Christ-centred (covenant) leadership (Sherwood Lingenfelter)

Recently, I came across the Sherwood Lingenfelter’s Leading Cross-Culturally: Covenant Relationships for Effective Christian Leadership (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2008). Although the book is about leadership in cross-cultural contexts, it has many insights that are relevant to every context. In fact, given our increasingly global and multi-cultural (and postmodern) world, the book’s insights are really worth considering. Here is a great quote.

Every community has its own standard of accountability, and the issues and structures of accountability vary significantly across cultures. Some societies and particularly Western industrial nations, insist on accountability structures that require extensive documentation and eternal structures and processes. Others insist on accountability as a product of relationships and emphasize that people are accountable primarily to the groups to which they belong and to the standards the groups hold for their members. As a consequence building a community of trust is always a major challenge for cross-cultural leadership. (p. 21)

Acknowledging his indebtedness to Max DePree’s Leadership is an Art (2004), Lingenfelter says that leadership “is not achieved through structures or social processes.” (p. 99) For Lingenfelter, “the critical factors for leading cross-culturally are Christ-centered learning and trustworthy covenant-centered leadership.” (p. 101) Lingenfelter also says the following, which, I think, is very insightful.

[L]eadership need not be power focused or governed by the tyranny of consensus. Rather, a leader defines the rules of participation to reflect inclusiveness in the body of Christ, commitment to the work of the kingdom, and effective communication among team members that understands the essence of mutual submission, weakness and forgiveness. That kind of leadership is not driven by results but rather is focused on mobilizing people to concentrate on mission and work effectively together to achieve the very best impact for the corporation or the ministry. (p. 100)

For those who are involved in cross-cultural leadership in particular, the following example is really worth reading.

The expatriate mission director, who adamantly opposed Thai corporate culture, expressed certainty that his vision of “servant leadership” was the correct biblical “form” that must replace the distortions of Thai cultural leadership. He used his role and resources to drive the team members toward his “transforming” form of empowerment and decision making. Such leadership behavior distorts and destroys the very teamwork and community relationships that the leader aspires to achieve. (p. 100)

This distortion resides first in the assumption that there is only one kind of servant leadership: that which is expressed in an individualist, egalitarian vision of social life. Most of the Westerners on these Thai multicultural teams have embraced the individualist, egalitarian vision and define servant leadership in terms that fit their social values. They are free to do what they “feel called” to do and to “fulfill their dreams.” They do not bring to the table a commitment to relationship over self-fulfillment or a willingness to submit to others with a priority for unity. They do not see building trust in covenant community as a greater priority than their ministry focus and calling. They assume that “exercising my gifts,” and “doing ministry tasks” are more important than “being the body of Christ.” (p. 100)

I think what we should consider here is not only that there are different forms of leadership, but also what a Christ-centred leadership truly looks like from a biblical perspective. In other words, is our leadership shaped by an individualistic culture? Or is it community-focussed and shaped by Christ’s self-giving way of life?


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