One of the ways in which Christians develop a particular understanding of “Christian” leadership is through a study of biblical characters.
A quick look suggests that the following names are often in or near the top 10 of favorites: Abraham, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, Deborah, Gideon, Solomon, David, Daniel, Esther, Nehemiah, Jesus, Peter and Paul.
I guess it might depend on the type of “leadership” that one might want to talk about as to whom you might choose.
Nehemiah is a great favorite for churches involved in building projects, for example.
In turn, a quick Internet search indicates that there are four, five, 10 and even 12 things, principles or characteristics that we can learn from Nehemiah.
Of course, none of these characters in the Bible is presented in books titled “A Guide to Effective Leadership,” and we have to deduce from the biblical narratives the leadership principles and practices that each person embodies.
In turn, the fact that we might choose a character to develop an understanding of leadership suggests that we already have an understanding of leadership in mind that they can, as it were, “illustrate.”
So some biblical views on leadership derived from biblical characters are, therefore, nothing more than general views on leadership illustrated from a text.
I recently suggested at a Christian leadership conference in Norway that the Good Samaritan of Luke 10:25-37 was an example of Christian leadership.
People seemed a little surprised. Why did I not choose someone like Nehemiah?
Using the general method that can be used of biblical characters, I suggested that I could defend my choice because the Samaritan illustrates many of the qualities and characteristics we might look for in good leaders.
The Samaritan fulfills these general leadership principles in at least eight ways:
- He is influential – to this day, people talk about others being a Good Samaritan, but seldom an effective Nehemiah.
- He sees what needs done.
- He is willing to take risks.
- He gets things done.
- He can manage resources.
- He works with others to accomplish his goal.
- He has a strategy for the future.
- He demonstrates self-care.
I did not, however, choose him for any of these reasons. Rather, for Jesus, the Samaritan embodied three qualities that made his life significant, inspiring and exemplary:
- His life was lived at the crossroads of loving God and loving neighbor – not an idea that appears in many books on leadership.
- He was a non-typical choice – a central point in the story.
- He was compassionate rather than good. The Samaritan is never described as good in the story – the lawyer, priest and Levite are the good people in the story.
For me at least, this brings a bit of a different perspective on “Christian” leadership.
Stuart Blythe is rector of International Baptist Theological Study Centre in Amsterdam, Netherlands. A version of this article first appeared on his blog, Politurgy, and is used with permission. You can follow him on Twitter @StuartMBlythe.
Stuart Blythe is associate professor of the John Gladstone Chair in Preaching and Worship at Acadia Divinity College, Nova Scotia.