Incarnational Leadership in a Postmodern Culture

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Incarnational Leadership in a Postmodern Culture

Incarnational Leadership in a Postmodern Culture

Peter M. Dickens

Integrative Paper

Masters of Theological Studies

Modular Program (M10)

Mailbox 1519

April, 2003

There are a great many people I need to thank for guiding this paper as well as the support they have given me through the whole MTS adventure. I am grateful to the faculty and staff at Tyndale Seminary, especially Donald Goertz and Byron Wheaton who directed the program. I am particularly indebted to three specific professors who really inspired me: Dennis Ngien, Bob Webb and my advisor, Jeff Greenman and I am indebted to my spiritual friends and mentors: Mike Baer, Bruxy Cavey and Walter Moodie.

I am incredibly grateful to my wonderful wife Shelly and my daughters, Lindsey and Shannon. Without their support and encouragement, this could never have been done.
Finally, I have to acknowledge the personal, professional and financial support of Ken White, President and CEO of Trillium Health Centre. As friend, mentor and accountability partner, Ken has shown me what it means to be a servant-leader and it is to him that I dedicate this work.
Table of Contents

Introduction 3

  • The Call to Leadership 5

Old Testament Perspectives on Leadership 7

  • Introduction 7

  • Nebuchadnezzar: 7

  • Saul 10

New Testament Perspectives on Leadership 14

  • Introduction 14

  • Mark 10: Jesus on Leadership 14

  • Ephesians 4: Paul on Leadership 16

  • A Trinitarian Perspective 19

Putting it together: Character and Role of a Leader 23

  • Introduction 23

  • Character 23

  • Attributes 24

  • Roles 26

Postmodernism: The Emerging Context for Leadership 28

Leadership in a Postmodern Culture 35

Organizational Metaphors and Postmodernism 40

Conclusion 48

Appendix: Diakonos – Leadership Development Ministry Strategy 51

Bibliography 53

It has been my observation as a consultant that, as organizations struggle to come to terms with the many shifts and changes that affect their performance and capacity to survive, they are becoming increasingly sensitive to the need to focus resources on improving the depth and breadth of leadership. “Good CEOs – like GE’s Jeff Immelt, 3M’s Jim McNerney, and Nokia’s Jorma Olillia – treat leadership development as their number one priority.”1 Given this challenge the church has a unique opportunity to exercise its capacity to influence and inform the character of people in leadership roles, whether they are in private, public and social sector organizations. There is a looming crisis in secular organizations at the very time that there is an emerging opportunity for the church and its understanding of its mission in and to the world. The Chinese ideogram for the word ‘crisis’ is ‘danger/opportunity’ and it is inherent in the very nature of crisis that we can respond to an opportunity to see business as an extraordinarily important and verdant mission field. It is my conviction that, while new paradigms of leadership in the church are equally vital, my particular perspective and experience can speak more coherently to the challenge of developing Christ-like leaders who are capable of living the Gospel in their workplaces – and in the process transforming their organizations.

My hope is that we can develop a strategy that would help form the character of individuals who were recognized and respected as influential leaders in their secular organizations when evaluated by whatever ethical standards their organizations choose to use. While their senior management and colleagues may not recognize, understand or even value the basis on which this leadership capacity was developed, the individuals themselves would humbly acknowledge that their ability to influence is grounded in their understanding of Christ’s call on their lives and their work. It is my sense that many if not most Christians who are not professionally involved in the work of the Church live two very independent lives. They have their lives at work and their lives within their community of faith. For some there may be a degree of overlap guided by people like Larry Burkett, Doug Sherman and William Hendricks who help us see how to apply biblical ethics in the workplace. What we need to do is to put much more thought into how we live fully integrated lives that do not change as the environment around us changes. To say that a Christian in the marketplace will be marked simply by their ethical behaviour is to conform to a theology of works righteousness that is insufficient and ultimately inconsistent with the salvific affect of grace. If we are to be known as Christians by our love, then that must be apparent in every aspect of who we are in all contexts and environments.

