Having already established postmodernism’s aversion to authority and organizational truth, how is a church leader meant to function? Robert Clinton, professor at Fuller Theological Seminary, defines a Christian leader as a person “with God-given capacity and God-given responsibility to influence specific groups of God’s people toward His purposes for the group.”1 Accepting this definition, we see that postmoderns will see leaders in ways that we find unfamiliar.
Wise Christian leaders will take this opportunity to lead by example, not appealing to organizational authority or church position but engaging individuals in a way that Jesus did when He referred to His disciples as friends (John 15:15).
We also need to recognize not to follow leadership models from politics or government. Jesus referenced such “lording” it over others and told His disciples very clearly “it shall not be so among you” (Matt. 20:26).
Nelson Mandela affirmed self-effacing leadership when he said, “It is better to lead from behind and to put others in front, especially when you celebrate victory when nice things occur. You take the front line when there is danger. Then people will appreciate your leadership.”2
So what are some postmodern leadership traits? Such leaders
- are shaped by God,
- show that they are called by God,
- are contextually appropriate,
- have courage forged by faith,
- exhibit competence arising out of gifting and experience,
- creatively express the nature of God,
- share God’s compassion as expressed in love for others,
- demonstrate confidence in walking the path of faith.
Postmodern leaders reveal leadership based on Christian wisdom, following and promoting the example of Jesus. In the words of Jesus, “ ‘If any of you wants to be my follower, you must put aside your selfish ambition, shoulder your cross daily, and follow me. If you try to keep your life for yourself, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for me, you will find true life’ ” (Luke 9:23, 24, NLT). This should be our model, and if followed, will help prevent the problems of self getting in the way, so often a challenge in leadership.
For even though we look for the right attributes, our main goal is to help others know Christ. What matters is that people fall in love with our loving Lord and come to trust Him as their dearest and closest Friend. Introducing Jesus as Friend, then, is the true work of the Christian leader, with all that this means.
One of Christianity’s leaders, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, said, “Be natural; forget yourself; be so absorbed in what you are doing and in the realisation of the presence of God, and in the glory and the greatness of the Truth that you are preaching, and the occasion that brings you together . . . that you forget yourself completely. That is the right condition; that is the only place of safety; that is the only way in which you can honor God. Self is the greatest enemy of the preacher, more so than in the case of any other man in society. And the only way to deal with self is to be so taken up with, and so enraptured by, the glory of what you are doing, that you forget yourself altogether.”3
The calling to lead is still there. God still calls men and women to lead His followers. But remember, it can work only if you are truly committed and humble before God. How do you know? John Quincy Adams, the sixth president of the United States (1825–1829), gives this simple test: “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.”4 As we inspire people for God, we are leaders in His cause.
1 Robert J. Clinton, The Making of a Leader: Recognizing the Lessons and Stages of Leadership Development (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 1988), 74.
2 “Nelson Mandela Quotes,” Think Exist, accessed December 17, 2013, http://thinkexist.com/quotation/it_is_better_to_lead _from_behind_and_to_put/144649.html.
3 Seach Quotes, accessed December 17, 2013, www.searchquotes. com/quotation/Be_natural%3B_forget_yourself%3B_be_so _absorbed_in_what_you_are_doing_and_in_the _realisation_of_the_pres/.
4 “John Quincy Adams Quotes,” Think Exist, accessed December 17,
2013, http://thinkexist.com/quotation/if_your_actions _inspire_others_to_dream_more/339093.html.