Leadership Letters
Leadership Letters

Writings on Christian leadership and leader development by Malcolm Webber

October 2007
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Addressing the Current Leader Development Crisis #4

Malcolm WebberMalcolm Webber

A New Paradigm

Our last two Letters set forth several significant paradigm changes regarding leader development that are necessary to deal with the crises of quantity and quality of church leaders around the world. These paradigm shifts are:

  1. A new goal – the healthy Christian leader, not just academic achievement.
  2. A new process – holistic development, transformation and not just information.
  3. Intentional design – a collage of diverse learning experiences, not simply perpetuating traditional courses while teaching (lecturing) as we were taught.
  4. Leaders building leaders – leaders taking personal responsibility for leader development, rather than only fulfilling ministry responsibilities themselves while delegating leader development to others.
  5. Churches building leaders – the primary unit of leader development is the local church or cluster of churches, and not a disconnected academic institution.
  6. Church planting through leader development – the emphasis on building leaders must be raised to the same level of priority and focus if we are to plant and grow sustainable churches.
  7. The centrality of the Person of Jesus Christ in Christian leadership. Union with Christ, the cross, suffering, holiness and dependency on the Holy Spirit (John 15:4-5) must be at the center of all our leader development. The Person of Jesus Christ is the Beginning and the End of all Christian leadership and leader development.

It is clear that these all require significant changes of thinking – or, paradigm shifts.

Fundamental Questions

As Christians, we must ask the most important question: “What is the biblical paradigm of leader development?” – that is, if we really do submit to the authority of the Scriptures!

Our primary concern should not be, “How have we been doing it in the past?” or even, “What do we do with all the non-biblical institutions we have created?” But, rather, we should ask: “How did Jesus, and Paul, build leaders?” and, “Are we doing it the same way?”

Clearly, both Jesus and Paul introduced entirely new paradigms of leader development in their days.

When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus. (Acts 4:13)

The religious leaders, who had very clear educational approaches, judged (and demeaned) Peter and John as “unschooled.”

Yet, this was after Peter and John had completed their three years of training by Jesus! Evidently, whatever it was that Jesus did in the way of training and education, it was very different from what the religious leaders of His day were used to or even considered valid “schooling”!

The disciples had been built – the religious leaders were astonished at their courage and authority – but it had not been in the traditional ways. Jesus had instructed His disciples in a very complex and thorough spiritual, relational and experiential context:

…they took note that these men had been with Jesus. (Acts 4:13)

This should not surprise us, since Jesus Himself was not known for His formal, traditional scholarship:

Not until halfway through the Feast did Jesus go up to the temple courts and begin to teach. The Jews were amazed and asked, “How did this man get such learning without having studied?” Jesus answered, “My teaching is not my own. It comes from him who sent me.” (John 7:14-16)

The Jews knew that Jesus had not “studied”; He had not completed their regular education. Yet, from His inner union with the Father, He spoke with accuracy, authority, power and life.

Paul, also, had a very different approach to leader development. When he left Titus on the island of Crete, his instruction was to:

…straighten out what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town… (Tit. 1:5)

This is stunning! Paul told Titus to appoint leaders from among people who could not possibly have received any formal Christian theological education. Yet, he considered them qualified to lead and even to teach:

He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it. (Tit. 1:9)

Unlike Jesus, Paul had received formal training in the educational systems of his day:

… I myself have reasons for such confidence. If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; (Phil. 3:4)

However, like Jesus, Paul did not consider traditional education as sufficient, or even relevant, for qualification as a Christian leader:

But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ – the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead. (Phil. 3:7-11)

Please do not misunderstand these words. These biblical observations do not endorse ignorance. Neither do they negate the need for intentional leader development, including sound biblical instruction. The point is simply that as they built leaders, neither Jesus nor Paul used the elaborate, formal educational approaches that we have become used to. Neither did they consider completion of such education as mandatory for “qualification” as a Christian leader.

Jesus, Paul and other biblical leaders certainly did build leaders, but they did it differently. A simple reading of the Scriptures will reveal that they were thinking according to a different paradigm.

If we are to address the leadership crises we face around the world, we need to think about leader development in new ways – or, should we say, old ways.

Our next Letter will continue to study the paradigm shift of leader development.

Comments 1
  • Georgia Simpson
    Posted on

    Georgia Simpson Georgia Simpson

    Reply Author

    Execellent re New Testament premise for building leadership. There is an urgent need to get this out to churches across the globe in the ‘Age of Academia’.

    The absence of this center piece is stiffling church growth and turning souls away from the Kingdom of God.