To this end, I will try and develop a biblical model of leadership and then look for some of the key ways in which that model can inform the way that individuals live out their leadership on a day-to-day basis. In this regard, I take Carson’s caution seriously when he points out the risks in trying to develop a systematic theology of leadership rather than “considering the Bible’s plot-line, and its priorities and scales on that plot-line.”2 My first reading of the Old Testament left me with a perception that “power-leadership” was the dominant model of Old Covenant leadership and that it was the inauguration of the New Covenant that ushered in service-oriented language related to leadership. However, wise counsel and a closer reading have demonstrated that there are clear markers throughout the Old Testament that point to the servant heart of Christ. There are several passages that speak to the issue of leadership and I could be accused of taking an deductive approach in terms of the verses I have identified and in the limited exegesis I have done, but I am trying to establish an overall framework.

I have identified two key Old Testament passages that speak to the issues of leadership along the Biblical plotline. The first is Nebuchadnezzar’s dream and Daniels subsequent interpretation and the second is the story of Saul in 1 Samuel. Both speak to the issue of power and leadership. In the New Testament, I believe there is value in paying particular attention to Jesus’ firm words about leadership in Mark 10:43 – 47 and then look at Ephesians 4: 1 - 16 through a leadership lens. Finally, I will look at the leadership models that emerge out of our understanding of the “differentiated unity”3 of the Trinity, which will help us understand the nature of leadership in the Kingdom of God.

With this biblical framework in place, I will try and develop a clear, concise understanding of the issues of leadership as they relate to our current culture and environment. This will mean an assessment of modernism and postmodernism from the perspective of leadership. In order to understand what is being said about leadership in the 21st century, I have surveyed a sample of current secular leadership material in order to develop an antithetical framework. In this regard, I have also surveyed a sample of Christian literature and perspectives on leadership in order to see where potential bridges might exist. Whether we are coming from a Christian or secular perspective, much of our understanding of management and leadership is framed by the language or images that we use to describe or define the organizations in which we work. I will examine six different metaphors, look at the implications for leadership and try and identify those metaphors that are most useful in a postmodern culture. This will be the framework within which I then develop some foundational principles of leadership.

Based on these principles, I will try to articulate leadership development strategies in order to create an approach that I believe will be effective in terms of creating significant and sustained change in the hearts and minds of young leaders in the marketplace.
The Call to Leadership

It is my sense that leadership is not limited to a task or a position on an organizational chart. Hence, it should never be confused with ‘management’. While we would hope that effective, efficient managers also have the capacity to be leaders, it is not always the case. Leadership is not a set of skills, or even an attitude. I believe that it speaks to the very core of who a person is: how they see the world, the moral, ethical and experiential framework within which they make decisions, how they live out their lives, interact with others and, ultimately, how they view themselves in relationship with God. When a true leader looks at the world, they don’t see products or programs, structures or marketplaces; they see people. They see people and they see those people in dynamic, interdependent relationships. If they are biblically based, they also see those people as made in the image of God and recognize that all share in the common effects of sin. As Bob Greenleaf once suggested, leadership would be easy if everyone was perfect.4 However, it is within those people and those relationships that true leaders see the potential for positive change and they feel called to take a role in effecting that change. Ultimately, they see that an important role requires that they engage in relationship with others. Leaders do not necessarily claim to be the one who will direct and control the change. Words like directing and controlling belong to a short-term, power approach that has never proven its long-term value. True leaders have a key role to play but it is not necessarily a highly visible one. On some occasions, often in times of crisis, they must have the courage to step out in front and take charge. Over the long-term, however, the role is more often one of equipping and supporting others so they, too, can play their roles as leaders. This means that there are no limits to leadership in the sense that it is confined within an organizational structure. Anyone in any circumstance can begin to look at the world around them through a leadership lens and begin to affect change.

