Is there a difference between a leader and a Christian leader? If so, how? Should Christians simply learn the best mainstream leadership techniques with their beliefs as an unrelated backdrop? No, there’s more to it than that. For Christian leaders, there should be a biblically-grounded and integrated approach to leadership which is distinct from leadership generally.
One helpful book dealing with this topic is The Five Phases of Leadership: An Overview for Christian Leaders (Ambridge, PA: Whitchurch Publishing, 2016) by The Rev Dr. Justyn Terry. Dr. Terry will be speaking on biblically-based leadership at the Entrepreneurial Leaders Conference, Toronto, November 15th.
Dr. Terry is the Academic Dean at Wycliffe Hall, a Permanent Private Hall of the University of Oxford. He previously served as Dean/President of Trinity School for Ministry, Pittsburgh, USA, where he was also Professor of Systematic Theology. In the UK Dr. Terry was Curate of St John’s Hyde Park, and Vicar of St Helen’s, North Kensington, after a few years as a Physics teacher and then International Marketing Manager in the Electronics Industry.
Dr. Terry’s book focuses on his leadership experience in a church context. Dr. Terry describes a church leader as one who, “takes the people of God on the mission of God at the direction of the Son of God and in the power of the “Spirit of God.” (20) The insights in his book apply, however, not just to the church context but are beneficial for Christian leaders generally. Dr. Terry identifies five phases of leadership: establish trust, cultivate leaders, discern vision, implement plans and transition out.
As part of the first phase, he talks about establishing trust. One important aspect of establishing trust is understanding the issues facing the organization so that they can then be addressed. This process of understanding is sometimes called “sensemaking.” Dr. Terry notes that leadership is an achievement of trust (45). Dr. Terry highlights the important role of spiritual maturity and explains that the fruit of the spirit is revealed in ways that make a leader trustworthy. He notes that, the Christian leader needs to be filled with God’s Holy Spirit daily (45).
The second aspect of leadership is about cultivating leaders. There are many pertinent biblical references on selecting and growing leaders. The qualities of good leaders can be found in Acts, 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus (54). Titus 1:5 – 9 includes the following characteristics when appointing elders: “hospitable, lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined.” He further notes that, “the development of leaders is going to be largely about Christian character formation.” (59) Interestingly, the character of the person, the qualities from within, a total approach to life is important—not just grafting on a technique or strategy.
The third phase is to discern vision. There can be some challenges in this area. For example, organizations frequently take risks—what if financial commitments are undertaken and then the funds aren’t generated to sustain the operations. Dr. Terry cautions, “It is hard to exaggerate the need for prayer and for seeking the Lord’s guidance at every point in the process.” (79) So, planning needs to happen in the context of careful discernment.
The fourth phase is implementing plans. Dr. Terry explains that, “the Christian leader is first and foremost a follower of Jesus Christ” (85). He pinpoints a key problem: “I think the difficulty with goal setting lies in working in the flesh rather than looking to the Holy Spirit to be our guide.” (88) Another aspect of implementation is the people side. Dr. Terry notes that, “Managing people, from a Christian perspective, is essentially a form of disciplining them.” (95)
The last phase is to transition out well. This is a challenge in Christian circles—as in the secular world—as many leaders do not end well, with negative consequences for both themselves and their churches or organizations. Dr. Terry notes that, “Transitioning out requires discernment to know when it is time to move on. This should not be about giving up, but about sensing when your particular work is done.” (138) A significant part of leaving well is to have successors in place, to leave the organization strong.
In short, Dr. Terry’s book offers good insights on the nature of being a Christian leader—and that does not mean solely a Christian who is a leader in a church or Christian organization. Instead, the book explains how can Christians who are leaders can reflect their beliefs effectively. Leadership is more than a position or a title for Christians—it can be an important part of the person’s call. As Terry notes, “The invitation to be a leader is a call to keep growing up and becoming the person God is wanting you to be.” (154)
For Dr. Terry's bio: http://www.entrepreneurialleaders.com/JustynTerry