Theology of Leadership
by Paul Hazelden

(This was prepared in rather more of a hurry than I like, so I apologise for any grammatical and spelling errors I failed to pick up.)


Spurgeon's College

MTh in Applied Theology

Student's name: Paul Hazelden

College Number: 910006

Module Name: Leadership

Staff member to whom submitted: Rev. Dr. Peter K. Stevenson

Essay title: A Theology of Christian Leadership

I confirm that this work is the result of my own independent work/investigation and that it has not been submitted toward any other academic award at Spurgeon's College or any other institution.


Spurgeon's College

MTh in Applied Theology

A Theology of Christian Leadership

Paul Hazelden


A 3,000 to 4,000 word essay.

Assignment 1b: Imagine that you have been invited to present a paper to the leadership of your church, or denomination, on the subject of, 'a contemporary theology of Christian leadership.'

In this paper you will develop and justify your theology of Christian leadership, and you will consider some of its implications for the contemporary practice of leadership within your church or denomination.

Table of Contents

A Theology of Christian Leadership

1.   Introduction

1.1.   Why consider the theology of leadership?

1.2.   Who can be a leader?

1.3.   Varieties of leadership

1.4.   Related concepts

1.5.   Leadership or leadership-support

1.6.   Lay leadership

2.   Leadership

2.1.   Leadership is about management

2.2.   Leadership is about vision

2.3.   Leadership is about people

2.4.   Leadership is about commitment

3.   Good Leadership

3.1.   Leadership qualities

3.2.   Leadership activities

3.3.   Leadership principles

4.   Christian Leadership

4.1.   Jesus

4.2.   Ethics

4.3.   Spirituality

4.4.   The Cross

4.5.   Dependence

4.6.   Priorities

5.   Managing Leadership

5.1.   Anointed or appointed?

5.2.   Identification

5.3.   Training

5.4.   Accountability


Some Further Thoughts

A Theology of Christian Leadership

This paper describes the key aspects of a contemporary theology of Christian leadership, as I understand it. Most of these aspects are only touched on in outline, as I seek to concentrate on the areas where there seems to be significant disagreement, confusion of principle or difficulty in application.

In this paper I will use the term 'congregation' to refer to a local church for the sake of clarity, as 'local church' becomes repetitive and the unqualified 'church' can easily refer to a building, a denomination or the universal Body of Christ. The term should not be taken to imply a reference to 'chapel' as opposed to 'church'.

Similarly, I use the term 'Minister' to refer to a congregational leader, as the most denominationally-neutral option available: it should be understood to refer to any person working as a Minister, Parson, Pastor, Priest, Rector or Vicar, whether they are ordained or not, stipendiary or not, and whether they are working for the church full-time, part-time or in a purely voluntary capacity.

1.   Introduction

1a.   Why consider the theology of leadership?

Leadership is vital: the history of any group is largely the story of the leaders, what they attempted, and whether they succeeded or failed. In the Christian context, God works through leaders.

Leadership needs to be understood. Most people work with an implicit understanding of leadership that is never critically examined, and this can create problems for both the leaders and the led: the leaders may be attempting the do things the led do not want or need, and the led may be expecting things the leaders do not intend to deliver.

Leadership needs to be managed. New leaders need to be raised up, recognised and trained; they need to be assigned responsibilities and replaced when they move on; differences between leaders and complaints about leaders need to be handled; leaders need to be supported, but also corrected when they are in error.

1b.   Who can be a leader?

In most places, at most times, most of the leaders have been male. Some, like David Pawson, argue that Christian leadership is only for men but, interestingly, even Elizabeth Elliott in the foreword to his book [Pawson, 1988, 6] acknowledges that the principle of male leadership is not one that you can arrive at by careful Biblical study: it is a question of revelation, a mystery that needs to be revealed.

While I am persuaded by a different interpretation of the Biblical text, as given by Forster [1992, 1-21], indicating that leadership in the church is not necessarily a male role, I accept that this usually is the case. In order to avoid the repetitive and pedantic use of 'he or she', 's/he', '(s)he', or some similar construction, I intend to use the masculine form of words to refer to both men and women unless the context indicates otherwise.

