Glancing across at the bookshelves in my office I can pick out the word "Leadership" on the spines of over a dozen texts. If I included the words "management" or performance into my search there would probably be over fifty titles on the subject. As a Human Resources Director and occasional speaker and writer on matters of business and people the whole topic of leading and managing people is clearly a hot topic and one which is not settled.
Within the business literature there is at surface level a raging debate. Is leadership about command and control or about laissez faire? Are we trying to make star performers or team players? Is the proper focus the task, the team or the individual? Each book or talk has its own nuance. Some models of leadership focus on the big picture, others on the small details. Some have a degree psychological sophistication, others are blunt and unsubtle. Some focus on leadership as an implicit "pull", others show it as an explicit "push".
Yet across all of these theories there are some common themes. In business it is unquestioned that the leader is someone who gets things done, who makes things happen. Leaders are in charge, and their job is to make others do things. Whether this is by charm, persuasion, inspiration or coercion it is accepted that leaders are there to impose will, purpose and direction. This is also implicit in the idea in Capitalism that the owner of the means of production has the right to direct the labours of the work force – we find it hard to imagine it otherwise.
Before we look at leadership within the church, I wanted to think about the way leaders in business, are treated within the church. I particularly want to think about how highly successful leaders, such as CEOs, Generals, and high ranking Civil Servants who are Christians are treated within the Evangelical Church. My case study for this is the LC13 Leadership Conference recently hosted by the much reported Holy Trinity Brompton Church, known as HTB.
At LC13 there were a great number of high profile leaders on the speaking platform. When they were interviewed several themes came out; (i) it is hard to be a Christian at the heights of the career ladder, (ii) one reason for this is the pressure on family time and church time that having a high flying job requires, (iii) the Christian leader might not necessarily do their substantive job any differently but they will show some key differences around personal morality. These last differences might include abstaining from coarse language, being kindly to one’s driver, avoiding the scandal of a workplace sexual affair and, importantly, witnessing evangelistically so that one’s colleagues know you are a Christian. Those that had reached the top of their respective professions, while keeping to this narrow ethical code were greeted with adulation and celebration, with the success ascribed to the glory of God.
Two things struck me as noticeable, which became starkly evident following Tomlin and Backhouse’s seminar at the same event, the first was that it seems being a Christian made no difference to the substantive decisions made by the executive in the course of their appointment, and secondly, it was assumed that becoming a leader – one who makes stuff happen and takes charge – was not only a desirable thing for other Christians to emulate, but also a sign of God’s blessing.
Anticipating the conclusion of my next post – that leadership in the church is nothing like the leadership of Caesar, or of big business – we have several choices. We could take the view that Christians who work "in the kosmos" need to simply accept the ways of the kosmos and get along accordingly, albeit without swearing or shagging your secretary. Alternatively we could take the escapist / monastic route and leave the world to its own destruction.
But I’m (obviously) searching for a third way. I think it can be right for Christians to engage in worldly institutions and even to accept high office within them, but how we treat them as a church is key. Looking for Old Testament examples such as Joseph and Daniel, is not, I posit the answer. Treating the Christian CEO as a celebrity is not a healthy answer either. We should celebrate the work of all who toil. We should pray, equip, support and ordain all who are called into work in hospitals, schools, businesses and governments. We should especially equip, with teaching and pastoral support those whose roles require them to use coercive power. We should minister forgiveness and absolution to those who have reached the top of organisations, knowing all that is required to get there. We should honour the prophets in our churches who with God’s eyes can see through the charade of organisations and boards opf directors and all the trappings of status, money and power that go with them. And, in anticipation, we can model – in the leadership of the church – such a different way of relating to people and collective purposes, that leaders in business see the poverty of their leadership concept and the emptiness of their management models.
We should certainly avoid the opposite temptation, to make our church leaders into "Executive Pastors" who run the body of Christ like a Fortune 500 company…