I.2. Christian Leadership
II. A Key Issue on Christian Leadership in My Context
III. Towards an Incarnational Leadership
In the foreword of his book, "Basic Leader Skills," Rusbuldt says, "Your church will not (and cannot) go further than your leaders take it. In other words, your church's leaders hold the key to the future of your church. The future of your church depends on your church's leader, clergy and lay."1 I think this can be rightly applied to how much the role of the leaders not only in the growth of the church but also in any organisation or community is important.
This essay is an attempt to suggest an effective Christian leadership by basing on a case study of Christian leadership in Myanmar. The essay has three parts. The first part tries to find a good definition of leadership, Christian leadership, and being effective. After discussing different definitions made by some prominent writers and leaders, I articulate my own definition of an effective Christian leadership.
The second part highlights the leadership situation in my own context. In other words, the second part discusses a key issue of Christian leadership in Myanmar, where both political and Christian leaders tend to practice authoritarian leadership, and my critique on it.
The final part is seeking an effective leadership for the Christian churches in the light of the key issue of Christian leadership in Myanmar. Here, I suggest an incarnational leadership, which calls the leaders to engage in suffering dying to their comfort zones, as a suitable leadership that will meet the need of the people today.
Donald Dorr states that the term ‘leadership’ can be understood in two ways, suggesting that it can refer to the person(s) who is in charge of or in command of a country, a community, an organisation or any other group and also to the activity or ability of this person(s).2 In this paper leadership is taken in the latter sense that presents it not as the person who is a leader but as the activity or ability of the person.
Obviously there are a lot of different definitions of leadership. Plueddemann, Professor of Missions from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Michigan, is surely right when he says that those definitions are “reflecting philosophical, theological and cultural values. People from a goal-oriented culture might define leadership as accomplishing the task through other people. People from a relationship-oriented society would prefer to define leadership as the ability to build alliances and fellowships. Societies from a low tolerance for ambiguity insist a precise definition, while those with a high tolerance for ambiguity would likely not bother with any definition.”3 Therefore, I think it will be helpful to look at some definitions made by prominent writers and leaders on leadership in order to understand the concept better.
“Leadership is the influencing, motivating, guiding, directing or co-ordinating of individuals, groups, communities, or organisations in a way that affects their behaviour or actions, especially in relation to bringing about change or resisting change.”4 This definition by Donald Dorr is quite complete in covering the essential aspects of leadership, i.e. influencing and enabling the followers and so even changing their lives to willingly work together for a better change in the organisation or community.
“Leadership is the art of the future. A leader is one in whom the future shines through in support of the present in spite of the past.”5 This beautiful definition by Leonard Sweet understands leadership in terms of the ability of the leader shaping the future by living in and making use of the present and reflecting on the past. He continues that ‘leaders are born nor made. Leaders are summoned. They are called into existence by circumstances. Those who rise to the occasion are leaders.’6 Sweet makes a right and acceptable statement here as leaders often rise up with the call of the necessity of the people even if they are not officially chosen or appointed by the hierarchy.
“Leadership is about function, position, talent, gift and call. When we restrict our understanding of leadership to just one of these areas, we automatically elevate one aspect of leadership above others, and create an unhealthy environment for leadership to grow. The five aspects of leadership need to be held in creative tension with one another.”7 This is a definition of leadership in terms of its aspects. This definition by James Lawrence clarifies that leadership has to do with a lot of areas in life.
Plueddemann mentions a definition of leadership made by the US News and World Report editors in selecting their choice of the best leaders. They define a leader as a person who “motivates people to work collaboratively to accomplish great things. The selection committee used three criteria: (1) they set direction; (2) by building a shared sense of purpose, they achieved results that had a positive social impact that exceeded expectations; (3) and they cultivated a culture growth by inspiring others to lead.”8 The criteria sound good except that the phrase ‘to accomplish great things’ in the definition sounds to me a little odd.
This definition, as made by the News editors, seems to consider only a great person who has achieved great things as a leader. But I do not think a person is a leader only when he/she achieves ‘great things.’ An ordinary person living a simple and ordinary life can also be a leader in one’s own community level, at least in his/her family. Leadership happens at any level of the human community.
All definitions of leadership cannot be put together here. Judging from the above-mentioned ones, it is obvious that leadership is so rich and wide in terms of its meaning that no definition can be complete or wrong. As there is no divinely anointed definition, I would define leadership here in the light of my own experience and observation on different definitions. Leadership is the ability and availability to take responsibility for helping others from any level of the community to take further steps to a better future. Leaders are available people in a certain circumstance which needs people who are able to make necessary changes in the given circumstance. Even a person who has a position of leader but cannot take the followers or the organisation to a better stage cannot be regarded as a leader, or at least not an effective leader, while an ordinary person who has no position of leader can become an effective leader as he takes the responsibility to work the community or organization in a better way. Therefore, leadership cannot be limited to the positional power holders in the hierarchy only but it has to do with every person from every level of the community, organisation, and the society.
Having discussed definitions of leadership, we are going to move on to the definition of Christian leadership.
1 Richard E. Rusbult , Basic Leader Skills: Handbook for Church Leaders (Valley Forge: Judson Press, 1981), 7.
2 Donald Dorr , Spirituality of Leadership: Inspiration, Empowerment, Intuition and Discernment (Dublin: The Columba Press, 2006), p.77.
3 James E. Plueddemann, Leading across Culture: Effective Ministry and Mission in the Global Church (Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2009), p.15.
4 Donald Dorr, Spirituality of Leadership: Inspiration, Empowerment, Intuition and Discernment, p. 77.
5 Leonard Sweet, Summoned to Lead (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004), p.11.
6 Leonard Sweet, Summoned to Lead, p.12.
7 James Lawrence, Growing Leaders: Reflections on Leadership, Life and Jesus (Oxford: The Bible Reading Fellowship, 2004), p. 28.
8 James E. Plueddemann, Leading across Culture: Effective Ministry and Mission in the Global Church, p.15.