In the final analysis, leadership is a calling. As we will see in the case of Saul, it is sometimes a calling to a very specific task in a particular moment. Over the long haul, however, it is a calling to fully integrate who we are called to be with what we are called to do. In other words it is about the character of the leader as it is lived out in their particular set of circumstances. The ‘incarnational’ leadership that Christ calls us to is a full integration of both. We cannot live in a vacuum but must rather express who we are in the daily challenges and opportunities of our daily lives.
Old Testament Perspectives on Leadership

We can see patterns of many of our modernist perceptions of leadership in the attitudes and behaviours of several of the rulers of the Old Testament. By and large, leaders from Saul to Caesar are role models for the sort of “power leadership” that many today continue to embrace. It is no surprise that even avowed Evangelical Christians such as George Bush turn to the Old Testament to bolster their self-image and credibility. This OT perspective emphasizes what Paul Stevens would call a “reverse service model in that the ‘followers’ provide service to the person in authority.”5

For many of us, the only consistent image we have of a ‘leader’ is a military hero astride a white horse leading their forces into battle. Little wonder that virtually all of the titular leaders of the OT are associated with military ability. The images may vary but the effect is the same. These leaders rely almost exclusively on structural or physical power to achieve results. However, when we seek out God’s perspective, a different picture begins to emerge. We begin to see that God’s perspective on human leadership is a paradox.
Nebuchadnezzar: The Ultimate Warrior

Biblical accounts as well as the writings of Josephus6 give clear testimony to the military and organizational prowess of Nebuchadnezzar. The Cambridge Ancient History describes him as “a vigorous and brilliant commander, and physically as well as mentally a strong man, fully worthy of succeeding his father. He was to become the greatest man of his time in the Near East, as a soldier, statesman and an architect.” 7 For our purposes, we can accept Nebuchadnezzar as the quintessential example of power leadership and yet he is completely humbled both physically and metaphorically before the God of Daniel.

In the dream and subsequent interpretation described in Daniel 4, we get a clear sense of the type of leadership that God requires. Interestingly, Nebuchadnezzar’s own perception of Daniel’s God, as described, in 4:1 – 3 is framed in the language of power. In his dream, the king sees an enormous tree that was “visible to the ends of the earth” (4:11)8 echoing God’s dominion. In his dream, the king hears a messenger from heaven ordering that the tree be cut down, “so that the living may know the Most High is sovereign over the kingdoms of men and gives them to anyone he wishes and sets over them the lowliest of men” (4:17). This is the decisive passage in that the messengers confirm that all temporal kingdoms, all power, all rights of leadership flow not from the leader themselves but from the authority of God. It is God’s choice to appoint leaders and it is His decision whom to appoint. As has been pointed out, “The Aramaic term (the lowliest of men) has the sense of positive humility rather than a negative sense that may possibly communicate the idea of ‘the scum of the earth’. It is therefore perhaps better to translate something like ‘the most humble person.’”9 This is echoed in Hannah’s song of thanksgiving. “He raises the poor from the dust, He lifts the needy from the ash heap to make them sit with nobles and inherit a seat of honor.” 10

As Towner points out, the price that temporal leaders pay for setting themselves above God is both swift and decisive. “Nebuchadnezzar the earthly king affirms his sovereignty in a reasonable mild statement, ‘Is this not the great Babylon which I built for a seat of government by my mighty power and for my majestic glory?’ The heavenly voice announces that this arrogation of glory has triggered the sentence of God, whereupon Nebuchadnezzar becomes the pitiful grass-eating and claw-bearing beast that the dream had anticipated.”11

Daniel’s interpretation of the dream and the subsequent fulfillment (28 – 30) leave no doubt as to who is in complete control and who has the real power. What is extraordinary is Nebuchadnezzar’s response. Rather than bitterness towards this foreign God who claims – and demonstrates – a sovereignty far greater than the king’s, Nebuchadnezzar “praised the Most High; I honoured and glorified him who lives forever” (4:34) and affirms the absolute power of God to both give and withhold power.

This passage helps us begin to define God’s vision of leadership both by what it is and by what it is not. Leadership is not synonymous with the exercise of power and control because those belong to God. However, God clearly chooses to give specific individuals enormous power and the trappings and wealth that go with it. How they respond to this gift reflects the inevitable affect of sin. Even if the leader initially acknowledges the source of their power is from God, sin seduces them into believing that it is theirs by right not grace. The deeper affect of sin is that they come to believe that their power is a consequence of their own actions, abilities or wisdom. They are no longer in relationship with God, operating as His agent but set themselves apart from God, operating independently.

