I had lunch with a department head of a private Christian university a few weeks ago. This was not unlike any other lunches since I try to make it a point to stay in touch and network with former colleagues. However, in the course of our conversation, she said something that struck me as odd and I have not stopped thinking about it.
My friend had announced her retirement and I was interested in possibly taking her place. I had knowledge and experience of the job and I thought I could provide continuity and stability in her department. I told her part of my aspirations and felt calling is to seek opportunities of leadership and the position she would be leaving met those qualifications. After I had said that, I could tell she wanted to correct me. Her response basically was that she did not consider herself a leader nor were the tasks she routinely did things attributed to leadership. She proceeded to tell me some of the specifics of what she did, like supporting her direct reports, encouraging and advocating for them, etc. To which I said “that’s leadership.”
What’s striking about this encounter was this: Here I was sitting down and talking with a successful leader who obviously had not thought deeply about the subject of leadership. I did not pursue the matter further but I could sense after our conversation that she probably thought of leadership in generally negative terms, i.e., one who bosses people around, dictatorial, traditional top-down, etc.
I came away from that encounter wondering if she ever possessed a personal philosophy or theology of leadership. Would she have been more successful in her work if she did? Would she have had greater influence among her peers? Might she have been more intentional about mentoring women in leadership to realize their potential like St. Francis of Assisi did?1 Whether her leadership practice is intentional or not, lunching with her underscored for me the importance of leadership in the workplace.
Leadership as an academic field of study is relatively new. So it’s high time we have a periodical covering issues related to this nascent and important subject. Volume 1, Issue 1 of the Theology of Leadership Journal gets the ball rolling. Although I wished the first issue laid out and defined what is meant by “Theology of Leadership” or “Christian leadership” in order to frame and lay the foundation for future conversations around this topic. Instead the editors started with models and theories of leadership. To be fair, this was their prerogative and was stated from the beginning.2
As I embark on the second year of my doctoral studies, specifically studying leadership, I am not sure if I am more certain and confident about its nature, specifically in terms of the efficacy of current popular models, as I was when I first took a serious interest in this field years ago. That’s not meant to convey discouragement. If anything it’s a call to stay curious. The Theology of Leadership Journal will be invaluable to help satiate this spirit of inquiry.
If instead of starting with the what of theology of leadership, is there something to be gleaned from starting with the how of theology of leadership? What theological leadership nugget can we emulate from Paul’s use of wisdom in planning and deciding who to include in a missions trip? And what about Servant Leadership? This seems to be a leadership buzzword popular among Evangelicals today.3 There are even large institutions devoted to this and some of its advocates are a who’s who in established leadership circles, i.e., Ken Blanchard, Stephen Covey, etc. Then there are some of whom are more well-known for being servants and less about being a leader such as St. Francis of Assisi, Mother Teresa and Jesus to name a few.
Other models such as Authentic Leadership Theory (ALT) and Lead by Example seemed important to note by their inclusion. Missing were Charismatic Leadership, Humble Leadership, Transformational Leadership models, to name a few. I imagine all of these and ones yet to be studied will compete for space in this journal. In the dizzying array of information on leadership it’s tough to decide which model fits a situation best (Ah, but there’s a leadership model for that: Situational Leadership).
As I canvas my options, I maintain a level of uneasiness when I say no model satisfies. And that’s why I propose two of my own:  Weakness to Strength Leadership (WSL); and  For Such A Time As This (FSTT) based out of Esther 4:14. Incidentally, someone else beat me to the former.4 However I have written a little on the latter and have found the time spent reflecting on it gratifying.5
Perhaps my colleague fits the FSTT model because she never considered herself a leader much like Queen Esther must have felt when confronted with devastating news of genocide. Comparatively, on a much much smaller scale, my colleague probably never thought she’d play a significant role in decreasing the organization’s financial liability. And yet that is exactly what she has done. Her retirement date is fast approaching and many will attend her retirement reception, celebrate her accomplishments and share their good wishes. Will it matter that she knew she was a leader during her tenure? I don’t know.
1 Nathan Harter, Saint and Leader? The Example of St. Francis of Assisi Theology of Leadership Journal Vol. 1, Issue 1, 2018: 30.
2 Russell L. Huizing, Do We Really Need Another Academic Journal? Theology of Leadership Journal Vol. 1, Issue 1, 2018: 3.
3 No less than two specific articles were exclusively devoted to Servant Leadership in the very first issue of a new academic journal: The Theology of Leadership.
4 Larry F. Ross, Weak Enough To Lead: What the Bible Teaches Us About Powerful Leadership Theology of Leadership Journal Vol. 1, Issue 1, 2018: 98.
5 How To Be Weak To Become Strong DMINLGPcom, n.d. https://blogs.georgefox.edu/dminlgp/how-to-be-weak-to-become-strong/.