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

Would John Wesley Pass Tourish’s Test

Written by: on February 7, 2019

(Image by CodeCarvings Piczard # FREE Community Edition # on 2016-02-04. http://piczard.com)

Our fellow Elite 8 Cohort member, Dan Kreiss, had a fascinating title for his blog last week. It read, “Corporations or Faith Communities?” I have been thinking about that title, while wondering if I was guilty for the past 15 years of worrying more about keeping the “corporation” of my local church going, rather than fostering an authentic community of faith. Was I more interested in “butts in the pew” and “bucks in the plate” at the expense of significantly deeper spiritual issues of people’s faith?

Once I sat with a gentleman named H.B. London (now deceased, brother-in-law of James Dobson, from Focus on the Family). I asked Pastor London, considered by many to be a pastor to pastors, “How do I stop focusing so much on the numbers every Sunday?” His simple response has hounded me for years. “That is the dark side of being a Pastor!”

It reminded me of the advice from the book we read early on in this program Overcoming the Dark Side of Leadership: How to become an Effective Leader by Confronting Potential Failures, by McIntosh and Rima,

“Spiritual composting is about allowing the Holy Spirit to transform the less desirable aspects of our personality and then reintegrating them into our life…” [1]

Enter in Dennis Tourish, writing The Dark Side of Transformational Leadership: A Critical Perspective. Was I guilty of leading my church with good intentions, but also with self-centered personality and false charisma?

I appreciated his admission, “It is obvious that I take a more critical approach in this book.” [2] No duh, he put the word “critical” into his title. In our LGP studies, we have been well taught to be critical thinkers, so I find myself thinking critically about my leadership and about the leadership of the church.

It is readily apparent that prior studies of leaders have identified toxic leadership behaviors, narcissistic and destructive tendencies [3], poor decision making, even megalomania on the part of leaders. [4] Some people would simply insert the word “Trump” in there. Ooohh, that was controversial…

Tourish warns, “There is a chorus of voices that present leaders as saints, commanders, architects, pedagogues and physicians…indispensable for human prosperity.” [5]

It would be tempting to let my mind run away with negative thoughts about so called “mega church” pastors or those darned “television evangelists” who supposedly get rich on the corporation of doing church with self-serving motivations. However, I have rarely if ever truly met such a person.

Therefore, I found myself asking, “Would the greats in our Christian heritage be guilty of possessing the DARK SIDE in their ministries, and would Tourish discount them according to today’s standards? Why not go for the biggest name in my tribe’s history, JOHN WESLEY.

Professor W. Bentley, from the University of South Africa, cites “Critics of John Wesley may argue that the man himself is not a good example of leadership as his personality often proved to have disagreeable aspects. Although he was highly motivated, he was sometimes perceived to come across as being too strong willed (stubborn), dictatorial and domineering These traits led to the nickname “Pope John” among some of his followers. [6]

But do we throw the baby out with the bath water because of their flaws? I hope not. In our world today, we might be tempted to do so, quickly. Thankfully, John Wesley tried to build in accountability into his daily life, by doing the following,

“It must be noted that although Wesley was strong imperfect, he showed an approachability to people and was open enough to be called to account for his leadership style at the Methodist Conference of 1766. Here he was answerable to the very people who saw him as their leader. It would be a grave injustice to understand his leadership model and influence through the lens of these personality flaws.” [7]

In fact, in my research of Wesley, I found the antidote to megalomaniac leadership, and to my own struggles with focusing on potentially wrong benchmarks of my leadership. Christianity Today, stated this helpful suggestion in an article titled John Wesley: Methodist Pietist,

  “All actions had to be centered on bringing glory to God, and not the self!” [8] (Bold mine)

Bam!  There it is. Wesley organized people into small groups called “classes”, who would hold each other accountable for worship, fellowship, Christian living, social interaction and the celebration of the sacraments. In fact, class “leaders” asked questions of each other like the following, “What known sins have you committed since our last meeting?” or “What have you thought, said or done, of which you doubt whether it be sin or not?” [9]

The use of the term leader in “class leader” is deceptive as it suggests an hierarchical structure to which people had to conform. This was not the case. Class leaders were seen as Christians who were themselves on a spiritual journey, but who facilitated accountability. [10]

In conclusion, this week’s reading helped me not go too far with the fascination of leaders, while at the same time, realizing leaders are simply human, with known flaws. May God continue to CALL authentic leaders who are humble servants, who point people often to Jesus, all the while giving glory to God!


