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

Who Will Lead from a Relationship Standpoint?

Written by: on September 14, 2023

A few weeks ago, Tremper Longman posted on his Facebook page about his relationship with Pastor Tim Keller with whom he shared a close friendship.  Longman askedWho will be (or is) the next winsome advocate for Christianity now?   There are plenty of culture haters out there, but who will be those voices that try to love and persuade people (without compromise) that Jesus restores our relationship with God and brings meaning into our lives. They are out there and they will emerge.[1]  In response to Dr. Longman’s question, I asked him who he saw as the next winsome voice and advocate for Christianity.  The response was sparse.  When I read this week’s book by Simon Walker and underlined this phrase, “God uses and chooses specific leaders to bond strongly with their followers during certain years,”[2]  I thought about how profoundly I misunderstand influence and power in our culture: I just don’t see God-chosen leaders bonding with followers.

Peter G. Northouse, the grandfather of leadership theory and practice, professor emeritus of communication in the School of Communication at Western Michigan University, remarked in his Leadership: Theory and Practice book that, “The concept of power is related to leadership because it is part of the influence process.”[3] The reason for this association, he explains, is in organizations there are two kinds of power: Position Power and Personal Power. Position power is, “the power a person derives from a particular office or rank.  . . Personal power is the influence of capacity a leader derives from being seen by followers as likable and knowledgeable.”[4] 

It makes sense that in discussions on leadership, leaders are often described as “wielders of power,” as people who dominate others.  In order to think of position power and personal power from a different lens, we have all turned to what Simon Walker calls Leading Out of Who You are: Training in the Exercise of Power where he combines eight different patterns of power, each with its own character.  

Walker observes power from a relationship standpoint.  

For Walker, power is not a weapon leaders wield to meet their own needs and get their own way.  Rather, Walker observes, “What is important is whether a leader understands the kind of power she is using and whether it is the appropriate kind to use in that situation.”[5]  According to Mike Cosper, who wrote a piece covering Tim Keller’s powerful influence as a pastor to New York City, “Keller was the evangelical of record for secular elites because he was the local pastor. He’d been there for 30 years, through some of the city’s darkest moments, and they loved and respected him for it.”[6]  Keller observed power from a relationship standpoint.

Is it a fallacy to think that leaders in our current cultures are not observing their power from a relationship standpoint? Why do I ask this?  When I held my Discovery Workshops and interviews last year seeking feedback on my NPO,  I asked my stakeholders to name reasons for the current leadership crisis; in other words, why do we have a bankruptcy of leaders in the pipeline?  

Although varied, here’s how they responded: (Bear with me, I have a reason for sharing this)!

  • Spiritual forces of evil.
  •  Lack of listening to young people.
  • Perception of leadership determines the value of leadership.
  • Leaders not taking time to tell their story.
  • Learning to call people out for the good they are doing including recognizing skills and talents.
  • Leadership looks confusing considering younger generations/multi-cultural groups who see decision making and leadership as a collective versus an individual activity.
  • Leaders get burned out when they don’t feel supported.
  • People don’t know what is needed or how to fix it.  
  • Future leaders look at the wellbeing of current leaders; burnout and unsupported leadership can become a long-term problem.
  • Leaders who don’t see growth in themselves can’t fulfill the primary role of leadership to produce growth in others.
  • Individuals want influence/title without hard choices.

However, the following factors were consistent throughout both workshops and every single interview of why the future leadership pipeline is bankrupt:

  •  Individualism and hyper-individualism
  •  Personal autonomy (working in silos).
  • Unwillingness to be held accountable to the needs/interests of others rather than pursuing individual preferences.
  • Hurry
  • Mission creep
  • Lack of vulnerability around differences
  • Cynicism and performance pressures
  • Emphasis on productivity over creativity.

 As I was reading Walker’s second book in his trilogy,, I underlined and highlighted several of his key points in chapters 14 and 15.  All the while, I had this niggling in my brain with the question of why we have a lack of people standing in line to lead? The latter list from my stakeholders reflects self-centered and self-serving qualities and are the polar opposite of how Walker (and Keller) observes power– from a relationship standpoint.  

Perhaps I am asking the wrong question.  Rather than ask myself why we have a lack of people wanting to lead, maybe I ask how it’s best to train leaders from a relationship standpoint?

