Leadership & Eschatology

I have often struggled with how biblical the concept of leadership within the life of the church. Leadership is something so many people talk about in the church, and it has so many dimensions to it, that it is often confusing and frustrating because you just have too many things to remember.

On top of the “how to” of leadership advice, you also have different practical aspects. What John Piper does at Bethlehem as a leader is not necessarily the same thing that Tim Keller does at Redeemer, nor would either one of those situations be the same thing that a pastor does at a small church in a rural environment.

Several months ago I read Matt Perman’s post “What Does a Leader Do?” Matt recognizes this problem and seeks to present a possible solution. He  explains that one of the best definitions of leadership is from Marcus Buckingham in his book The One Thing You Need to Know: … About Great Managing, Great Leading, and Sustained Individual Success. Buckingham says, “Great leaders rally people to a better future.”

Here is the long quote from Buckingham emphasizing the future-oriented nature of leadership:

The two key words in this definition are “better future.” What defines a leader is his preoccupation with the future. In his head he carries a vivid image of what the future could be, and this image drives him on. This image, rather than, say, goals of outperforming competitors, or being individually productive, or helping others achieve success, is what motivates the leader.

Don’t misunderstand. An effective leader might also be competitive, achievement oriented, and a good coach. But these are not the characteristics that make him a leader. He is a leader if, and only if, he is able to rally others to the better future he sees. (The One Thing You Need to Know, pp 59-60.)

Just as Matt said in his post, this definition immediately clarified several things for me regarding the essential nature of leadership. Here is how I would say it: the different leadership models seem to lack a biblical and eschatological focus. What makes this short definition helpful for a pastor is this eschatological emphasis.

This is helpful when considering someone like the Apostle Paul. By leadership standards, Paul wasn’t very good. He had churches that failed, he offended people, he wasn’t always a team player, etc., etc. But what he did was provide the church with an important vision of the future, whether he was in Rome, Corinth, or any other city, he always had an eschatological focus to his message that was part of the very nature of the gospel.

I have never felt that Paul (or Peter or John or Jesus for that matter) fit the typical leadership mold that has been popular with the rise of CEOs and Business structures within the life of the church. But when we see leadership from this eschatological perspective, it makes sense. Peter, Paul, John, and all the writers of Scripture bring about a better sense of the future. With this eschatological view of leadership, even someone like the Old Testament prophets are good leaders in spite of prophesying destruction. In their message, they were pointing to what is ultimate, what is final, what would last.

Although that kind of eschatological optimism will be expressed differently on a small scale in the South at a small church as we try to figure out what the next 20 years in our church will look like, the basic principle is the same because of the gospel. Leadership is then highlighted as an important task in the church for all pastors without turning the Bible into some kind of “leadership manual.”

2 thoughts on “Leadership & Eschatology”

  1. James,

    When I did my DMin. we did a seminar in England. I remember we had dinner with New Testament scholar Dr. Bruce Winter at Cambridge. During the course of the meal our professor said something about the Bible and leadership.

    I remember Dr. Winter looking up very nicely and saying in that wonderful accent, “Well, you know, the Bible doesn’t talk about ‘leadership.'”

    It was very quiet and our professor said, “Well, I think there are a lot of leadership principles in the Bible.”

    To which Dr. Winter kindly smiled at us Americans and then resumed eating without further comment.

    I’m NOT offering that to make a point. I’m just saying (a) that I’ll never forget that silence and the sound of screeching brakes that went off in my head when he said that and (b) that I’ve wrestled with his statement 5 years now. It was interesting and provocative and fascinating, that statement of his.


  2. I think Winter was right. The Bible doesn’t talk about leadership. The way we read “principles” of leadership into the Bible is a recent invention. And that is why I found that central point about leadership providing hope so important. Thanks for the story Wyman.

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