Corporate Leadership and Cross Leadership are not Synonymous!

There is a huge intersection between leadership principles in the corporate world and the church. But the former has its limits. It stops at the junction of the cross, if it isn’t willing to go that route of ‘cross leadership.’ Here’s how.

A cross-section of one of the cross-cultural teams I get to serve with in Canada


Note: the following write-up is adapted from an Integrative Paper of the works of Lingenfelter and Bosch (see ‘works cited’ below) submitted to my Fuller Seminary Masters in Global Leadership Class.



For years I’ve learnt, practised and taught corporate leadership principles, in a variety of fields from medicine through media to the military. So when Sherwood Lingenfelter respectfully acknowledged Banks and Ledbetter’s description of leadership and yet asserted that it is “inadequate for Christian ministry” he got my attention! Why would he say that?!

In fact, the exact quote is as follows: “Banks and Ledbetter go on to define the characteristics of leadership in terms of vision, setting direction, monitoring trends, and motivating and inspiring people to follow. Their insights are helpful as we seek to answer the question, what is leading? Yet secular and business perspectives on leadership are inadequate for Christian ministry (Lingenfelter 2008, 16, emphasis mine).

Professors Lingenfelter and Bosch are both academicians with immense cross-cultural leadership praxis. Dr. Sherwood Lingenfelter, an American anthropologist is provost emeritus and senior professor at Fuller while Dr. David Bosch, who died in a fatal car accident in 1992, was a South African missiologist and professor at the University of South Africa.

Lingenfelter has a five-fold goal for his book (Lingenfelter 2008, 8-9) with the bottom line being the establishment of covenant relationships for effective cross-cultural leadership. Bosch seeks to define what spirituality is, particularly challenging the notion that it is ‘otherworldly’ rather than ‘on the road’ (Bosch 2001, 9-13), when really “being spiritual means being in Christ” (13).



I briefly explain four key reasons Dr. Lingenfelter gives for the conflicts and failures people often face in ministering and leading cross-culturally. First, Lingenfelter argues that not only is building mutual trust within a united relational community the first characteristic of leading (Lingenfelter 2008, 16-17) but that “transformation of teams into covenant missional communities” (9) is a sine qua non. This comes before vision, strategies, goals or task-focused projects (167). A leader ought to prioritize the creation of a covenant community in which team members commit first to one another as people of God and then to working together as one on the mission of God (26). When this is not prime and proto, we set ourselves up for fights and failures in cross-cultural ministry and leadership for sure.

Forming this covenant community is crucial because as Bosch says of an ambassador, “he is a personal representative of his government, the very embodiment of the one who sends him” (Bosch, 43) so are we first and foremost the body of Christ. No doubt, “there are the problems of forced togetherness with incompatible personalities…” (44) yet at the same time “our relationships are then guided not by logic but by the illogic of love that flows from grace,” (Lingenfelter, 50) for how else shall we “be able to transmit these intimate experiences of the love and grace of God to other people in any other way than by walking this road with them”(Bosch, 69)?

Lingenfelter’s recommendation is that this covenant community is built through relational engagements which inspire the confidence and trust of team members, just like Jesus did (Lingenfelter, 17). Another great way to do this is through transformational worship (170).

Secondly, conflicts and failures of cross-cultural ministry and leadership arise as a result of conflict of values (Lingenfelter 2008, 69) since “all Christian leaders, regardless of their cultural background, carry their personal histories and cultural biases with them wherever they serve” (15) even if unbeknownst to them with unintended consequences of disobedience and ineffectiveness (9). The way out starts by humbly positioning oneself as a learner, to understand one’s own values as a culture-bearing person then investing time and resources to learn and understand the contrasting values of others on the team, and ultimately to learn how to add to one’s cultural repertoire to be effective in cross-cultural ministry (Lingenfelter, 7-8, 26). This is primarily achieved through dialogue, conversation after conversation (165-167). The good news is that “the Bible gives us principles for living that transcend both our human sinfulness and the prison of our culture” (9), the most pertinent and foundational for other values being Jesus’ expectation of those who want to follow him in the work of the kingdom to deny themselves and take up their cross daily first (48-49).

Thirdly, lack of or loss of a sense of vision and mission is another major problem (Lingenfelter, 164). For starters, “when the wonder of the kingdom of heaven” is not unfurled and clearly elucidated none will be “willing to leave everything and follow” (17). Even then in popular parlance, “vision leaks.” The solution? Repeated attention and intentional renewal of vision, mission and/or values (164). Even, “Paul’s spirituality was… renewed again and again from within” (Bosch, 20).

The final ‘thorn in the flesh’ of cross-cultural ministry and leadership is the issue of power. Since “…all people are inherently “power seekers,” …team relationships will be fraught with struggles for power and control” (Lingenfelter, 26). The way out is biblically based, Christ-centered, power-giving leadership (9) which is quite content to be rejected and discredited as “unknown men” (Bosch, 20), vulnerable (65) and has “the courage to be weak” (75), “…living in a gentle tension between giving ourselves in full surrender to our fellowman, yet at the same time enjoying the peace of the Lord” (23).



The prime solution, which cuts across all the array of cross-cultural ministry and leadership problems and failures, is the cross, “the defining metaphor for leadership given by the Lord Jesus Christ” (Lingenfelter, 168). Bosch concurs, with his “third way” assertion (15); albeit not a “domesticated cross with a handle” (32). This means denying ourselves and sacrificing some significant aspect of our ministry, for our brothers and sisters (Lingenfelter, 169). Here, the act of taking to time to worship God at the cross and surrender (170), especially in the midst of debriefs (88), makes it all happen.

The first issue of intentionally building covenant communities really struck a cord with me. The weakest thing I saw (and it had even been researched and documented) coming into my new role at International Student Ministries Canada four years ago was an absence of strong leadership that cast clear vision for the mission and the wider body of Christ. Having been gifted in this area I came on with full force doing just that, only to find resistance in some quarters all the way to mistrust in others. Although I did a fair bit to relate to and consult with as many staff as possible I now know it was not only enough, but may have even been perceived as just a means to my real end—vision—not relationship for its own sake.

Now from Lingenfelter I know better, that even before vision comes a full-on covenant commitment to nurture covenant community. That is my number one job as President of this strategic cross-cultural mission, and I am more intentionally pursuing that with my national senior leadership team first. I particularly would want us to make worship at the cross central in this pursuit of an effectual, united, covenant community of mutual trust.

True, there is a huge intersection between leadership principles in the corporate world and the church. But the former has its limits, especially if we are to effectually lead cross-culturally. It stutters and stops at the junction of the Cross, because more often than not corporate leadership is not only unwilling but even unable to go that route of ‘cross leadership:’ the vision of the cross, the way of the cross, the attitude of the cross. It is a that to take up Christian leadership is to take up one’s cross.


Works cited

Lingenfelter, Sherwood. 2008. Leading Cross-Culturally. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker.

Bosch, David J. 2001. A Spirituality of the Road. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock.



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