In Walker’s own wisdom, he explains leadership as a bigger task than using one form of power or influence with the ability to see beyond a particular situation.  He advocates for leaders to develop the skill set of varied potential interventions with their presence, social and emotional impact.  As if he wrote the end of the book just for me, Walker writes that mobility can be learned.

 “Mobility is the most important capacity a leader needs to develop . . .there are certain mechanics involved in moving from using one strategy , one kind of power to another and you can master them.”[7]

I really do want to know who will lead from a relationship standpoint. What decisions do you believe need to be made for those who are training, mentoring, and calling up the next generation of leaders?


[1] Longman, Tremper. Facebook Post. August 18, 2023.

[2] Walker, Simon, P. “Leading With Nothing to Lose (Undefended Leader). P. 132

[3] Northouse, Leadership. p.10

[4] Northouse, Leadership. 0.12

[5] Walker, Simon P. “Leading with Nothing to Lose (Undefended Leader). P. 133

[6] “Tim Keller: The Pastor of Record | Christianity Today.” p.80

[7] Walker, Simon P. p. 137

About the Author


Pam Lau

Pamela Havey Lau brings more than 25 years of experience in speaking, teaching, writing and mediating. She has led a variety of groups, both small and large, in seminars, trainings, conferences and teachings. Pam’s passion is to see each person communicate with their most authentic voice with a transparent faith in Jesus Christ. With more than 10, 000 hours of writing, researching, and teaching the heart and soul of Pam’s calling comes from decades of walking alongside those who have experienced healing through pain and peace through conflict. As a professor and author, Pam deeply understands the role of mentoring and building bridges from one generation to another. She has developed a wisdom in how to connect leaders with their teams. Her skill in facilitating conversations extends across differences in families, businesses, schools, universities, and nonprofits. Pam specializes in simplifying complex issues and as a business owner, has helped numerous CEOs and leaders communicate effectively. She is the author of Soul Strength (Random House) and A Friend in Me (David C. Cook) and is a frequent contributor to online and print publications. You can hear Pam’s podcast on Real Life with Pamela Lau on itunes. Currently, Pam is a mediator for families, churches, and nonprofits. You can contact Pam through her website: PamelaLau.com. Brad and Pam live in Newberg, Oregon; they have three adult daughters and one son-in-law. One small, vocal dog, Cali lives in the family home where she tries to be the boss! As a family they enjoy worshiping God, tennis, good food and spending time with family and friends.

8 responses to “Who Will Lead from a Relationship Standpoint?”

  1. Kally Elliott says:

    Okay, you sent me on a hunt for articles about Tim Keller. While I know who he was I admit I do not know much of his theology or ministry except that he led Redeemer Presbyterian (PCA) in Manhattan. Of course I found articles claiming him to be the best pastor ever and others claiming the opposite. It’s the internet so what did I expect?

    Anyway, I appreciate your lifting up relationship building in leadership. Unless one is a dictator I believe the *only* way to successfully lead people is to build healthy relationships with them. This is not always easy to do – especially is one is an introvert or serves a large congregation or other organization. However it is vital to the leadership. And yet, I am struck, though not surprised that several of the responses from your workshop suggested burnout. Burnout, I think, can happen when one is trying to please everyone, answer every email, visit all the people, preach the best sermons (in the case of pastoral ministry).

    One question I might ask your workshop attendees is something like, “What does it look like for pastoral/ministry leaders to lead in a relational way (valuing relationships, sharing vulnerabilities, etc) without having to “please” everyone (or answer every dang email)? How do we support relationships realizing a leader cannot have equal relationships with everyone?”

    • mm Pam Lau says:

      Bingo! Kally! You asked the million dollar question! How do we support relationships realizing a leader cannot have equal relationships with everyone?

      I am becoming further convinced that Number 2s need to be trained in mobility, humility and relational mechanics so that their Number 1s can feel supported and not feel the pressure to meet everyone’s needs, please, answer emails. It’s a complicated scenario when the Number 1 is self-centered and ego driven. I believe everyone needs to be about the other person’s best. Thanks for your response! Much to discuss in Oxford.

  2. mm Russell Chun says:

    Hi Pam,
    Great post.

    For me, my leadership perspective is dramatically different. Emerging from U.S. Army Leadership methods, all I was surrounded by was type A, physically and emotionally aggressive leaders.

    Attaining a “command” position was competitive and sometimes brutal within the office corps.

    The DLGP course work has revealed a foreign world to me. When I first met the cohort in Capetown, I felt that I was watching our classmates driving in the wrong lane. A semester later it dawned on me that I was the one driving in the wrong lane.