God’s expectation of leadership is first and foremost humility before Him. This is demonstrated when Nebuchadnezzar acknowledges God’s sovereignty because all of his honour and splendour are returned to him. This suggests that there is nothing inherently wrong with the marks of leadership as long as they are recognized as coming from God at His pleasure. It also suggests that there is nothing wrong with desiring to lead. Certainly Nebuchadnezzar never indicates that he wants to lay aside his power. What matters is the relationship the leader has with God and the degree to which they “Praise and exalt and glorify the King of heaven, because everything he does is right and all his ways are just. And all those who walk in pride, he is able to humble.” (4:37)

From this, the lesson learned for the Christian leader is that they must have a very clear understanding of their relationship with God. They must see themselves in service to Him and must acknowledge that all of the marks and resources available to them as leaders are there by the grace of God not as a right or consequence of their action. It is too easy to see oneself in a leadership role based on one’s ‘career development’ and personal growth, both very popular concepts on the workplace, but this does not reflect the biblical reality of God’s role in calling us for His purposes.

Saul: An Impressive Young Man Without Equal

I think that there are some important lessons to be learned about the difference between God’s perspective on leadership and that of a fallen humanity when we look all too briefly at the calling of Saul into leadership. Saul, famously described by Milton as “he who, seeking asses, founded a kingdom”12, initially bore all the marks of a “heroic leader.”13 Because of the fallen-ness of Samuel’s sons, the people of Israel came to the prophet seeking a king so that they would be like all the other nations (1 Samuel 8:5). Although they had been called out and declared a holy nation, the people of Israel failed to understand the import of that calling. Rather than giving glory to the very God who claimed them as His own, they wanted to be like all the rest. God recognized their folly and through Samuel warned the people that this strategy could only lead to ruin. As Long points out, “Ideologically, monarchy in Israel was acceptable only insofar as it was not ‘like (that of) all the other nations’: that is, only insofar as the king was willing to acknowledge his subordination to the Great King and his designated spokesman.”14 God as King constantly provides for His people, as he demonstrated time and time again. By contrast, the sort of power leadership implicit in an earthly king is very resource hungry. It does not provide but rather it demands. Five times in 1 Samuel 10 – 18 we are warned how an earthly king will take from his people. However, Samuel’s arguments are to no avail and Saul is anointed king. His primary attributes seem to be that he is the son of a man of standing (9:1) and is himself “an impressive young man without equal among the Israelites – a head taller than any of the others.” (9:2). These characteristics are so often what we look for in charismatic leaders even today. We want people who will stand out in a crowd, regardless of their character. Saul is not only impressive looking he is the only king in the Old Testament who is both king and prophet. We are told that he is transformed by the Spirit of the Lord and that God ‘changed his heart’ (10:9) He also has very clear direction on the regulation of kingship (10:25). All of this should have equipped him for a superb reign, but instead he falls into the trap that so often ensnares leaders. He feels compelled to be decisive and to take action on his own. While it can be argued that he abides by the letter of Samuel’s directions he misses the spirit and Samuel rebukes him. “You have acted foolishly”, Samuel said. “You have not kept the command the LORD your God gave you.” (13:13). The foolish aspect of Saul’s act was that he thought he could strengthen Israel’s chances against the Philistines while disregarding the Lord’s prophet Samuel. He waited the appointed time (10:8) but then took matters into his own hands. Samuel had made it very clear that it was to be he who offered offerings and sacrifice, not Saul. As a consequence, the Lord’s favour is withdrawn from Saul. At first reading, it seems the punishment greatly exceeds the crime. Saul is not an evil man, the progenitor of the many truly wicked rulers that the people of Israel will be forced to endure. Indeed, “commentators are in some disagreement as to the sin in 1 Samuel 13. Abrogation of the priestly role or failure to be obedient to the spirit of Yahweh and his appointed prophet.” 15 In my mind, this element of the story reminds us that God often uses the most unlikely of people to carry out His will. “It is one of the many signs of the reality and truthfulness of Scriptural history, that the examples most held up for our warning are not those of the worst men, but those of persons in whom there has been a doubtful conflict between good and evil, and the evil has ultimately prevailed.”16

Samuel makes the distinction between God’s expectations and our earthly perspective clear in 15:22 when he says, “Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the voice of the LORD? To obey is better that sacrifice.” Clearly there is more to our submission and obedience as servants of God than simple doing the right things. God’s vision of leadership is confirmed in Micah 6:8. “What does the LORD require of you? To act justly, love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” This walk with the LORD is not just something that takes place for the Christian when they are engaged with other Christians. As Peterson points out when discussing 1 Samuel 13, “The way the story is told guarantees that we will recognize that acts of faith take place in the so-called ‘real world’ – a world of named towns, of strategic troop deployments, of military statistics, of probability and odds. This is the setting for understanding faith and obedience.”17 In the same way, the Christian leader in the marketplace of today must understand the consequences of not living out their faith and obedience in their daily lives.

