2021 Book of the Year Review: Leadership, God’s Agency, & Disruptions

You are, perhaps, familiar with “Pascal’s Wager.” It argues you are better off believing in God than not believing, even if God doesn’t actually exist. What about “Modernity’s Wager?” Have you heard of it?

Alan Roxburgh and Mark Branson, authors of Leadership, God’s Agency, & Disruptions: Confronting Modernity’s Wager, make the case that it is actually Christian leaders who are now betting God doesn’t exist. These leaders do this by replacing God with modern practices found in the bestselling leadership books on secular bookshelves. For example, if it worked for Amazon, they believe, then it’s a safe bet it will work for the church, too!

Unfortunately, the authors find the secular gurus being followed most likely are sharing practices which are intended to maintain a leader’s position of power and control while shutting down the voices of any who dissent. The most convicting quote, from Leadership, God’s Agency, & Disruptions, has made me wince, to say the least:

If the Holy Spirit disappeared, at least 90 percent of what we’re doing would proceed without any changes. (41)

Ouch.

I’ve begun a review of the various “techniques” I’ve been taught and have been sharing:

Of course, if “all truth is God’s truth,” there is not anything intrinsically wrong with secular business principles, but I must admit I have to concur with what the two authors are observing. Pastors like to have “yes men” on their boards. Moreover, some church leaders would like to get rid of the boards, altogether. 

In my ministry, one of the most common examples of this contemporary manifestation is pastors who seek to convince their church to get rid of congregational business meetings and existing leadership structures (e.g., committees and/or deacons) and replace them with an “elder” system. The elder system they want is akin to this: The pastor handpicks a couple of men to join him as a trio of elders. The three of these elders will make all decisions. Thus, they say, there will be no more conflict in the church. The elders will likely never rotate or be replaced. They will be appointed-for-life “ruling elders”—even if those terms are not used. Some will claim to allow congregational input with an annual meeting where the congregation votes on the budget.

What is the alternative? 

According to Roxburgh and Branson, the Old and New Testaments are full of a biblical methodology they call “Interpretive Leadership.” They trace not only the instructions and examples of this process in both testaments, but they also show how Interpretive Leadership has been particularly helpful when God’s people found themselves in the WORST of times. 

“Interpretation” means to understand what is happening, to affirm the presence of God in those times, and to discover a way forward. However, this is not solely the duty or call of a leader or a leadership team. Instead, this form of leadership and decision-making calls all the people together to share, discuss, and discern TOGETHER.

Isn’t that what the free church tradition—theology and practice, centered in the Priesthood of the Believer—is all about?

The book shares the DNA of another favorite author of mine, George Bullard. His Captured by Vision is the best book I know of for demonstrating the importance of building a dream together. The vision is created and owned together by a congregation. It unites the people. That’s contrary to the typical church’s idea that the pastor is supposed to figure it out and sell it to the congregation. Failure for this latter method to work is seen as the failure of a leader. 

I can’t make Captured by Vision my Book of the Year since it came out in 2017, but watch for the follow-up book he’s working on right now to come out later this year. 

In the meantime, I hope you’ll let Leadership, God’s Agency, & Disruptions remind you of some important biblical roots of leadership. It will give you a deeper understanding of why the hard work of inclusive decision-making is worth it.

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