1c.   Varieties of leadership

Part of the difficulty we have in talking about leadership is the wide range of situations, and the wide range of activities it can cover.

In normal language, the term 'leader' can mean a number of quite different things. A leader can be a revolutionary figure people will follow to the death; the point of contact for a cooperative group; the founder of a new organisation; the person at the top of (some part of) an organisational tree; the manager whose department is the most profitable; the person who is responsible for some activity; the individual who happens to be in front; or the one who is currently winning a race.

In this paper, I intend to consider leadership in a restricted sense: I will not spend much time on situations where a person simply has a job title that says or implies 'leader', or where the role consists of occupying a certain place (however elevated) in an organisation.

Some people consider leadership to be something rare: we see it in people like Moses, Napoleon and Churchill, but few people can aspire to such heights. Others, like myself, see those examples as occupying one end of a spectrum of leadership, with people such as Sunday School teachers at the other end: people exercising a minor and limited but real leadership role, which may not be recognised as such by anyone. Adair [2006] identifies three levels of organisational leadership (team, operational and strategic), but this still seems to miss the possibility that a teacher may be leading their class and not just teaching it.

It is my intention to include all forms of leadership in this paper, but the language and examples will mainly relate to the significant leaders because they form the bulk of the documented examples, and because the issues are generally clearer at the extremes. It is my conviction that the principles at work in Moses' leadership can, for example, be applied to my role in a small charity, and to the members of my staff team.

1d.   Related concepts

The term 'Christian leadership' can refer not only to leadership in churches and other Christian organisations, but also to the way in which Christians undertake leadership roles in secular organisations, as described in by Higginson [1996]. While this is a vital area for contemporary church life, I consider it to be outside the scope of this paper.

We are talking about 'leadership', but the Church does not usually use the term other than as a qualified noun: for example, a housegroup leader, a worship leader, or even a congregational leader. The Church has traditionally used other terms, such as Bishop, Curate, Deacon, Elder, Minister, Missionary, Parson, Pastor, Priest, Rector and Vicar. Denominations also have their own categories, such as Lay Reader, Major and Moderator.

Most of these positions involve significant leadership responsibilities, but sometimes (Deacons in a Baptist Church, for example) they are seen more as as administrators than leaders.

Experienced Ministers are often expected to take on responsibilities outside their congregation, and sometimes they are promoted to leadership roles that do not include the leading of a congregation, such as Bishop in the Church of England or Moderator in the United Reformed Church. These positions would need to be considered within any comprehensive study of Christian leadership, but space does not permit it.

1e.   Leadership or leadership-support

Within the congregation, a typical leadership structure would involve one person, the Minister, supported by a team: an Eldership, Diaconate, PCC, or something similar. The members of this team are often referred to as leaders, but in conversation they usually describe themselves as fulfilling more of a support or service role: there seems to be an interesting gap between theory and practice on this point.

I have worked over the years with a large number of churches from many denominations, and my personal observation is that lay people on these teams tend to understand their own leadership role as requiring them to support the Minister, implement the projects the Minister introduces, reduce the pressure on the Minister by acting as a 'buffer' between him and the rest of the congregation, and sometimes act as a kind of brake on the Minister, preventing his more impractical projects from seeing the light of day. They often see themselves as having significant responsibilities, a limited degree of authority, but little or no power.

I was once part of an Eldership during a lengthy 'vacancy'. After some two years of taking full responsibility for the life and spiritual direction of the congregation, initiating and implementing projects, determining preaching rotas and themes, handling complex pastoral issues while engaging in a complex theological and political controversy with the denomination, one of the other Elders said that the congregation needed 'some real leadership'. I pointed out that we, the Elders, were the leadership: there was nobody else.

After a brief discussion, I asked which of the Elders believed they had a leadership role. Two of us did, one was not sure, and the other six were certain that they were not leaders. In subsequent conversations with members of other leadership teams, it seems that we were unusual in having so many people who understood themselves to have a leadership role.

