Issue 6: Rethinking leadership

Editor’s note

Robert W Heimburger

Many people today long for better leaders — and better models of leadership. I work with graduate students who make plain that they want more out of their studies than the knowledge and skills to lead. The Oxford Character Project and the Oxford Pastorate have attracted strong interest from students, believers and non-believers, who want to be leaders who possess character and integrity. In a time when many are attracted to leaders who offer to save their nations through exercising strength and putting down those who are weak, others are crying out for a different kind of leadership.

But should we be talking so much about leadership? The biblical authors don’t seem to think we should aspire to be leaders. They don’t recommend leadership training courses. Instead, they call us to be servants, to sacrifice ourselves, and to love our neighbours. In the Scriptures, we find pictures of men and women who are raised up and placed in positions of authority. Leaders emerge and are recognized rather than made, said Theological Advisory Group member Vinoth Ramachandra as we corresponded about this topic. Just as the Bible doesn’t seem to recommend cultivating leadership in ourselves, academic theologians don’t seem to pay much attention to leadership as a goal, with just a few exceptions.[1]

But the authors in this issue of Word & World think it’s time to rethink leadership rather than to avoid it. They think it’s time to see leadership reconfigured and transformed after the example of Jesus. In our feature article, Joshua Bogunjoko from Nigeria says that renewing leadership means working with the grain of our cultural backgrounds. He highlights the strong traditions of leadership in African villages, pointing to their fulfilment through biblically based transformation. He wants leaders to experience salvation that touches not only on guilt but also on shame; he wants them to embrace biblical images of shepherds, servants, and stewards; and he hopes for networks of leaders who support one another.

Amid corruption scandals across Latin America, Daniel Salinas from Colombia says that the example of Nehemiah in the Bible is ‘like an oasis in the middle of the desert’. When the people of Judah have been forced to leave their homes and the unjust monarchy is largely to blame, Nehemiah is given the opportunity to help the people return home. He demonstrates a new model of leadership as a leader who puts people’s well-being before his financial well-being and who listens and adapts to those under him. Nehemiah gets to work side by side with others, he continues to fight against injustice, and he remembers that he is accountable to God.

In short pieces to round out the issue, Wendy Quay Honeycutt (USA/Malaysia/Australia) draws on conversations with leaders from her student fellowship. These students agree with others at their university that it’s right that ‘leaders eat last’. But they conclude that when leaders on campus are encouraged to achieve their own goal, Christian leaders are called to seek a goal that they can’t see or comprehend. Pierre Ezoua (Tunisia/Cote d’Ivoire) writes about what to do when African Christian leaders refuse to leave their positions. He says that changes in policy aren’t enough. What is needed is a new leadership modelled on Jesus, who is the slave of all. This Jesus is a leader who does not live on bread alone but on the love and faithfulness of God.

Like previous issues of Word & World, each article is accompanied by discussion questions so that you can use them to spark conversation in your fellowship, your church, or elsewhere. Also, every article is available in English, Spanish, and French, so you can choose the language that speaks to you the best. Please contact me with your thoughts on how you think Word & World can do better at prompting theological reflection on the world students live in.

As you rethink leadership, may this issue equip and inspire you.

Robert W Heimburger, Editor


[1] Examples in English include Skip Bell, ed., Servants and Friends: A Biblical Theology of Leadership (Berrien Springs, Mich.: Andrews University Press, 2014); Arthur Boers, Servants and Fools: A Biblical Theology of Leadership (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015); Benjamin Forrest and Chet Roden, eds., Biblical Leadership: Theology for the Everyday Leader (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Kregel Academic, 2017); Don N. Howell, Jr., Servants of the Servant: A Biblical Theology of Leadership (Eugene, Ore.: Wipf & Stock, 2003); Timothy S. Laniak, Shepherds after My Own Heart: Pastoral Traditions and Leadership in the Bible, New Studies in Biblical Theology 20 (Leicester: Apollos, 2006).

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