individual, ethnic, and regional identities.” He shows how the writers of Biblical text portrayed this reality through their use of leadership metaphors such as “shepherd, ambassadors, witness, athlete, architect, father and mother.”[1]

Holmquist presented a hermeneutical study of 1 Peter 5:1-5 in relation to Authentic Leadership Theory. He calls attention to Peter’s use of the Great Shepherd when addressing church leadership and characteristics of those shepherding the flock of God. ALT focuses its construct on “self-awareness, relational transparency, balanced processing, and internalized moral perspective.”[2] The author asserts that ALT could gain from drawing on concepts in I Peter to strengthen this theory. He sees a correlation between the two in the areas of “valuing personal growth, building trust, staying true to internal standards, leading responsibly, serving willingly, sacrificing for others, and being an example.”[3] He shows how ALT could gain weightiness by adding Peter’s emphasis on deep relationship through shared community between leaders and followers. He also points to Peter’s assertions toward having an external focus as well as internal.

An important topic Peter addresses in his letter is that of suffering. Holmquist connects a leader’s experience with suffering as part of their development and witness. I Peter 2:21 says, “To this you were called, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving an example for you to follow in his steps.”[4] The writer then goes on to describe the character and integrity revealed through suffering such as committing no sin, no deceit in his mouth, did not answer back when maligned and did not retaliate rather trusted himself to God. The ALT combined with the principles of 1 Peter reveals a leader who has pursued consistency in personal growth, accountability in relationship to a higher authority, both of which create a strong internal moral compass and humble posture.

Larry F. Ross’ review of James C Howell’s book, “Weak Enough to Lead: What the Bible Teaches Us About Powerful Leadership,” continues the idea of the character and humble posture of godly leadership by turning upside down the typical view of strong leaders. He draws our attention to biblical stories and says Jesus Christ is the “greatest leader ever” and he became “weak and powerless in the world by giving up his power while on the cross, so that he may come back with authority.”[5] His examples include Hannah who let go of God’s promised child, of children who Jesus referenced as the picture of greatness, of Saul and leadership failure, and women in the life of Moses who, though seemingly insignificant in position, defied the leaders and authorities of the day by taking a stand and waiting patiently.

In Handbook of Leadership Theory and Practice power and leadership are described as “inextricably intertwined” in “both a hard form (coercive) and a soft form (attractive), with each being exercised to some degree by nearly every leader. An effective leader will combine both forms, resulting in what Nye terms ‘smart power.’”[6] This seems quite contrary to Howell’s description of power as weakness. Power, position and privilege are common terms in today’s world as we look at dominant cultures and their usage of these opportunities. As Howell described Jesus as the consummate leader his example was that of giving up power, position and privilege for the sake of those with none. He emptied himself in order to be with humanity in an understanding way. He models leadership as those who sacrifice for the sake of others to experience what they could never do on their own.

Could it be that the descriptions found in the Theology of Leadership Journal though appearing upside down according to the plethora of leadership definitions today, are actually right side up and actually have the ability to impact our world to become the same? May it be so.

[1] Stephen Woodworth, “Prophets, Priests and Kings: The Use of Metaphors in Training global Leaders Towards Pastoral Identity,” Theology of Leadership Journal 1, no. 1 (2018): 84.

[2] Daniel B. Holmquist, “Authentic Leadership Theory: Enhancements from 1Peter 5:1-5,” Theology of Leadership Journal 1, no. 1 (2018): 88.

[3] Ibid., 94.

[4] I Peter 2:21 NET

[5] Larry F. Ross, “Weak Enough to Lead: What the Bible Teaches Us About Powerful Leadership,” Theology of Leadership Journal 1, no. 1 (2018): 98.

[6] Nitin Nohria and Rakesh Khurana, Handbook of Leadership Theory and Practice (Boston: Harvard Business School Publishing Corporation, 2010), 14.

About the Author

Tammy Dunahoo

Tammy is a lover of God, her husband, children and grandchildren. She is the V.P. of U.S. Operations/General Supervisor of The Foursquare Church.

9 responses to “Upside Down Leadership”

  1. Andrea Lathrop says:

    Yes, Tammy! Thank you for your insights on power. I really appreciated the “Weak Enough to Lead” article and am drawn to the idea of the Kingdom of God being upside down to the world’s culture and systems. It is hard to figure out in some of our church contexts because we do have a decent amount of power and resources – not all, of course, but many in the US. I often wonder and wrestle with how we should steward what we have been given – do we give it all away? Do we use it to benefit the common good? And who gets to decide what is the best for the community? There is the power again. So I get what Nye is saying about ‘smart power’ because it feels like power is inevitable so why wouldn’t we want Christians to have it and be smart with it? But I think we have to be even more subversive than that. Power to come under and lift up…

    Please keep writing and leading. We need you.

  2. Mario Hood says:

    Such a great post, Tammy. Every time I went to “skip” an article I found myself not being able to stop reading. This is one I will go back to over and over again because it aligns so much to my writing.

    There has been a major shift in regards to “power” in the West and church leadership should be setting the tone in this but like many other times, we are actually behind the times. Out of the many things your post has me thinking, the loudest question is, what makes church leadership different from corporate leadership? Our use of power may be one of the answers!

  3. Mary Mims says:

    Tammy, great post and thank you for your analysis of some of the articles in the Theology of Leadership Journal. You show why this journal is needed in speaking about power as the world views it. It is clear from Scriptures that Jesus associates power with weakness, whereas the world shows that power needs to be coercive or attractive. It is up to us to balance these things out, leaning more heavily on the Word of God. Thank you for pointing this out.

  4. Rev Jacob Bolton says:

    May it be so indeed Tammy. Great post.

  5. Sean Dean says:

    Great post Tammy. I have a friend who runs a non-profit who constantly talks about leadership from below, which seems very much like what you and the author were describing. It always gives me pause to stop and think about where I have been leading from. Thanks.

  6. Rhonda Davis says:

    Yes, may it be so.

    You have done an excellent job of presenting the value of continued work on the theology of leadership. I have wondered if some of the struggles of spiritual leadership in the American church might be relieved a bit if we understood leadership more as theology in practice. I certainly have more questions than answers, but your post offers hope that there are great voices who are calling us to this upside-down way. Lead on, Tammy.

  7. Harry Fritzenschaft says:

    As always, thanks for your leadership and well thought out insights. I wonder how our pastors can return to living out of the “upside-down” definitions of Christ-centered leadership? Perhaps the premise of the Journal is correct (despite Digby’s consternation), we do need to develop a theology of Christian leadership? Currently, there seems to be a disconnect between our theological foundations and our local pastoral leadership practices. What do you think?

  8. Digby Wilkinson says:

    Hi Tammy. Nice coalition of thinking from various articles. Nitin’s handbook came to mind on a number of occasions while reading most of the articles and I agree there is clear differentiation in the understand of leadership power. Interestingly I reflected on the idea that Jesus gave up his power on the cross, but I wondered if the real truth is that that power evaporated at the incarnation – which I guess is whole idea behind kenosis. That means Jesus exercised his ministry with an authority that was powerless. People followed the authority. His powerlessness results in the cross. I guess it raises the question, what’s the difference between power and authority? Hmmm, that was a ramble?

  9. John Muhanji says:

    Thank you, Tammy, for your great post that has raised up many leadership and theological dynamics in our times. You are such a deep thinker and visionary leader from this post one can tell your focus and how authentic you are in your quest for leadership integrity. You have raised up and questioned the power and authority in leadership model today. I am encouraged for sure by reading your post. thanks for sharing with us your reflection of the journal.

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