1f.   Lay leadership

Where a lay person does exercise a significant leadership role, the congregation tends to regard them not as a role model but as an honorary Minister. The gap between the clergy and laity, in most congregations, seems to be as large as ever, even if the precise lines have moved a bit. This happens even in the new churches, where a leader has arisen from within the congregation, has undertaken no theological training, and where there is no theology of ordination. In one notable instance in Bristol, a converted ex-football hooligan is often given the honorific of 'Rev' and wears a dog collar on a regular basis. When we talked about this, he was surprised that nobody had ever challenged him about not being a 'real Vicar': the fact that he is a full-time Christian worker was enough, even for the secular institutions he worked with.

The current emphasis on lay leadership seems to be producing many books and training courses, but few people who see themselves as lay leaders. The underlying belief of most people in the church still seems to be that if you wish to exercise leadership within the church, you must become a part of the clergy; whether you do so formally through selection, training and ordination, or informally depends on your denomination and theology.

This would be consistent with the observation that most people prefer to work in binaries: they prefer black and white to shades of grey; they prefer to argue about whether someone is or is not a leader, rather than explore the specific qualities of their leadership and the strengths and weaknesses of each aspect.

I am personally seeking to model leadership for my staff team and to develop leadership abilities in them. I encourage them to exercise leadership within their sphere of activity, and try to describe what this will mean, but we still frequently find that they either expect me to make all the decisions, or they head off and do what they feel like without reference to me, the agreed objectives, or their fellow workers. One of my main reasons for choosing to examine Christian leadership was the hope that, as I understand it better myself, I will be able to communicate the principles to my staff more effectively.

In many denominations, budgetary constraints and the falling number of Ministers is leading to a changing pattern of leadership, in which Ministers take responsibility for the oversight of several congregations and a lay congregational leadership group, such as an Eldership, are expected to take an increasing significant leadership role. An interesting study would be to investigate the churches where this is happening, to determine how the people involved are adjusting to these new roles.

2.   Leadership

What is leadership? It seems to me there are four essential elements: management, vision, people and commitment.

2a.   Leadership is about management

Leadership is an activity, something that people do. We may talk about someone being a 'born leader', but how do we know this? Because we see what they do, because we are inspired by their words. They may have all kinds of personal characteristics, but we know them to be leaders through what they do.

Leadership is not just management, although the two obviously overlap. It seems to me that leadership involves management, and a good manager will also be a leader [Adair, 1979], but there is some disagreement on this matter. For example, most texts on management suggest that motivation of staff is one of the key responsibilities of the manager, but others make it part of the leadership role: "Leadership involves motivating others into action. Once motivation is supplied, management then gets to work." [Beasley-Murray, 1990, 17]

It is sometimes suggested that leadership is focussed on the future, while management is focussed on the present, but this is too simplistic: both disciplines involve working in the present in order to achieve something in the future.

It seems to me that the primary difference between the two is the degree to which the future being worked for is known and predictable. You need a leader to take you somewhere new and unknown, while you need a manager to achieve a known and predictable task. There are, of course, overlaps: aspects of any leadership task will be clearly known and understood; and aspects of any managerial role will involve responding to new and unforeseen circumstances.

I find the bicycle metaphor described by Wright [2003, 582] a helpful one: we need two wheels on a bicycle - a rear one, representing the present, on which we put our weight, and a front one, representing the future, with which to steer.

2b.   Leadership is about vision

The first essential characteristic of leaders is that they are going somewhere, in other words they are aiming at goals or objectives that lie in the future." [Marshall, 1991, 9]

Leaders are out front because they are going somewhere, they know where they are going - or, at least, have some idea how to get there - and they are sufficiently motivated to accept the cost and risk the hazards of the journey. The vision may be something great and historic, like bringing the children of Israel out of Egypt and into the Promised Land, or much more mundane, such as our Coffee Shop, staffed by volunteers, being open every day of the week.

The role of the leader is more like a coach driver than a taxi driver: "this is where I am going, do you want to come with me?" rather than "I am the driver - where do you want to go?"

2c.   Leadership is about people

Leadership is not just a solo activity. A leader is a leader because other people are following, undertaking the journey with you.

A scout goes ahead of the company, and they follow at a distance. But the scout is only responsible for himself and for doing his job: surveying the country, reporting on the dangers.