What then is the character of a leader who will be pleasing to God? The lesson learned from the story of Saul is that we must make very clear distinctions between the human and divine perspective. The leadership displayed by Saul, despite all the preparation that he received, demonstrates the effect of sin. In the hands of fallen humanity, leadership becomes rooted in human rather than divine power and we misconstrue many of the key aspects of leadership. Building on the lessons learned from Daniel and extended in 1 Samuel, let me suggest that we need to consider four elements of leadership.

  • Position. From a human perspective, positions of leadership are either seized by force of arms or are appointed by other people. From a biblical perspective, leadership is the free gift of God and can be given to the most humble. Therefore, one of the attributes of a Christian leader is that they are not dependent on their position to exercise influence. They are empowered by the character and will of God, not by human structures. This is enormously liberating because it shapes a paradigm for Christians in the marketplace to lead from wherever God has placed them rather than limiting their potential to formal roles. It also removes an excuse for inaction based on a lack of positional power.

  • Resources. Just as Samuel warned he would, Saul became a king who wanted to control the wealth of the nation. Resources became a means for exercising control. From a biblical perspective, we have to acknowledge that all resources come from God and are to be used for His glory, not our own. God also demonstrates His faithfulness in providing exactly the resources that are required to fulfill His purposes. A second attribute of a Christian leader is that they have confidence in God’s willingness and ability to provide the required resources. They do not use a lack of resources as an excuse for timidity but rather have the courage to take faith-based risks.

  • Conformity. Leaders who are grounded in their own power demand that followers conform to their desires and expectations. Leaders who are biblically grounded understand that they and their followers must conform to the will of God. “Saul violated a fundamental requirement of his theocratic office. His kingship was not to function independently of the law and the prophets.”18 A third attribute of a Christian leader is that they are willing to stand apart from the norms and expectations of the organizations in which they work when those norms are not aligned with God’s expectations. This may take enormous courage but it is the basis on which Christian integrity and authenticity must be formed.

  • Interdependence. Leaders rooted in their human power often act independent of God and of those around them. We even celebrate the fact that charismatic leaders often ‘walk to the beat of a different drum’ and insist on doing things their own way and in their own time. Certainly Saul demonstrated that propensity. Biblically-based leaders acknowledge first and foremost their total dependence on God but they also acknowledge that they must work interdependently with, and often in submission to others. As the point was just made in regard to conformity, Saul was to rule in relationship with Samuel, not separate and apart from him. The fourth attribute of the Christian leader is that they must place the highest priority on relationships.

As Os Guinness reminds us, “God alone needs nothing outside himself, because he himself is the highest and only lasting good. So all objects we desire short of God are as finite and incomplete as we ourselves are and, therefore, disappointing if we make them the objects of ultimate desire.”19 It is when the leader loses their understanding that they are called to serve God’s plans rather than to have God serve theirs that they face the same harsh consequences that befell Saul.
New Testament Perspectives on Leadership


In many ways, the story of the Old Testament is the story of how leadership has been perverted by the affects of sin. The stories we read are of leaders who have forgotten their relationship with God and who have become enmeshed in a very elevated sense of their power. From these stories we get a very clear picture of what leadership is not and we see that there are dire consequences for a leadership paradigm that is rooted in our humanity. Along the way, however, we see many pointers to the true character of Godly leadership.

In the New Testament these attributes seem to become more explicit as Jesus and then Paul become very intentional about discipling people. They are not willing to let the attributes of Godly leadership be inferred from the consequences of failure but rather want to define positive models in very clear terms.

