Despite the thousands of books, podcasts, sermons, and classes on leadership within a Christian frame of reference, very little work has been done to explore the theology of leadership. A new academic endeavour, the Theology of Leadership Journal is curating ideas to help thought leaders uncover what makes for a robust theology of these concepts. Examining the first issue was fascinating, and a common thread began to emerge for me as I read various articles. The core theme is this: embracing one’s weakness can lead to authentic, transformational action in the world that can be followed by others in one’s community. This is particularly true for my focus group in my dissertation work: second and third-generation inheritors of wealth who are entrusted with the responsibility of family philanthropy.
The lack of attention paid to weakness in leadership is natural in a world that celebrates strong arming one’s opponents, influencing through the cult of personality, and upholding as a template those decisive, action-oriented achievers. We wonder why there are few women leaders that capture our attention. Perhaps it is our model for understanding Christian leadership that is out of whack.
Larry Ross, in his review of James C. Howell’s book, Weak Enough to Lead: What the Bible Teaches About Powerful Leadership, reminds us of our Lord’s example. We do not follow a macho, superman-styled Saviour, but rather a Man of Sorrows, acquainted with suffering. The juxtaposition of our assumptions with Jesus as a model is arresting: “[T]he author puts forth a convincing argument that if Jesus served as the CEO He’d run your company into the ground in a week.”
Toronto theologian Arthur Boers makes this same claim in his book Servants and Fools: A Biblical Theology of Leadership. “As Luke recounts the events leading up to Jesus’ birth, he deliberately names luminaries of his day – Emperor Augustus, King Herod, Governor Quirinius. Yet he startlingly shifts focus to unimportant, unlikely folks – Zechariah, Elizabeth, Mary, Joseph – who are in fact the unexpected channels of God’s work, the real sphere of God’s transforming activity. Augustus, Herod, and Quirinius made the news. But good news is consistently discerned and found elsewhere.”
If God especially works through the insignificant and overlooked, then what do we make of those who lead from a place of inherited strength and power? These individuals, while privileged in most regards, are expected to lead but frequently lack competence, overshadowed by the force of nature of their parents’ celebrated entrepreneurial successes. They have the infrastructure around them – strong networks, family heritage, the abundance of resources – to undertake the leadership project. But they lack the tried and true path to typical leadership – forging one’s own way forward.
In another article in the first edition of the Theology of Leadership Journal, Jeffrey J. Singfiel probes the nature of the intense disagreement between Paul and Barnabas over John Mark, an incident first described in Acts 15. This young man models the conflict and challenge of a second-generation inheritor. Singfiel states, “John Mark first appeared in Acts 12:12. His mother hosted a church in her home in Jerusalem, and it was this home to which Peter goes after being miraculously released from Prison (Acts 12:7-11). Therefore, John Mark came from an influential family in the early Christian movement. Further, he was the cousin of Barnabas (Col. 4:10)… John Mark was well positioned to work the familial networks…. [His] place in the early Christian community not only provided him with a range of familial relationships and resources on which to draw but it also likely attributed to him honor, socially attributed worth, as a part of that community.”
John Mark’s lack of leadership capacity frustrated Paul, but Barnabas took the youth under his wing recognizing the inherent possibilities in a frail vessel. This mentorship paved the way for weakness to be channelled for positive influence in the nascent churches of Asia Minor.
Another second-generation emerging leader is highlighted by Nathan Harter in the Journal. Francis Bernardone, later known as St Francis of Assisi, “was born into comfort.” Though he could have been lulled into the lethargy of wealth, he proactively responded to God’s leading to rebuild the church by leading with weakness.
“Interpreting the voice [of God] to mean literally rebuilding the ruin where he was praying, his first thought was to raise money for the project. Having so little of his own, he cheated his father on a business transaction, justifying the theft as though it were commanded by God. His father did not see it that way and – probably exasperated with his aimless and profligate child – prosecuted.” Harter continues in the footnote, “After all, the father had once paid a hefty ransom to recover his son from a neighboring city-state after a gruesome battle between partisans, and later he had outfitted Francis to go to war as a knight, only to have the young man give it all away to someone more in need…. The father had apparently reached the limits of his generosity.”
Cheating one’s father, even if it is for the church, doesn’t seem like a strategic move toward sainthood. And yet despite this weak and flawed start, strangely, it was the beginning of Francis’ living into his potential. He strips himself of his father’s clothing, and naked, begins to lead. Harter identifies Francis’ spontaneity as a weakness, but as he matured, his recklessness matured into a disciplined spontaneity. “Francis was both on the one hand disciplined and on the other hand spontaneous. This combination is in part what qualified him for leadership.”
A Christian theology of leadership that roots itself in embracing weakness finds its strength in Christ. Philanthropy can be done especially well by inheritors – second- and third-generations beyond the wealth creator – who, surrendered to their weakness and following Christ’s example, end by giving it all away.
 Larry Ross, “Weak Enough to Lead: What the Bible Teaches About Powerful Leadership”, Theology of Leadership Journal, Vol 1, No 1, 98. Accessed September 5, 2018. http://theologyofleadership.com/index.php/tlj/issue/view/v1i1/v1i1.
 Arthur Paul Boers, Servants and Fools: A Biblical Theology of Leadership (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015), 11. Accessed on September 5, 2018. http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&scope=site&db=nlebk&AN=985933.
 Jeffrey J. Singfiel, “Paul the Team Leader: Strategic Planning, Intragroup Conflict, and Team Formation”, Theology of Leadership Journal, Vol 1, No 1, 11. Accessed September 5, 2018. http://theologyofleadership.com/index.php/tlj/issue/view/v1i1/v1i1.
 Nathan Harter, “Saint and Leader? The Example of St. Francis of Assisi”, Theology of Leadership Journal, Vol 1, No 1, 24. Accessed September 5, 2018. http://theologyofleadership.com/index.php/tlj/issue/view/v1i1/v1i1.
 Ibid, 25.
 Ibid, 25.
 Ibid, 25.