Similarly, in Christian circles, a prophet is not automatically a leader. The prophet may articulate a vision, and identify what God wants His people to do, where He wants them to go, but then the prophet's role is over: it is up to the people whether they respond, it is not up to the prophet to take them there.

The leader is responsible for getting the people to the end of the journey: keeping them together, keeping them motivated, keeping them safe, keeping them fed, enabling them to avoid the dangers but still stay on track, educating and motivating them to recognise the inevitable danger but still risk stepping out into the unknown.

In many situations, leadership rests with one person: Moses, David, Jesus - the list is endless. But in the pages of the New Testament, we can see the emergence of another leadership paradigm: the team of leaders. "The New Testament knows nothing of one-man ministry." [Beasley-Murray, 1990, 37] It can be argued that this reflects a Trinitarian view of leadership in which the different members of the team have different role, but all are valued equally.

Even when there is a single leader, leadership does not have to be exercised in an authoritarian way. The familiar 'balance of power continuum' diagram developed by Tannenbaum and Schmidt shows a range of possible approaches to leadership, in whatever form it is presented: [Adair, 1979, 13-15] and [Love, 1994, 40-42] give two such examples. The preferred style of leadership may vary from the facilitator on the one hand to the dictator on the other, but the leader has responsibility for the people and at times this will mean he has to take executive decisions on behalf of the people

A different approach to the role of the single leader is suggested by Belbin [1993, 98-101], in which he contrasts the 'Solo leader' with the 'Team leader' in the following table.

Solo Leader Team Leader
1. Plays unlimited role (interferes) 1. Chooses to limit role (delegates)
2. Strives for conformity 2. Builds on diversity
3. Collects acolytes 3. Seeks talent
4. Directs subordinates 4. Develops colleagues
5. Projects objectives 5. Creates mission

As with the 'balance of power continuum', these are not the right and wrong ways to do the job: in times of crisis and emergency, you need a leader who is prepared to direct and get involved wherever necessary, while in times of comparative peace and stability, you need a leader who develops the people and encourages diversity.

2d.   Leadership is about commitment

The final key aspect of leadership is that the leader has a personal commitment to achieving the goal. A manager can be working simply because he is paid to do the job: there may be a professional pride and motivation to do a good job, but if the senior management scraps the project, commitment to the project immediately disappears.

A leader, on the other hand, has to take personal responsibility for achieving the goal. A leader must be convinced of the value of the work, accept responsibility for the task and for the people, and be personally committed to achieving success.

Leadership is always personal. It is helpful for the leader to have some technical skill and knowledge, but the people will not follow unless they can recognise in the leader both character and commitment: this is someone I am prepared to follow; they are going somewhere I want to be; and they are committed to this journey, so I can risk making a commitment too.

3.   Good Leadership

3a.   Leadership qualities

There are many internal skills, talents, abilities and qualities that a good leader will need. The 'trait' or 'qualities' approach may seek to uncover innate abilities, or it may focus on enabling new abilities and developing existing ones.

The focus on internal qualities and abilities has a long lineage, but since the 1940s it has been increasingly recognised that "A leader is not a person characterised by any particular and consistent set of personality traits." [C A Gibb (ed), Leadership: Selected Readings, Penguin Books, 1969, page 11, quoted in Adair, 1979, page 4]

This is not to diminish the importance of internal qualities, many of the important ones for Christian leaders being described in Bacon [1990, 59]. Apart from any other reason, the leader functions as a role model, and will generally need to demonstrate any qualities he is asking the people to develop.

One of the less examined aspects of leadership is the need for the leader to be creative. There is always a degree of 'newness' about the work of any leader: they are creating a new organisation, meeting an old need in a new way, taking the people to a place they have not been before.

3b.   Leadership activities

Just as there are certain activities common to management, such as time management, financial management, team building, personality typing, motivation, delegation and critical path analysis, there are other activities common to leadership. These have been identified [Adair, 1979, 11] as planning, initiating, controlling, supporting, informing and evaluating.

