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

What is Leadership?

Written by: on November 29, 2023

I regularly have the opportunity to talk to others about leadership. Often this is in a discipleship context with a small group of emerging ministry leaders. During these kinds of conversations, inevitable questions arise, such as…

“Are leaders made or born?”

“Is leadership something people grow into naturally, or is it an assigned task?”

“What kind of leadership is best in church?”

“What is the role of character in leadership?”

“What is the difference between management and leadership?”

And so many more…

I could easily fill up this blog post with the types of questions I have been asked, and it wouldn’t be too difficult to blow past 1,000 words with just those questions. Because it seems that for as much as has been written about leadership (and it’s quite a lot), there is not a universally accepted definition of what a leader is.[1]

This poses a challenge for my NPO, which, at this stage, states “The Church On The Way needs an intergenerational culture that engages rising generations in ministry leadership.” (Yes, it’s a mouthful, and yes, I continue to refine it even at the end of our 3rd semester).

There are multiple words that need defining in the NPO, but the trickiest may be the final one: Leadership. As I have been navigating through workshops, one-on-ones, and other ancillary conversations, it’s the question that has come up more than any other: “What’s your definition of ministry leadership?”

This is where a book like the one Peter Northouse wrote starts to be useful. Leadership, Theory and Practice, Ninth Edition is not a title I’d be inspired to purchase in an airport bookshop, or at Powell’s in Portland, or even on Amazon. As an apparently “boring” textbook with a decidedly unsexy title, it simply isn’t designed to attract the eyeballs of those looking for the next big inspiring leadership concept (the kind of book I’m usually a sucker for).

And that’s part of why this book is so helpful. Where most pop books on leadership have a singular bent, Northouse is unpacking all kinds of well-researched ideas from across the spectrum regarding leadership, and letting the reader build a foundational understanding that will serve them better than if they only grasped leadership from a single perspective.

He accomplishes this by exposing the reader to a depth and breadth of leadership, without going so deep or so wide that the reader gets lost. I found that by presenting major leadership theories with an overview of the description, models, how they work, strengths, criticisms, applications, case studies, and summaries, Northouse was able to cover a lot of ground. I also appreciated the wealth of references to other important voices, both academic and popular, that any student of leadership should be aware of, and able to be conversant about at a basic level.

However, even with the significant number of voices represented in this book, Northouse does offer his own framework for a definition of leadership. In the same way that Bebbington’s Evangelical quadrilateral[2] was helpful for me to understand a movement I have identified with all my life, Northouse’s own quadrilateral helped to clarify a role I have served since before I was an adult. He writes, “1. Leadership is a process. 2. Leadership involves influence. 3. Leadership occurs in groups, and 4. Leadership involves common goals.”[3]Based on those elements he then goes on to share how he defines leadership for his book: “Leadership is a process whereby an individual influences a group of individuals to achieve a common goal.”[4]

While ministry leadership must involve elements such as intimacy with God, character, followership, servanthood, and more, this is as good a basic starting point for me as any, and I plan to use it in my next discussion on leadership.


Epilouge: There seems to be an unwritten rule that in our posts we shouldn’t admit “out loud” that we didn’t actually read the book, but I’m pretty sure it’s already evident by the blog post that I did not.

Regardless, I AM actually glad that I purchased the book. As I “inspected” Leadership for this blog post, I realized three fundamental truths at the exact same time:

  1. I wouldn’t have bought this on my own if it was the only book on leadership in the bookstore.
  2. I really needed a book like this to help answer my NPO.
  3. This is an excellent textbook: clear, comprehensive, easy to read and understand, and one that will replace my current crop of leadership textbooks from my undergrad and master’s-level years.

[1] Peter G. Northouse, Leadership Theory and Practice, Ninth Edition (Sage Publishing, Thousand Oaks, CA, 2022), 2.

[2] D. W. Bebbington, Evangelicalism in Modern Britain: A history from the 1730s to the 1980s (London: Routledge,1989).