Mark 10: Jesus on Leadership

When Jesus is confronted by James and John (Mark 10:35), who want to be seated on his left and right hand in heaven, he turns their thinking upside down. They are looking ahead with eyes and hearts that are conditioned by a very human leadership paradigm. They think they are prepared to suffer with Jesus, to drink the cup he drinks, but only because they assume that in the end it will mean that they will be in positions of extraordinary power and influence. Jesus uses this opportunity to impress upon all twelve disciples the true meaning of leadership and, as Waetjen suggests, “in this context of the Zebedee brother’s pursuit of elitist positions for themselves, and the indignation of the other disciples, Jesus proceeds to reinforce his teaching by contrasting the pyramidal verticality of the kingdoms of this world and the kind of human relations that maintain the horizontality of God’s rule which he is building. This is how authentic community and communion are constituted and maintained.”20 He confirms their understanding of the secular paradigm, that leadership is about lording it over others and exercising authority. “There is biting irony in the reference to those who give the illusion of ruling (cf. Jn 19:11) but simply exploit the people over whom they exercise dominion. In their struggle for rank and precedence, and their desire to exercise authority for their own advantage, the disciples were actually imitating those whom they undoubtedly despised. (James and John are still thinking in terms of a Messiah who will free them from the rulers of Rome)”21 Jesus, with uncharacteristic bluntness declares, “Not so with you” (Mark 10:43). From Jesus’ perspective, leadership is first and foremost about being a servant (diakonos) and ultimate power is about ultimate submission, as a slave (doulos). “The order of life for the common dealings of the disciples is to be love, expressed in the form of service. This transforms the question of rank and greatness into the task of service.”22

To confirm the point, Jesus points ahead to the cross and says, “Even the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” The implications of Daniel’s interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream become fulfilled. This is the cup Jesus challenges James and John to drink, the baptism with which they must be baptized. As we will see with Peter, it is not a cup any of them, or any of us, can take unless we are transformed through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

The lessons to be learned for the Christian leader are clear. While the Old Testament has indicated that God can, and will put even the most humble in positions of power, Jesus challenges each of us to make that descent into the lowest of positions a choice of the will, empowered by the Holy Spirit. It is not so much that God can invest the lowliest with power but that he expects his people to lead from that position. To make his point crystal clear he comes himself in the form of a slave, making himself nothing (Phil 2:7). What then are the attributes and character of a slave that we need to understand?

  • Position. They have no formal standing status, but are in fact ‘bondsmen’ whose very existence is dependent on another.

  • Resources. They certainly have none of their own but are in fact viewed simply as a resource themselves, something to be used to meet the needs of another.

  • Conformity. They are expected to fully conform to the will of others.

  • Interdependence. They have no rights or privileges of their own but are to depend entirely on others for their care and keeping.

These perspectives present enormous challenges in a Western culture that puts such a high premium on self-esteem, independence and power. In fact they fly completely in the face of much of the advice we receive in our workplaces and from authors rooted in a secular perspective although it is interesting to note how more and more secular literature is beginning to reflect the language of servant-leadership.23

Ephesians 4: Leadership In Community

In Ephesians, Paul rebukes the idea that faith is the work of the believer and states clearly: “For it is by grace you have been saved through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that none may boast.” (2:8 – 9) Like the OT passages we have examined, it expands our thinking from simply the praxis of leadership to an ontological view. In the eyes of God, we are who we are because of the saving work of Christ not because of anything we have done. This is as true of our faith as it is of our ability to influence others. Ephesians 4 helps us to understand the leader within the context of community. While the chapter speaks in terms of the whole body of believers, we can extrapolate the same message to those whom God has called to serve as leaders within that community or in a workplace environment.

In 4:2, Paul immediately establishes his expectations in a way that echoes the language of each of the passages we have heretofore examined. “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.” It is important to note that the words Paul uses for humbleness and gentleness are not words that the Greek would recommend.24 Bruce puts it well when he says that, “Lowliness or humility was regarded as more of a vice than a virtue in pagan antiquity, although the Old Testament anticipates the Christian revelation by affirming repeatedly that God chose the humble to be his companions. It was the influence of One who was meek and lowly in heart, operating in His followers, that elevated a term which had formerly been despicable rather than praiseworthy”25 Bruce ties a direct link to the passage from Daniel and ensures that we construct our understanding of what it means to be a Christian on the basis of humility, in direct contrast to the world’s expectations.