Inspiration and vision

Adair [2006] also identifies the importance of inspiration, and provides an interesting analysis: "Certain necessary conditions have to be present: the element of challenge in the context of a valuable purpose, the extraordinary resource of the human spirit, and the catalyst in creative leadership. When all these three factors come into line, like red apples on a fruit machine, then an inspiration occurs."

I would also suggest that, in the Christian context, a leader needs to articulate the vision on a regular basis: where are we going? What are we here for? What is unique about our task or our opportunity? Why does it matter that we respond with determination, commitment and courage?

Appropriate activities

There is "no one ideal leadership style... we need to adapt to the people we lead and where they are, to the circumstances we face and to our main purposes." [Williams and Tanner, 2004, 14]. Good leadership must be appropriate to the needs and adapted to the circumstances. This is emphasised by the 'situational' and 'contingent' approaches to leadership.

It is evidently true that different situations will require different skills and techniques on the part of the leader: an army commander sending his men on a suicide mission will act very differently from the manager of an Old People's drop-in centre asking his volunteers if someone can bring cakes in next week.

It is also the case that leadership can be exercised at different levels, at ways appropriate to the level: the Sunday School teacher can exercise true leadership responsibility in that role, as can the congregational leader, and as can the denominational leader. Some talk about leadership seems to imply that it is something you either have or do not have: you are either gifted in and called to leadership, or you are not. It is probably more helpful to talk about the level or scope of a person's leadership responsibilities at any one time.

The appropriate leadership style will also vary from generation to generation: there are many studies comparing the attitudes and behaviour of 'boomers', 'gen x', 'busters' and the like. A common summary might go along the following lines: people of my parents' generation expected to be given commands and to obey them; my own generation expects to understand the reason for commands; and the next generation expects that what they are asked to do will feel good and benefit them in some way. While this is too simplistic, it is clear that different techniques are required to lead younger people today than the ones which worked for their parents.

3.3. Leadership principles

Some aspects of good leadership seem to fit somewhere between attributes and activities: they are principles that have to be valued internally and worked out in some way externally.

Speak from experience

In order to lead with integrity, the leader must know where they are going: they must have experienced, to some degree, the end goal; they must have already visited the place they are aiming to reach. This visit may have been a real experience, as for example happened with those who brought the Charismatic Movement into the mainstream churches from Pentecostalism, or it may have been a moment of inspiration together with the revelation of a roadmap that describes where to go. In either case, this 'having been there' is in part an activity, and in part a pre-requisite for leadership.

Empower your followers

The point of being a leader is that you empower your followers: they achieve things because of you. This is the case whether or not the people understand what is happening, as is recognised by the old Chinese proverb: "The bad leader is hated by the people; the good leader is loved by the people; of the great leader, they say, 'We did it ourselves'."

"Empowering Leadership" is one of the eight 'quality characteristics' of Natural Church Development [Schwarz, 1996, 22].

Act with integrity

There is a growing body of secular material supporting the idea that good leadership must operate within a clear ethical framework. A good example of this can be seen in the 'OPAL' principles derived from Geoff Hunt's work with the Surrey Police Service [Hunt, 2006].

This seems to be a comparatively recent development, and contrasts with the traditional view of the leader as one who only acts ethically when it is advantageous to do so. For example, in speaking of 'severities' being 'badly or properly used', Machiavelli says: "Those may be called properly used, if of evil it is possible to speak well, that are applied at one blow and are necessary to one's security, and that are not persisted in afterward..." [Machiavelli, 1513, Chapter VIII]

Demonstrate what it means to follow

People only follow a leader because the leader is himself following some higher purpose. In this, as in many areas, the leader must model the behaviour that is required of his followers.

4. Christian leadership

What is Christian leadership? Is there anything distinctively Christian about it, or are we just talking about leadership as it is exercised in a Christian context?

It seems to me that the following factors are, or should be, distinctive to Christian leadership. The deliberate omission from this list is 'Servant Leadership', which is sometimes identified as a distinctively Christian trait, but which is an outworking of the principles outlined above, and is often identified (albeit not under this name) in the secular literature.

4.1. Jesus

As someone who identifies with the Anabaptist tradition, I believe that the first and most important principle of Christian leadership is that it must be modelled on the person of Jesus Christ.