[3] Northouse, Leadership, 6.

[4] Ibid.

About the Author


Tim Clark

I'm on a lifelong journey of discovering the person God has created me to be and aligning that with the purpose God has created me for. I've been pressing hard after Jesus for 40 years, and I currently serve Him as the lead pastor of vision and voice at The Church On The Way in Los Angeles. I live with my wife and 3 kids in Burbank California.

13 responses to “What is Leadership?”

  1. Travis Vaughn says:

    I agree that defining the word Leadership is tough, which is why I was so glad to see Northouse actually produced a definition, helped by his “quadrilateral” that you highlighted. However, the challenge with his definition (which is a great definition, in my opinion) is that he says that leadership involves influence. This is true. It is also true that, theoretically, ANYONE could influence a group toward a common goal. Obviously, the science of that latter part of that statement is hard. It isn’t easy to help a group or team or staff pursue a common mission, in concert with others. This means that not everyone could or should try and do that. But, it does present a challenge for anyone who has “leadership” or “leader” in their NPO. I always wrestled with the way we moved from pastor/church planter to “leader” in the mission statement of the church planting organization I served for several years prior to my current role, though in the end I think it was the right thing to do, and it opened the door for others to be a part of our network.

    Lastly, I agree with you — the title of the book doesn’t do it justice. It sounds academicky (is that a word?) and boring. But it’s a great book!

    • mm Tim Clark says:

      Travis, you raise a great question about leadership as influence. I guess if we use Northouse’s definition Kim Kardashian is a leader as she is influencing many people to a ‘common goal’ of materialism. 🙂

      Maybe leadership needs something more.

      I also struggle with the difference between pastor and leader. Not that leadership isn’t important (it is) but when our denomination started to be all about ‘leaders’ I think we subtly exchanged one of the tasks of a shepherd (leadership) and made the role all about that one task. There is so much more that a pastor must do than lead.

      Thanks for the encouragement and the thoughtful comment.

      • Jennifer Vernam says:

        This comment: “There is so much more that a pastor must do than lead.” reminds me of a conversation you, John and I had in Oxford. If you remember, at that time, we talked about the shepherding part of pastor, and how that can get lost in this fixation of what others think being a “leader” means. This is an important conversation.

        I find that because of my experiences, I imagine that the leadership flaws I have seen in my own church history are common issues shared everywhere. Reflecting on your post, however, I am now wondering: is the shared pattern truly that pastors don’t have a well-rounded leadership strategy, or do you think there are common specific issues endemic to our time? Does my question even make sense?

        • mm Tim Clark says:

          I do think it makes sense. And I think the answer is both/and.

          I think often pastors do not have a good leadership strategy. Though leadership is only one part of shepherding, it is an important part, in my opinion, which is why I think the pendulum regularly swings so far to “leadership”. We see that shepherds who teach and counsel and care may not have the tools or even gifts to lead well and we see the challenges that can cause.

          However, I also do believe some of our leadership challenges are endemic to our time. Jack Hayford (the founding pastor of the church I lead) once told me that he has no idea how he would lead/pastor in the season I’ve been called to be a pastor in. That the world has become incredibly complex and challenging in ways he couldn’t imagine. That’s a daunting statement from a person who was a prolific author and speaker regarding church leadership.

  2. mm Russell Chun says:

    Hi Tim,

    As went through this book on my kindle, I discovered I had purchased it before and I am now reading the highlights I made from another decade!

    Your NPO sounds amazing!
    “The Church On The Way needs an intergenerational culture that engages rising generations in ministry leadership.”

    No kidding…without an intergenerational culture, we are destined to shrivel on the vine! Can’t wait to read it.

    I liked your out take.
    “1. Leadership is a process. 2. Leadership involves influence. 3. Leadership occurs in groups, and 4. Leadership involves common goals.

    Sums it up nicely.

    And then, “Leadership is a process whereby an individual influences a group of individuals to achieve a common goal.”