Paul then moves from unity to diversity, anticipating Ngien’s ‘differentiated unity’. Barth puts it beautifully when he says, “The contract and expansion (systole and diastole) of the heart would be an analogy to the movement from unity to diversity in 4: 1 – 16. He (Paul) offers no security to saints seeking to dodge any responsibility of their own. No one among the saints can say he is not equipped or has nothing to contribute, for everyone is given a gift and an appointment.”26 This suggests to me that each of us is called to leadership. It may be simply effective leadership of self or at varying levels with an organization, but there are opportunities to influence others available to all who accept the call. One CEO I have worked with championed the idea of a thousand leaders across the organization. The number itself was simply symbolic of a desire to help others identify and engage in their unique leadership opportunities.

Paul identifies four leadership roles that “prepare God’s people for works of service.” (4:12). It is useful to examine these roles in order to get a sense of what they might mean for leaders in a postmodern context.


An apostle is one who has been commissioned or sent to proclaim the gospel. While we tend to think of the original twelve apostles, Paul also considered himself an apostle (Romans 1:1) and we know that both Matthias (Acts 1:26) and Barnabas (Acts 14:14) were also considered apostles. In the modern context, Christian leaders, including leaders in the workplace, must see that at the core of who they are they are called to proclaim the gospel. Everything they do and say must reflect the good news of their freedom in Christ.


Strong’s defines a prophet as “one who, moved by the Spirit of God and hence is his organ or spokesman, solemnly declares to men what he has received by inspiration, especially concerning future events, and in particular such as relate to the cause and kingdom of God and to human salvation.”27 A prophet can be one who ‘foretells’ the future or ‘forthtells’28 or speak with forthrightness when they see things that they know are not pleasing to God. In the leadership context, it means that we must be bold in challenging injustice and unethical behaviour when we see it in the marketplace. We must not only live lives that reflect God’s will but we must also serve as advocates for truth and equity. We see that role being taken up consistently by OT prophets and, of course, by Jesus himself.


There are only three references to euaggelistes in the New Testament. Philip, one of the seven (Acts 21:8) and Timothy (2 Timothy 4:5) are referred to as evangelists but the role is clearly identified in the Ephesians passage we are discussing, thus giving it a significant and, I would suggest, future-oriented role. In the context of the Early Church it was possibly assumed that everyone would ‘know the story’ so there was no specific designation for the proclaimer of the Gospel. However, as time separated the events of the Cross from the hearers, it would become increasingly important for leaders to take on the role of evangelist. In the marketplace, we must earn the right to share the gospel29 through the way that we lead and conduct ourselves. Having earned that right, we must seize upon the opportunity and be prepared to share our passion for Christ. This suggests to me that we cannot simply be ‘good citizens’ of the Kingdom and hope for others to do the specific work of evangelism. This is our responsibility as well.

Pastors and Teachers

Pastor (Poimen30) has an interesting double meaning. It means literally “shepherd” but it also refers specifically to leaders within the church. The continuation of the gospel metaphor of Christ as the Good Shepherd into the role of human leadership is significant. Like Christ, we are called to protect and care for God’s people. The teacher or didaskalos has very similar symantic range, referring to those who lead or instruct. The role of the leader today is often associated with the one who guides and equips others rather than simply supervising their activity. In our role as a servant-leader, the best test is often the degree to which those led become more skilled, more effective and, ultimately, more capable of serving.

We begin to understand that leaders must have characters formed of humility, gentleness, patience and forbearing and that their primary task is to teach, offer reproof, correction and training (2 Tim 3:16) as well as to engage in the expansion of the Church. This is not an optional role but the result of the gifts they have been provided. This begins to shape our understanding of the primary role of Christian leaders as equippers of others, always in the context of community.