This creates numerous problems, as Jesus did not operate as a traditional leader, refusing to accept a high profile (John 6:15) and rejecting the assumption that he had authority over others (Luke 12:14).

Some, such as Albert Schweitzer and Edward Schillebeeckx, have followed this line of thought to the conclusion that "Jesus was a notable but disastrous failure" [Wright, 2003, 701-706], but this is not credible as a position within orthodox Christianity.

Just as the primacy of Jesus does not lead us to ignore the teachings of Paul or Francis of Assisi but to test their teachings against His revelation, so too the primacy of Jesus does not lead us to ignore the ideas of Adair and Belbin: we simply have to be on our guard that the outworking of their teaching about leadership does not cause us to go down a path that Jesus would not have us take.

4.2. Ethics

Christian leadership, at the very least, must be undertaken within the framework of Christian morality. In the secular world, leaders may justify immoral actions on the grounds that 'the end justifies the means', or on the basis of their 'obligation to serve the common good', but these options would not seem to compatible with traditional Christian morality.

4.3. Spirituality

In abstract terms, few Christians are likely to object to the principle that Christian leadership must be based on a living relationship with Jesus, but it may be hard to understand what this means in practice.

At the very least, we must say that any description of Christian leadership which can be stated purely in terms of management, purpose, ethics and principles - even Christian principles - must be inadequate. The Christian leader must operate in partnership with and submission to the triune God.

We encounter one of the fundamental problems of Christian leadership at this point: if we allow that a relationship with Jesus must shape our theory and practice of leadership, then all the other principles are effectively thrown out or relegated to the status of 'optional'.

To put it bluntly, Christian leaders - and Christian workers in general - have the perfect excuse: I know the management handbook or the rule book says I should do this, but God is telling me to do something different on this occasion.

This is not just a conceptual problem for the leader in his decision-making: it is also a practical problem Christian leaders face, which is not shared by their secular counterparts. In the church, 'God told me' effectively trumps every other argument. A key characteristic of any successful Christian leader must be some strategy to handle that ploy without alienating the person using it.

My personal resolution of this difficulty is based on the concept of 'exception reporting' and applies as follows to the leaders and others who report to me.

We can establish that certain principles and practices are expected of a Christian leader: that is what this paper aims to do, in outline. We accept that no written code of practice can ever be adequate or complete: there will always be issues that were not covered, or exceptional circumstances that were not considered when the principles were agreed.

However, there are some more basic principles: honesty and transparency. I do not expect God to lead anyone - even a Christian leader - to break these.

If you believe that God is leading you to act against the principles we have agreed, then you must tell me that you are doing do, and talk about why this is the case, at the earliest possible opportunity. Together, we can then discern whether this is in reality an exceptional situation, or only one in which doing the right thing is difficult or painful.

4.4. The Cross

The cross is at the centre of the Christian faith, and must be at the centre of any Christian theology of leadership.

This is not the place for a meditation on the cross, tempting though that may be, but some basic principles should be readily apparent: the way of the cross involves self sacrifice, not glory; it involves the acceptance of apparent failure as a part of God's wider plans; it requires personal weakness so that God's power can be evident. Very few models of leadership - secular or Christian - cater for this perspective.

4.5. Dependence

Christian leadership must be exercised in dependence upon God. This seems to be a point that is rarely made in Christian training. All Christian ministry is a call to do the impossible: if we could do it without God, it could hardly be Christian. For example, the evangelist cannot convert anyone; the healer cannot heal anyone; the pastor cannot make Christians grow in their faith; even the preacher cannot enlighten or inspire the flock - without the Holy Spirit's activity, the best sermon is only empty words.

The goal cannot be achieved using our best efforts and investing all our resources, not without God's involvement and intervention. We undertake the task knowing it to be impossible, and certain that we will fail unless God works miraculously to make it possible.

This creates a fundamental tension in all Christian ministry, which we do not have the space to fully explore. Christian ministry is a partnership between God and man: I do my part, God does His part, and between us, the job gets done. But my part requires that I do what I can - everything that I can - while knowing that it will not be enough, and knowing that the result is all down to Him.

