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Who should Christian leaders look like: the Wizard of Oz or Dorothy of Kansas?

Brian McLaren reflected on this question in his book, “Adventures in Missing the Point,” co-authored with Tony Campolo.

“I remembered the scene … when Toto pulls back the curtain to reveal that the great Wizard of Oz is a rather normal guy hiding behind an imposing image,” McLaren wrote. “And it struck me that by exposing the Wizard as a fraud, the film was probing an unexpressed cultural doubt, giving voice to a rising misgiving … with its dominant model of larger-than-life leadership.”

As a result, McLaren urged Christians to set aside the “Wizard of Oz” leadership model, which he felt was far too common, and to look for the Dorothy model, which was more like biblical leadership.

Initially, you might feel the Bible provides a good catalog of leaders from which to choose.

In the Hebrew Scriptures there are Abraham and Sarah, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph, Moses and Aaron, Deborah and King David, Elisha and Hosea. In the Christian Scriptures, we could mention Peter, James, John, Mary Magdalene and Paul.

What seems like a good list becomes problematic upon closer inspection.

Abraham passed his wife off as his sister on multiple occasions to save his own life (Genesis 12:10-20). Sarah forced Abraham to banish their poor, helpless servant, Hagar, and her son, Ishmael, from their camp because she didn’t like her (Genesis 16).

Isaac, Jacob and Joseph all had personality issues. Isaac was too gullible (Genesis 27), Jacob was too crafty (Genesis 25:19-27,40) and Joseph had a tendency to brag (Genesis 37).

Moses could not speak very well and had next to no self-confidence (Exodus 3-4) while Aaron did not have much of a “backbone” when it came to dealing with demanding, misguided people (Exodus 32).

Deborah and David wrote songs rejoicing over the destruction of fellow human beings (Judges 5 and Psalm 109). David also slept with another man’s wife and when she turned up pregnant, he tried to cover it up by arranging for the man to be killed in battle (2 Samuel 11).

Elisha called down bears to devour a few youths who had mocked him for being bald (2 Kings 2), and Hosea was married to a prostitute (Hosea 1:2).

When we turn to the Christian Scriptures, we learn that the earliest followers of Jesus didn’t fare much better.

For fear of losing his reputation, maybe even his life, Peter denied he knew Jesus and cursed the final time to emphasize the point (Mark 14:71).

James and John wanted to call down fire to destroy a village simply because they refused to let them pass through on their way to Jerusalem (Luke 9:51-56).

Mary Magdalene had been possessed by seven demons (Mark 16:9; Luke 8:2) while Paul had persecuted the earliest Christians and few would feel comfortable describing themselves as Paul does in Romans 7:14-20.

If you did not know the names of these individuals from the above descriptions, how many search committees would consider them to be good candidates for their pastoral or deacon ministry?

By many standards popular today, this list would prove rather dismal. If we were hoping for strong, confident, flawless, fully capable and collected individuals to lead us, we should probably look elsewhere. So was McLaren wrong and we should seek leaders like the Wizard of Oz?

It seems that the local church has derived its leadership model – despite the biblical witness and the myriad books and articles about “servant leadership” – from the corporate world that remains attracted to “Wizard of Oz” leadership.

As a result, churches often look for leaders who have it all together, know all the answers and have no known “baggage” while being perfectly competent and extremely confident in their abilities.

Weakness, vulnerability and confession of shortcoming (or, more positively, “growth points”) are treated with disdain or used against the leader by those who dislike him or her.

Nevertheless, the “Wizard of Oz” leadership is a mirage, which is why I believe McLaren is right in asserting that the local church needs “Dorothys” as its leaders and guides because in them we encounter people who:

â— Can help us live with and embrace the unanswerable questions of life.

â— Will empathize with us rather than continually criticize.

â— Choose to listen before they speak.

â— Are humble enough to admit that they do not know everything.

â— Are contrite enough to confess and repent when they have erred.

â— Avoid stereotyping, realizing that everyone is unique.

â— Refuse to exploit their power to control others.

â— Journey in solidarity rather than superiority.

If the Bible is our guide in selecting leaders, we will look for the honest, humble, ordinary, “run-of-the-mill” people like Dorothy, who know their limitations and admit their mistakes, because these are the leaders that God has continually used to change the world.

Zach Dawes is the managing editor for EthicsDaily.com. You can follow him on Twitter @ZachDawes_Jr.

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