The Leadership Theology We Live

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As Christian leaders, we’re very thoughtful about the theology we teach.
And we’re also thoughtful about the theology we model through our moral choices.
But do we give much thought to the theology we live through the ways we lead?

If we looked at the theology of leadership that we actually live, it would rarely be a theology we would claim. If asked to express our theology of leadership in words we would probably not list the following, however, in my own life and my conversations with other leaders, I see how we’re living a theology that looks something like this:

Leaders should never wrestle.
And yet, Jacob the prolific patriarch, the namesake and embodiment of Israel, wrestled all night with God.

Leaders should never sin.
And yet, David the gifted king, the man after God’s own heart, was among other things, an adulterer, a murderer, and a liar.

Leaders should never need a break.
And yet, Jesus himself slept through storms and took time alone to pray.

Leaders should never be a burden to those they lead.
And yet, in times of sickness and imprisonment, Paul was unashamed to ask his churches for help.

Leaders should always know what to do.
And yet, wise king Solomon began his rule with the words, “I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties.”

Leaders should never fail.
And yet, even setting aside his murder of an Egyptian, and other major failures, Moses, leader of the Exodus, couldn’t even get little things right, arguing when God tells him to approach Pharaoh, hitting a rock when God tells him to speak to it.

Leaders should never have conflicts.
And yet, Paul and Barnabas, pioneers of the early church, had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company.

Leaders should be impervious to sexual dynamics and temptations.
And yet Samson, the powerful leader of the Israelites, was led astray by his infatuation with Delilah.

Leaders should always feel confident.
And yet, Esther, mediator for her people, hesitated for fear of her life at the thought of approaching the king.

Leaders should fit a particular age and personality type.
Yet, in scripture we have leaders from all ages, genders, walks of life: men and women, adolescents and ancients, rich and poor, well-educated and coarse, insiders and foreigners.

It’s a beautiful thing that our scripture includes stories of three-dimensional, human leaders. Few ancient histories tell it so straight. And few contemporary biographies of Christian leaders are as honest. Can you imagine a story of a well-known Christian leader today including the kind of details we have of these heroes of the faith? The ways they manipulate God, the lies they tell and the schemes they scheme all told alongside their victories? But scripture is kind enough to share these stories of sinful, limited, fearful, doubting, failures—who were used powerfully by God. What theology can we gather from God’s ability to use this motley collection of human beings? In all of their differences and all of their failures, the only thing they have in common is a willing heart (and even that is questionable at times).

Let’s be honest that scripture is not the source of the leadership theologies we live. So, where are we getting these ideas? What combination of culture and fear and business ideals and baggage is creating this bad theology of leadership? Isn’t it time to be as thoughtful and scriptural about our lived theology of leadership as we are about the theologies we teach or model in doctrinal and moral ways?

And when we begin to live a more scriptural leadership theology, God will be glorified through us as he was through the broken, human heroes of our faith.

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