At one time in Canada, meaning was largely sourced in Christian faith. As “(t)he management of meaning is … held to be a crucial activity for leaders”, pastors would have naturally been recognised simultaneously as leaders of the community and the church. In response to the decline of influence of the church in shaping culture, styles of church leadership have since sought out the example of cultural success to shape leadership.
In the church, the model of transformational leadership, complete with charismatic leaders and compliant followers is readily available. In many evangelical contexts, business leadership models are virtually interchangeable with ideal church leadership models—with the ‘Lead Pastor’ as CEO. Some key narratives motivate faithful followership in place of wages; possibly including respect for the Lead Pastor being aligned with obedience to God, the promise of supernatural provision in exchange for faithful giving and belonging to the church ensuring belonging in eternal life. The hierarchical nature of church leadership is often confirmed through a carefully constructed worldview: “The more we view the world as a ‘dangerous’ or ‘threatening’ place the more likely we are to seek cognitive closure” and accept the necessity of an authoritarian protector. The church becomes a refuge for Christians to gather and have their similarities drawn out as they embrace the vision of the leader. As followers commit to the organization, the leader’s role is confirmed. “[C]ritical leadership studies (CLS) has long recognised that leadership is a relational, socially constructed phenomenon rather than the result of a stable set of leadership attributes.” This social transaction elevates the leader as the source of revelation of God’s divine plans for the local community and the faith of the followers is perfected in their surrender to the leader.
While there are some brilliant transformational leaders, 2018 has seen many leaders’ publicly fall from grace within the church and beyond. It would be an oversimplification to suggest these instances were isolated cases of moral failure. While the exposure of these leaders as morally fallible is unsettling, the inclination to quickly replace the leader with a new ‘hero leader’ may be foolish. Dennis Tourish’s, The Dark Side of Transformational Leadership offers critique and catastrophic case studies of how this style of organization enables such behaviour where a better balance of power might hold leaders accountable in a “processual, communication perspective” . Sutherland et. al agrees that “[w]hat is needed therefore, is not an all-out rejection, but a different conceptualisation, of leadership defined as a process.” This process would include systems that necessarily gathered feedback from all members of the organization both in shaping the methodologies of fulfilling a given vision, but extending to the construction of the vision.
Perhaps the vision of the role of the church within the community invites re-examination. In a secular, Canadian context the church is infrequently upheld as a mainstream ideal, such as businesses in our capitalist system. This is perhaps another reason a popular model of church has been to align with the culturally palatable business model (and resulting leadership model). Alternatively, let’s draw insight from social movement organization principles.
Social movements are motivated to effect change for the betterment of the human and/or natural world. “Within the Christian tradition we express devotion to the way of Jesus of Nazareth, himself an outcast — living in poverty under military occupation, seeking asylum in a foreign land, arrested, tortured and executed by the lawful rulers of his land — whose ministry was one of exposing the true violence and exploitation within the systems of his day. To be devoted to such a way means both to awaken to an awareness of obvious suffering and to be confronted by the hidden, systemic, often lawfully sanctioned causes of suffering.”  We are called to be a movement. Perhaps the call of the pastor is less about being a leader like Jesus, but to walk in the way of Jesus who called his followers friends and freely shared His power with them to drive out the darkness and strive against suffering through miracles, provision and healing. Each friend of Jesus had their own experience of God and released unique experiences of God. “[L]eadership in social movements is distinct from leadership in organisation.…[H]elping others develop a personal story that connects and commits them to the movement is a core element of effective social movements. This distributed leadership forges a community and mobilise[s] its resources, a primary source of a social movements power.” Jesus’ way was less about establishing an organization and more about establishing an outreaching community inclusive of those traditionally excluded, releasing them from suffering due to isolation. Tourish contends that “leadership theories and practices which have an emancipatory intent should place more stress on the promotion of dissent, difference and the facilitation of alternative viewpoints than the achievement of consensus or the promotion of an organisational view wholly originating in the perspectives and values of formal leaders.” While Jesus Himself serves as the source of our values, the movement He established was characterised by communal prayer, discernment and communal decision making and appointments. The disciples came together to make decisions rather than one of them replacing Jesus as the ‘leader’ after the ascension. “This perspective on power moves beyond the traditional leader/follower dyad to acknowledge a multiplicity of leadership actors, interacting in a complex of shifting power relations.” Such a shift embraces the equal distribution of the Holy Spirit, while also celebrating the strength created by different voices and perspectives. May we, as a whole church, reclaim a space of meaning-making, as we walk in the way of Jesus.
1. Dennis Tourish, The Dark Side of Transformational Leadership: A Critical Perspective (Hove: Routledge, 2013), Bluefire Reader, 22.
2. Ibid., 21.
3. M. Wood (2005) as referenced by Neil Sutherland, Christopher Land, Steffen Bohm, and N. Boehm. “Anti-leaders(hip) in Social Movement Organizations: The Case of Autonomous Grassroots Groups.” Organization 21, no. 6 (2014): 759-81.
5. Neil Sutherland, Christopher Land, Steffen Bohm, and N. Boehm. “Anti-leaders(hip) in Social Movement Organizations: The Case of Autonomous Grassroots Groups.” Organization 21, no. 6 (2014): 759-81.
6. Cameron Fraser, “OPINION: ‘As Long as You’re Not Hurting Anyone’ Is Not a High Enough Bar for a Religion | CBC News,” CBCnews, January 23, 2019, , accessed February 07, 2019, https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/saskatchewan/op-ed-religion-not-hurting-not-good-enough-1.4988229.
7. John 15:15 NIV.
8. Nitin Nohria and Rakesh Khurana in “Advanced Leadership Theory and Practice,” In Handbook of Leadership Theory and Practice, Edited by Nitin Nohria and Rakesh Khurana 20. (Boston, Mass.: Harvard Business School Publishing Co., 2010.) Google Play
9. Dennis Tourish, The Dark Side of Transformational Leadership: A Critical Perspective (Hove: Routledge, 2013), Bluefire Reader, 255.
10. Neil Sutherland, Christopher Land, Steffen Bohm, and N. Boehm. “Anti-leaders(hip) in Social Movement Organizations: The Case of Autonomous Grassroots Groups.” Organization 21, no. 6 (2014): 759-81.