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.
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.
HOW IT ALL BEGAN
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).
WHY WE FIGHT AND FAIL–AND THE WAYS OUT
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 NUMBER ONE CURE
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.
Lingenfelter, Sherwood. 2008. Leading Cross-Culturally. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker.
Bosch, David J. 2001. A Spirituality of the Road. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock.
When it comes to calling/vision, I used to erroneously say things like, “Don’t listen to what other people have to say. After all, they weren’t there when God spoke to you.” How wrong I was. I repent.
“TO BE OR NOT TO BE?”
As I celebrated my birthday last week somehow I found myself going through some old emails dating back to 2008. I almost got ordained as a pastor that year. Almost. God spared me inflicting this upon myself… and on y’all 🙂
Back then I was still practicing medicine as a military captain with the United Nations Operation in Cote d’Ivoire and had survived a fatal road traffic accident, in which I lost two of my colleagues, barely three weeks into our peacekeeping operation. The miraculous circumstances surrounding my deliverance convinced me beyond any shadow of doubt that GOD had spared me, yes, but for a purpose beyond Medicine. I wanted to give the rest of my life totally to the preaching of the good news and the good life in Jesus Christ and raising younger leaders to do same. If my fervour for God and His kingdom had been a 7/10, it cranked up to 9.5/10 after the accident. Understandably, after such a near-death experience I became crazier for God, with white-hot intensity and with such a sense of urgency about life and mission.
In the midst of all the crazy schedule of doing my medical and military duties for the U.N., I would go to the Universite de Bouake at least twice a week to teach, go into the community to minister–like visiting someone the rebels had captured and jailed, seeing to the total transformation of the dignity of Salimata (picture on left) by getting her dentures, raising capital for business for an AIDS patient etc.
My favourite thing was to preach during our Ghanmed 5/Ghav 10 church services and at local churches. It is little wonder then that the head pastor of one of these churches strongly felt I should be officially ordained as a pastor. After all, I was doing the work anyway—perhaps even better than those who had the official recognition as such.
Everyone was excited—from my Commanding Officer to ‘the least of these.’ A date was set, preparations and decorations were made; my clerical collar (that stiff, white dog collar that reverend ministers wear) was procured, my measurements were taken for my special-collared shirt to go with it… refreshments for the party…
Everyone (and everything) was ready except the most important people in my life: my wife, my best friend and one of my pastors. It is their emails I referred to earlier. These three people had no doubt God’s hand was upon my life and that God had a calling for me but none of them was convinced it was either the time or the place for ordination as a pastor. I was deeply conflicted. On hindsight, they saved my life—and by extension, that of many people.
I must confess I’m a skeptic when it comes to Western Christians’ understanding and practice of anything communal. Unfortunately having been schooled in Western ways and lived in North America myself I have become even more individualistic than my home (African) culture. So I longed for a breath of fresh air when I picked up Mark Labberton’s book, Called, but I was cautiously optimistic. “What does an American writer, from a generally individualistic society, have to authentically and practically offer toward communal calling?” I wondered. I was not disappointed.
The author not only clearly agreed with my observation about individualism but also my concern regarding how community is needed to accurately decipher a call of God on one’s life: “Community should be a natural cornerstone of life as a Christian disciple; we’re meant to be a part of the community of God’s people. After all, Christian disciples can’t live faithfully by themselves, and we seldom hear the call of God alone. Biblically, the call of God is inextricable from the community of God’s people, yet the church in the United States is rife with evidence that the church seeks and avoids community, just like the culture around it” (80).
DON’T TRY THIS ALONE
“We seldom hear the call of God alone?” Wow! Indeed, this is the way Sherwood Lingenfelter puts it in his work, Leading Cross-Culturally: “To have effective, compelling vision for ministry, the kind of vision that will motivate people to follow, the Christian leader must have a deep and intimate walk with Christ and listen to and be filled with the Holy Spirit. But even more importantly, this vision must be tested in the community of the body of Christ, refined by the participation of the body in shaping it, and then mobilized by the body in prayer and action.
Back to Labberton: “The process of understanding the Spirit’s guidance is best done in community. It isn’t a private act of discernment but one that emerges as we live in relation to brothers and sisters who help lead us to listen to our own hearts and to listen for God’s. To do so wisely and not self-servingly or distortedly, we need friends in Christ who share in this process of listening and trusting. Together we are the dwelling place of the Spirit” (140).
Oh! How many people, especially young people, would’ve saved themselves, and myriads more, heartaches, disillusionment and destruction had they tested their ‘calling’ in the crucible of community. Man, don’t try this calling thing alone without a discerning community. And community is “where two or three come together in Jesus’ name.” That may very well be just you and your spouse. If I sense a ‘call from God’ that my born-again, Spirit-filled wife strongly disagrees with I will have to take a serious pause for profound prayer and further consultation. And how much better when my spouse, plus my accountability friend and my spiritual director are all in sync!
Strong ‘Type A’ personalities like me find this assertion that calling is best discerned in community very hard. But that is the way to go, God’s way. I’m eager to share what else God’s word, Labberton and others have to say about this in my next blog. For now, go ahead and tell me what you think so far.