A Trinitarian Perspective

Perhaps one of the most pervasive ‘truths’ regarding leadership is that it is, by definition, a singular role. Very few organizations in the private, public and social sector have been able to develop or sustain a ‘team’ model of leadership in which different people bring their unique gifts and talents to bear. The concept of differentiated unity has a great deal of intellectual appeal and yet it does not seem to work from a practical basis. However, when we look to the Trinity we see a perfect model of exactly the sort of team leadership that leverages individual capacity while maintaining perfect harmony between the different elements. In an extraordinary speech he gave when he accepted the first Chair of Systematic Spirituality at Regent College, J.I. Packer said the following:
Sound spirituality (and I would argue sound Christian leadership) needs to be thoroughly Trinitarian. In our fellowship with God we must learn to do full justice to all three Persons and the part that each plays in the team job (please allow me that bold phrase) of saving us from sin, restoring our ruined humanness, and bringing us finally to glory. Neglect the Son, lose your focus on his mediation and blood atonement and heavenly intercession, and you slip back into the legalism that is fallen man's natural religion, the treadmill of religious works. Few Evangelicals, perhaps need to be reminded of this, but some do. Again, neglect the Spirit, lose your focus on the fellowship with Christ that he creates, the renewing of nature that he effects, the assurance and joy that he evokes, and the enabling for service that he bestows, and you slip back into orthodoxism and formalism, the religion of aspiration and perspiration without either inspiration or transformation, the religion of low expectations, deep ruts, and grooves that become graves. More Evangelicals, I think, need reminder here. Finally, neglect the Father, lose your focus on the tasks he prescribes and the disciplines he inflicts, and you become a mushy, soft-centred, self-indulgent, unsteady, lazy, spoiled child in the divine family, making very heavy weather of any troubles and setbacks that come.31
The Trinity is an extraordinary model of distributed leadership. By contrast, the concept of heroic leadership invariably suggests a single leader. We saw that in the expectations of the people of Israel when they called on God to appoint a leader and we saw it in the expectations of the Apostles as they waited on a Jewish Messiah who would single-handedly liberate them from Roman occupation. However, post-heroic leadership, at least in the mind of people like Jimmy Long, seeks to embrace a Trinitarian perspective. However, this can only happen when the leaders shift from power to service as their plausibility structure. They must fully embrace not only the concept of service, but intentionally lead from a position that does not rely on power. The affect of sin is that, in our pride, we constantly want to rise up and ascend humanly designed power structures. In the Trinity, there is an apparent understanding of the unique role of each person of the Trinity and deference each to the other. Christ is willing to serve the will of the Father, even unto death. His choice to serve is conscious and intentional, a product of his will. The Father invests all power and authority in the Son. The Spirit is the mediating agent between Father/Son and their people and, as Augustine would argue, the Holy Spirit is the love of God. This is affirmed in Romans 5:5 where we read that “the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts through the Holy Spirit which is given to us”. The affect of this ‘team job’ as Packer described it is that each person of the Trinity is aware of their unique role and lives out that role in a consistent manner. At the same time they are not only aware of but defer to the role of the other two persons of the Trinity.

“What we see in the Godhead is an incredible picture of interdependence, and of unity and diversity, where the One leading and the One being led change according to need and contribution.” 32The lesson learned for the Christian in the marketplace is that the acceptance, and even the pursuit, of heroic or singularity of leadership is inconsistent with the ideal standard set by the Trinity. It is the affect of sin that causes us to set ourselves apart, and inevitably try to set ourselves above others. It is only when our plausibility structure shifts from power to service that a distributed leadership model is possible. Stacey Rinehart points the way to several significant messages that are applicable to leaders when we observe the operation, interrelationship, and outworkings of the Godhead.33 Among the more significant that we have not already addressed include:

  • Leadership is not hierarchical or organizational; it is relational

  • Relationship, not the task of the organization, should be the glue that holds human leaders together

  • The possibility of “shared authority” flows from the model of the Trinity

  • Though we are all brothers and sisters before Him, we all have unique roles and contributions to make

  • Respect for one another and dependence on God are the qualities that mark our characters as spiritual leaders

From the Old Testament, the New Testament and a Trinitarian perspective, a consistent pattern of expectation is emerging. Leadership that reflects the will of God is not defined by human standards, but by God’s. It is not something one acquires on one’s own but it is a calling before God. In the following section, I will try and distill the character, attributes and roles of a leader who serves God first.

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