The tension is neatly captured in the old advice: we are to pray as if it all depends on God (it does!), and to work as if it all depends on me. At the human level, it is hard to avoid the question: why bother? The frequency with with I am asked this question suggests that this is an area where the Church is not providing its members with the theological answers they need.

Christian leaders are unlikely to find effective followers if they cannot explain why people should sweat blood in an attempt to achieve the impossible.

Christian leaders also need to face this tension when it comes to setting goals and agreeing strategies. Our aim may be spiritual, but our activity is inevitably rooted in the material world: we may aim to see people converted, but all we can measure is the number of 'decision cards' filled in. Our aim may be to seek the Kingdom of God come, but our progress is measured in the number of seats filled on a Sunday morning and the amount on the collection plate. A Christian leader must somehow create programs and strategies that will make a difference without also making God irrelevant.

4.6. Priorities

In the church, the five main priorities of Christian leadership are well established as the work of the apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor and teacher. In the church, any Christian leader must somehow hold these five priorities together. In any other Christian organisation, there will generally be a tension between the specific aims of the organisation - evangelism, third world aid, etc. - and the wider responsibilities of the staff to behave as Christians in a Christian organisation.

From the conversations I have had with people working for Christian organisations, the most common point of tension is when they are forbidden from talking about their faith. This is generally due to policies that have been established when the organisation started to receive secular funding. Such limitations are clearly a difficult subject, and Christian organisations adopt a range of positions between accepting all the Christian priorities and seeking to work them out in a specific context at one extreme, to rejecting all such priorities that are not explicitly a part of the organisation's mission, at the other.

5. Managing Leadership

5.1. Anointed or appointed?

Every organisation must manage its leaders and leadership function. In the church context, any systems and policies will inevitably create tension between the human system and Divine action: is someone a leader because they have been appointed through some appropriate process, or because they have been anointed by God?

This tension can be formally resolved through the belief that God has chosen to work through the organisational structures we have established. While it is clear that God does establish and work through human structures, it is also clear that at times He bypasses the structures: this is the source of much of the conflict in the Old Testament between the Kings, representing the established structure, and the Prophets standing outside the structure.

However the tension is resolved, it is clear that, in a Christian context, the leaders must be both appointed by some human system and also anointed by God for the task.

Whatever the difficulties of reconciling human structures with Divine appointments, this is a far easier task than the alternative: attempting to operate an organisation without any systems and policies is a recipe for disaster. Occasionally, Christian groups claim to be doing this, but what it generally means in practice is simply that the systems and policies have not been formally agreed and written down as such.

5.2. Identification

Every organisation, once it has passed the earliest stages of growth, will have a system by which new leaders are identified. There are three possibilities: they can be identified from below, from within or from above, although in practice a combination of these is often used.

The first leaders in the Church were identified from above: chosen by Jesus; the second leaders were identified from below: elected by the Church members.

By way of contrast, almost every personal testimony I remember hearing from a Christian leader has ignored these two Biblical approaches, and instead focussed entirely on 'the Call' - a personal sense that God has called them to 'the Ministry'. Sometimes, this has resulted in them applying to several different denominations before they were accepted.

I have heard numerous people teach and preach about 'the Call', and the message has been consistent: it is the means by which God calls you to full time Christian ministry, and it is for life. I am intrigued by the origins of this belief, as I do not find it in the Bible, and the experience of Paul in moving between 'full time' Christian work and 'part time' Christian work while tent making seems to effectively contradict it.

In practice, most denominations operate within this model, and have elaborate screening and selection processes to determine which of those potential leaders presenting themselves as having 'the Call' are to be recognised as a leader.

5.3. Training

Academic training often forms a part of the selection process for many of the established denominations, and it is usually a pre-requisite before the selection process can begin in most other cases: few congregations are prepared to accept or elect a Minister who does not have a theological qualification.

"No theological college can 'make' a pastor. It is God who calls and God who gifts. But colleges can develop gifts God has given and thus enable students to become what God intended them to be." [Beasley-Murray, 1990, 27] This seems over-simplistic: just because training is needed, this does not mean that the sort of training currently being supplied meets that need; because colleges do some good, this does not mean that they couldn't do much better.