[1] McIntosh, Gary L., and Samuel D. Rima. Overcoming the Dark Side of Leadership: How to Become an Effective Leader by Confronting Potential Failures. New Dehli: Good Times Books, 2010. Kindle Edition. Loc. 2008.

[2] Tourish, Dennis. The Dark Side of Transformational Leadership: A Critical Perspective. Hove: Routledge, 2013. Kindle Edition. Loc. 233.

[3] Ibid., Loc. 134.

[4] Ibid., Loc. 9.

[5] Ibid., Loc. 134.

[6] Bentley, W. “The Formation of Christian Leaders: A Wesleyan Approach.” SciELO – Scientific Electronic Library Online. 2004. Accessed February 05, 2019. http://www.scielo.org/.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Shellnutt, Kate. “John Wesley: Methodical Pietist.” Christian History | Learn the History of Christianity & the Church. 2018. Accessed February 05, 2019. https://www.christianitytoday.com/.

[9]  Foxe, John. “Sacred Texts: Foxe’s Book of Martyrs.” Legends of the Gods, The Egyptian Texts: Introduction: Summary: I. The Legend of the God Neb-er-tcher, and the History of Creation. 1848. Accessed February 05, 2019. http://www.sacred-texts.com/chr/martyrs/fox120.htm.

[10] Bentley.

About the Author

Jay Forseth

Superintendent of the Western Conference of the Evangelical Church. Blessed with 28 years as the husband of my amazing wife who I can't make it without. Now three of four in our family are attending University, but both my children are way smarter than me.

5 responses to “Would John Wesley Pass Tourish’s Test”

  1. Hello Jay,

    Yes!!! Great post.

    I really resonate with your takeaway moment with HB London: “that’s the dark side of being a pastor”. The reality is that it’s there in all of us. Even in Wesley, or you, or me!!

    Thank you for transparently raising this for all of us to consider.

  2. M Webb says:

    I intentionally did not “peek” at what anyone else said about Toursih so I would not water down my post. Of course, we have bad leaders who do bad things, why wouldn’t we with a world dominated by evil and ruled by the Prince of Darkness, who disguises himself as the Angel of light (2 Cor. 11:14). I believe we can take any leadership model, influenced by the Holy Spirit, and find ways to serve, lead, and encourage followers to glorify God. God loves diversity, and, in His economy, nothing goes to waste. Even bad books like Tourish might be used to convict and inspire change where needed.
    Stand firm,
    M. Webb

  3. Jason Turbeville says:

    Great reflection of self and journey to your epiphany. I love that you found so much on John Wesley. We are all fallible, but what we do with that fallibility is what makes us good leaders.


  4. Dan Kreiss says:


    Thanks for the affirmation. That means a lot coming from you. I too am a huge John Wesley fan, having grown up in the UMC and now living in the very territory that was part of Francis Asbury’s circuit!! Yes, I believe that Wesley was cantankerous at times but, he was also humble enough to submit to those he was leading and was primarily concerned that Jesus was glorified above all else. I wonder if the Apostle Paul had similar traits of leadership. It is hard to know from this distance but I am sure he too was very strong willed and difficult at times. I think that is part of what makes a leader, the vision and the will to carry it out. What transforms that leader into a Christian leader is the humility that puts Jesus above all else. You and I both are on that journey. I get it wrong more than I get it right but, hopefully I get it right more tomorrow than I did today. Keep up the good work brother.

  5. Kyle Chalko says:

    Jay. this was a great read for me. What a powerful response from HB London. Thats awesome you got to meet him. I will remember that phrase.

Leave a Reply