Biblical Leadership: Theology for the Everyday Leader. Benjamin K. Forest and Chet Roden, eds. Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic, 2017.
Summary: An effort, book by book, to compile the a biblical theology of leadership, written by a team of scholars specializing in study of these texts.
When one surveys Christian publications on the subject of leadership, many seem drawn more from the world of business or the military, with what seems to be a veneer of biblical texts that support, or at least sound like the principles being enunciated. This begs the question of whether there is anything distinctive about biblical leadership? Is the leadership of God’s people in any way different because of the character of God, and the work of Christ, as they have been disclosed to us in scripture?
The editors and the contributors to this text would affirm this, and that the place for us to start, in developing our theology and practice of leadership, is the data of scripture, gathered from Genesis to Revelation. And that is what this work sets out to do. It is not organized by leadership principles or practices, but rather by the organization of the Bible. The contributors were selected for their scholarship on the particular portion of scripture on which they were asked to write.
Both Old and New Testament sections begin with “concept studies” considering the words and concepts used around the concept of “leadership” in the Hebrew and Greek text. Then, subsequent chapters explore books (for example Judges) or sections of scripture (the Penteteuch, the Synoptics). Occasionally, chapters would zoom in on a particular text, and I thought these were among the gems in the volume. Two examples of these were a study of “The ‘Shepherd’ as a Biblical Metaphor: Leadership in Psalm 23” by Walter C. Kaiser, Jr. and Stanley E. Porter’s article on “Conflict Resolution: Leadership and the Jerusalem Council.” The principles Porter derives from this study are gold:
- Confront a Problem Early
- Solicit Widespread Opinion
- Welcome Diversity of Opinion
- Render a Clear Decision
- Impose the Minimum, not the Maximum
- Seek Scriptural Guidance and Confirmation
This both preaches and practices well! William D. Mounce does something similar in his commentary on the leadership passages within the Pastoral Epistles.
Most of the chapters focus on particular books. A challenge with this approach is reading into the text what is not there or what was intended. Different scholars noted this and took the approach of recognizing the main theme or purpose of the book, and relating observations about leadership, God’s or people’s, good or bad, to those themes. One place where this was done especially well, I thought was Mark Allen and Dickson Ngama’s essay on Daniel that observed the theme of power of Yahweh running through the book followed by seven important leadership lessons. Another example was Edwin M. Yamauchi’s study of leadership in Nehemiah that begins with situating the book in the canon, and in its historical setting, and then observes in successive chapters the character of Nehemiah’s leadership as:
- A man of responsibility
- A man of prayer
- A man who was rightly motivated (by God’s glory)
- A man of vision
- A man of action and cooperation
- A man of compassion
- A man who triumphed over opposition
Perhaps one of the most important essays that explored the heart of Christian leadership was W. Hall Harris III’s on “Leading Through Weakness, Vulnerability, and Self-Sacrifice: Leadership in the Gospel of John.” This and other essays engaged the notion of servant leadership, not contesting it but showing the call of servant leaders to suffer, become vulnerable, and in various ways, die, while yet leading, bringing a Christ-centered focus to this concept, and a call to leadership formed by the glory of the cross.
There is so much more in this collection than space permits comment upon. The intent of the authors is not primarily to offer preaching or teaching material, although there is much here that could well be adapted for these purposes. There aim, and that of the editors is more foundational, that pastors and other ministry leaders are formed in their own theology and practice of leadership through the biblical material rather than “best practices” from business.
A few basic themes I observed running through were that leadership is rooted in the character and leadership of God, needs to be shaped by the work of Christ, informed by the teaching of scripture, is characterized by faithfulness to Christ in all matters of life, is not solitary but communal, both in working with teams and developing leaders, and lived at the nexus of being a servant and a shepherd of the people of God.
That gives me a personal rubric to assess my own leadership, which I found myself doing throughout the pages of this treasure trove of leadership insight. I would commend this to anyone who cares both about their own practice of leadership and the development of new generations of leadership for the people of God.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.