DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Leaders use Religion to Control People: The Theology of Leadership

Written by: on October 11, 2012

The other evening, I was having dinner with a group of friends and we began to talk about the condition of the world. We talked about the recent assassination of the American Ambassador in Libby and the potential extreme Muslim terrorists who may have committed the act. We then began to talk about the presidential election and the difference between the left and the right (conservative, Christian fundamentalist). My friend across the table made a very interesting theological statement:

“Leaders use religion to control people.”

After reading Ford’s Theology a Very Short Introduction, I have a greater understanding of this statement. In the past I would have been highly offended by this statement because this is not what I believe. This statement helped me to understand what my friend’s world theology was. Ford would probably consider this world view as a Type1 from Frei’s five types of theology (Ford). This statement would most likely be reflected by an atheist materialist who sees the world through ‘brute fact’ materialism and is extremely suspicious of Christians and religion overall (p.22).

The statement also confirms that many problems of post-modernity with all the changes we are faced with are affected by theology. According to Ford’s broad definition, theology “is thinking about questions raised by and about religion (p.3).” This brings up the questions, what does God think about leadership? Is religion the way God wants leaders to control people? As a Christian theologian, does the Bible give guidelines and axioms for leading?

The Bible is a good starting place to explore guidelines and axioms for leaders helping the world to navigate through the overwhelming issues of today. Two pictures come to mind from a life time of studying the Bible. The first picture is the shepherd. Psalms 23 lists many axioms a leader can adopt in their leadership values (NIV). The shepherd leader is:

1.      Responsible for the overall well being of the sheep.

2.      Visionary and leads the sheep to safe areas for feeding and watering.

3.      Takes care of the physical and emotional needs of the sheep.

4.      A teacher and mentor who guides towards the path of righteousness.

5.      A protector who is committed to guide followers through tough and threatening experiences.

6.      A guide towards a full and rewarding life.

The second picture is the servant. Jesus modeled servant leadership and spoke about it often during his time with his disciples. He said in Matthew 20:27-28 “…and whoever wants to be first must be your slave- just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many (NIV).” The servant leadership principles approach the motivation to lead originating from a heart to care for others instead of leading for personal gain. There are many lessons we can discover from studying the life of Jesus. A few of the many principles are:

1.      Be an example (do not expect anyone to do a job that you are not willing to do yourself), Jesus washed his disciple’s feet John 13:12-15 (NIV).

2.      Care for others physically and emotionally, Jesus healed the sick and demon possessed.

3.      Be passionately committed to those you serve, Jesus gave his life to serve those who followed him.

There are too many Biblical examples to put in this short blog. Reflective leaders should ask themselves: What are my leadership values? Where do my values come from? What is my leadership theology?

David F. Ford, Theology a Very Short Introduction (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999)

The Holy Bible, New International Version (Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 1996)

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