Academic qualifications have been a required part of much Christian leadership training over the years, with occasional reactions against this tradition when, because of the urgency of the perceived need, there was "neither time nor need for drawn-out preparation for missionary service." [Bosch, 1991, 333] On these occasions, it seems that the alternative to academic training is usually no training.

The Church seems to have a very poor record at implementing on-the-job training of the sort that Jesus and the Apostles used: only small organisations such as Open Air Campaigners make significant use of this approach. This would seem to be an important area for further study.

5.4. Accountability

The difficulty of implementing an effective accountability structure has defeated many organisations. For the leader to be free to lead, they cannot be tied down by a detailed rulebook and oppressive monitoring systems.

You don't want leaders to be able to exercise arbitrary discipline, but on the other hand, you don't want every upset follower to be able to challenge and overturn every decision they don't like.

Whatever accountability structures are in place, they work, when they work, because the personalities and priorities of the people involved make them work: if a leader does not wish to be accountable in practice, there is little that anyone can do about it.


Adair, John, Action-Centred Leadership (Aldershot: Gower, 1979)

Adair, John, Leadership (2006). This was an article I downloaded from at some time in 2005 but is no longer present on the web site. I can forward the text of the article on request.

Bacon, Fred, Being A Christian Leader (Wallingford: The Baptist Union of Great Britain, 1990)

Beasley-Murray, Paul, Dynamic Leadership (Eastbourne: MARC, 1990)

Belbin, R Meredith, Team Roles at Work (Oxford: Butterworth-Heinemann, 1993)

Bosch, David J, Transforming Mission (Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 1991)

Forster, Roger T, Male and Female: The rôle of men and women in the church (London: Icthus Media Services, 1992)

Higginson, Richard, Transforming Leadership (London: SPCK, 1996)

Hunt, Geoff, Four Principles of Ethical Management. Available from [accessed 29 October 2006]

Love, J Richard, Liberating Leaders from the Superman Syndrome (Maryland: University Press of America, Inc., 1994)

Machiavelli, Nicolo, The Prince (1513) Available from [accessed 29 October 2006]

Marshall, Tom, Understanding Leadership (Chichester: Sovereign World Ltd, 1991)

Pawson, J David, Leadership is Male (Guildford: Eagle, 1997); first published in 1988 by Highland Books

Schwarz, Christian A, Natural Church Development (Moggerhanger: British Church Growth Association, 1996)

Williams, Richard and Tanner, Mark, Developing Visionary Leadership (Cambridge: Grove Books Limited, 2004)

Wright, NT, The Resurrection of the Son of God (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003)

Some Further Thoughts

In the secular world, we can trace a change from industrial to post-industrial to post-modern. In the old factories, people were expected to be motivated solely by pay; in the office, they are expected to be motivated far more by job satisfaction; in the new working environment, they are increasingly expected to be motivated by a desire for personal growth. This must have an impact on people working for and volunteering for Christian organisations.

Volunteers are changing: more people in work means fewer volunteers of working age, and those who are available are increasingly unemployable with mental and physical health problems. On the other hand, longer life expectancy means more older, experienced volunteers. What motivates them and what is required to lead them will be different from the traditional 'gap year' volunteers of the past.

Volunteering outside the church has greatly expanded - counselling, helping old people, etc. and people draw comparison with best practice in church and elsewhere - especially as many of these volunteers are Christians.

We are seeing a weakening of denominational ties, leading to a new 'internal market' for churches. Faithfulness to denomination used to be much stronger. Now church members will change churches, go to several at the same time and exchange notes with members of other churches.

Leaders are often called or sent into an existing situation, and have to handle the existing culture and expectations. This is quite a different situation from that of the leader who invites people to follow him: the new leader must discover how to gain the trust of those he is leading.

The culture of the organisation may be quite different from the culture, beliefs and practices of the people within it, as described by Marshall. This adds an extra dimension of challenge to the job of a leader.

Organisational norms are difficult enough, but the social norms within a church are God-given: this is what He has told us to do and blessed in the past.

People outside the church have their own expectations of the church and its leadership, which must be recognised alongside the expectations of the members, and somehow these two sets of expectations must be balanced.

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