Over the last couple of months I have been reading an increasing number of people talk about and engage the issue of leadership. We know we want it but we don’t necessarily know what it is. We know it when we see it but we also know when what we’re being fed something that has a distinctly awful aroma. I would suggest there is a clear definition of leadership in Scripture. But first lets take a look at some of the concerns that the word “leadership” brings out in people.

Billy Calderwood says, ” “Leadership.” Through the lenses of my own personal history with various expressions of Christianty, this word has picked up good deal of baggage and has become something of a source of anxiety to me.”

Nathan says, “I don’t think I can throw out all ideas of leadership. There is something inside of it that still rings true with me. I think there can be a leader/follower relationship that is healthy and not degrading to either side. It needs to be reinvented, of course, but I don’t think it needs to be thrown out or looked past.”

Glenn and Aaron duked it out over “high-caliber leadership” here in the comments section.

Aaron says, “High caliber leaders are those that “get it” about leadership and have an amazing capacity to lead others towards the vision and get people on board towards helping people find their way back to God.”

Glenn responds with, “Using high caliber leaders to lead the church makes perfect sense on one hand and sounds exactly like the corporate world on the other hand. That is not a bad thing by itself, except I don’t see that the corporate/high caliber leadership model has produced many truly missional churches.”

Dan has a great take on the issue here. He says, “In particular, much of the Christian discourse about leadership seems to be flawed, and fatally so, in two regards: (1) in its focus on the individual; and (2) in its understanding of power. This, I think, is largely due to churches looking to outside models when it comes down to issues of polity and structure. By and large, a business paradigm has come to dominate the church (and, I might add, the social services — think of the pervasiveness of the role of the “manager” as that is described in MacIntyre’s After Virtue). Consequently, leaders, Christian or otherwise, are understood as powerful and influential individuals who can “get results.” A successful Christian leader is the sort who has a full church, heck, a growing church, and, perhaps most importantly, a tithing church… blah, blah, blah (in social work, a successful Christian leader is the sort who can produce glowing stats and has the connections and voice necessary to bring in abundant donations).”

In both Glenn’s and Dan’s posts, there is a tension about the adoption of business approaches to leadership. I get this. Why are we looking to business for solutions? Part of this is because they are the one’s who are doing the research and writing the books. Business has a vested interest in knowing how an organization runs effectively. Churches can share this concern because they are organizations. And compound this with the problem that there are virtually no classes on administration, marketing, leadership, or governance in seminary. And yet these are all components of a church organization.

These conversations are important. We want to know what leadership is and what is the best expression of it. The tension is palpable in each of these posts, and I’m sure there are thousands like them. All of which leads to the question of what is leadership?

And to add to the confusion the people who study leadership don’t know either. I just finished my Master’s in Organizational Leadership from Gonzaga and you would think that those who created an entire Master’s program, let alone a PhD program would know what they were studying. But sadly this is not the case. There is no single definition for the word leader or leadership. In fact at last count there were 87 (and some say up to 300) documented definitions of leadership. I’ve been part of a the ILA’s leadership dialog for over a year and mention the word definition and you get silence or tremendous flack.

But I would suggest that leadership is actually very simple. Jesus modeled leadership with one simple word: love. Love is the definition of leadership for many different reasons. It is the fullest expression of our design as human beings made in the image of God. There is no single expression that is greater. Love speaks to the dignity of the other person, letting them know that they are worth what ever cost to restore the person. Love is not interested in hierarchy or org charts because a role is a responsibility of action, not a validation to be attained up a ladder or with a title. In fact love would place oneself at the bottom of the ladder, elevating those around her as valuable. Love would search out meaningful opportunities to restore people because they are God’s creation. Love knows the mission, which is the restoration of all creation. It is bent towards real change, listening to and speaking for those who have lost their voice. Love sees the image of God in everyone, including the neighbor that rubs us the wrong way or the enemy at work. Love constantly urges us, prods us, and calls us into maturity, which is the capacity to think outside of the self. It invites us to become the fullest expression of our own humanity. Love is not interested in force, but it is powerful. In fact love is more powerful than force because it always includes the human heart.

Jesus said, “Come, follow me.” He was calling us into an action. And that action was love. He was calling us into leadership by choosing followership, which was the hidden path to true leadership.  Followership is essentially the process of aligning our hearts to the way the universe already works, to His mission. And in doing so we become part of the solution.