    My concept of leadership was Churchill(ish) and while I have a profession of faith, I certainly never considered being self emptying (Chapter 13 – RWC).

    In the year of this course, I have found myself lacking when it comes to leadership. It is a true joy to learn from our cohort members. Perhaps all is not lost.


    • mm Pam Lau says:

      But isn’t fighting a war with a group of comrades a form of self-emptying because you have each other’s backs? I am not convinced the relational approach tosses out the order of military. Don’t we need the rank for successful wins? Help me think through what Walker is trying to say about the change being inward, having a leader’s emotional needs met in God? Thanks for your honest and humble response. See you soon!

  3. Esther Edwards says:

    I too looked online for thoughts on Tim Keller, and was specifically looking for someone who may have known him personally. An article written in 2017 by Scott Sauls came up. (https://erlc.com/resource-library/articles/8-things-i-learned-from-tim-kellers-leadership-a-personal-tribute/) Two things struck me:
    1. “Tim inspired me with his reluctance to participate in or even flirt with the trappings of Christian celebrity. He never chased the spotlight. He never tried to make a name for himself. ”
    2. “Instead of trying to position Redeemer as New York’s Walmart of churches that would swallow up “the competition” with its superior offerings, Tim consistently leveraged time, resources, and energy to build a church planter training organization through which to bring more church planters, and with them more churches, into the city of New York.”

    Two aspects come to mind from just these two points – humility and a Kingdom mindset. However, even more than that, when I read Keller’s writings, I come away desiring to digest the Word with greater tenacity and passion. There was something more than a man’s leadership. There was a deep, deep love for Christ and His Word.
    Trainig, teaching, coaching, and mentoring all need to flow from a deeper well that is nurtured daily. I so desire to train from the overflow but can fall so short…
    There again, self-emptying brings the freedom…

    • mm Pam Lau says:

      Hello! Esther~ Looking forward to seeing you next week! Ironically, two weeks ago, I met with our new Dean of the Seminary, Tammy Dunahoo, who previously worked as a VP for the Foursquare Church. (She speaks very highly of Tim and John)! Our conversation started with why she felt led to take this position which led us to our deep desire for our children to know Jesus in a way they don’t yet know Him today. Thus, her leading students who will be the next pastors, teachers of The Word is what compels her at some level. But then I asked her about what she thought it would take for that kind of “knowing”. Our discussion made its way to Jack Hayford, who was the long time pastor at Church on the Way where Tim Clark now pastors. Small world. She told me a story that I will share when we are in Oxford but it ties back to what you said:
      “There was something more than a man’s leadership. There was a deep, deep love for Christ and His Word.
      Training, teaching, coaching, and mentoring all need to flow from a deeper well that is nurtured daily. ”

      Jack Hayford’s ministry was deep and broad, like Keller’s. The story she shared with me was all about Jack’s deep spirituality and that’s where the gold lies. Not sure that can be taught unless those leading have discovered it first.

  4. Jenny Dooley says:

    Hi Pam,
    I appreciate that you shared your lists. Very insightful!
    These five insights jumped out at me as they relate to my NPO: developing relational support for ministry leaders.

    1. Leaders not taking time to tell their story.
    2. Leaders get burned out when they don’t feel supported.
    3. Future leaders look at the wellbeing of current leaders; burnout and unsupported leadership can become a long-term problem.
    4. Hurry.
    5. Lack of vulnerability around differences.

    I love how Kally put it, “I believe the *only* way to successfully lead people is to build healthy relationships with them.” Leaders also need healthy relationships.

    My less than sufficient answer to your question: What decisions do you believe need to be made for those who are training, mentoring, and calling up the next generation of leaders?
    Take the lead to create safe, hospitable spaces for mature and emerging leaders to tell their stories, slow down, rest, retreat, be heard, accepted, and loved on a regular basis. If leaders don’t have safe relationships and opportunities to address their own physical, spiritual, social-emotional wellbeing, they won’t have the capacity to relate to others well or meet the demands of their leadership role.

    I am so curious as to how others will answer your question and looking forward to our chat in Oxford!

    • mm Pam Lau says:

      Yes! And for those places of space, rest, retreat, being heard, accepted and Loved not take our precious leaders too much out of their daily routines. Somehow it needs to be built in to our systems. Thanks for your thoughtful response, Jenny! I, too, want to hear what others would say. See you soon!

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