    I am RETHINKING my leadership development process about my organizations movement into Ukraine. (www.goodsportsinternational.org)

    I actually don’t see any leaders in the group that is forming to move there, and as I review this book, I am challenged to find a model that works. I will remain in the states (although I have a visit planned to Ukraine in July 2024), but the need for leadership is now!

    I am taking a serious look at Team Leadership. With no dominant leader, I am seeing if a group with a common goal, loving God and loving Ukrainians, is enough to keep the team together. Sigh…still working out the details.


    • mm Tim Clark says:

      I have often been in the same boat where I am leading a group of people who should be leaders (like a church staff) but some are godly and great people without the skill or gift of leadership.

      It brings up a lot of questions about the leadership skill set needed in ministry, the accountability required to ensure that skill set and our hiring and firing practices (do we hire or keep someone who should be leading but can’t just because they are a great person?)

      I don’t have the answers here, but these are things we have to address as we lead churches and NPO’s.

  3. mm Kim Sanford says:

    Well, obviously, I have to comment on your post because you slipped a Hamilton reference in and it made my day.

    As you mentioned, each of the leadership styles that Northouse included were backed up with numerous studies and in-depth research. Unlike the multitude of popular leadership books that have appeared over the decades, this one actually felt like more than just one person’s opinion or a motivational speaker. Like you, I’m glad to have it on my shelf even if I never in a million years would have bought it for myself.

    I would also love to hear more (this may not be the right platform, but sometime) about the shepherd vs. pastor vs. leader conversation.

  4. mm Tim Clark says:

    Kim, I love that my Hamilton references make your day. I listened to it nonstop for about a year when my kids were younger and ALL of the words are indelibly tattooed in my mind.

    I think the shepherd/leader conversation is really important. Where and how they overlap as well as where and how they don’t; How we get them mixed up to our detriment… And how they are both necessary in the modern role we call ‘pastor’.

    Looking forward to the future conversation! (and maybe depending on the books we read in the next 2 semesters, a blog post I can do on it… in which I will certainly drop a Hamilton reference) 🙂

  5. Adam Harris says:

    I’m learning as well that books with titles that are “mehhh” and “graphic art that looks boring” can have the best content. It’s great when they have both, but the textbooks that have quality information can easily get passed over at a bookstore which is what brings such value to getting exposure to these authors and research in these courses. Happy this book gave you a good resource for your NPO, I feel the same about Bebbington this semester.

  6. Esther Edwards says:

    What a powerful NPO to address.
    It interests me because of the intergenerational factor. I just spoke to a psychologist in Australia (who has done much research in the area of Clergy Wellness) for a one-on-one regarding my NPO. As we talked about mid to later life ministry leaders processing identity, purpose, and future possiblities, she mentioned the great need for mentoring and reverse mentoring and mentioned that I should consider that as a component in what I develop. Obviously, as ministers age, keeping one’s sage-like wisdom intact but yet remaining somewhat relevant to younger leaders produces tension. What are your thoughts on how to engage the older leaders with those who are the rising leaders in your context?

    • mm Tim Clark says:

      Wow Esther, that’s a really good question that I’m just starting to really wrestle with.

      I find that younger leaders say they want older leaders input and older leaders say they want to encourage younger leaders… so the willingness is there. But the action is hard to cultivate.

      I’m needing to discover how to take this from theory (which I found little resistance to) to action (which is one of the hardest things to generate in this space). Official “mentor” programs don’t seem to be engaged, so I’m considering just doing a ‘take a student to lunch’ day to start out relationally.

      If you have any thoughts I’d love to hear them!

  7. Tim,

    Your approach to engaging with books like Northouse’s “Leadership: Theory and Practice” is a practical one. I personally skim the table of contents, selecting a chapter to read thoroughly, and then skim the others while paying attention to footnotes for context is as a way to extract valuable insights.

    It’s a reminder that everyone has their unique reading style, and what matters most is the knowledge gained and how it can be applied. Your honesty about not adhering to any unwritten rules when it comes to reading is commendable.

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