Many articles define Christian leadership, list its principles, or explain why it is important. This article digs into the process of Christian leadership and shows how it is done. I begin by describing the steps inherent in Christian leadership and then add two additional steps of discernment and socio-rhetorical criticism to arrive at an interpretation of scripture customized to the organization’s specific challenges.
Our company’s carbon footprint must be reduced to help prevent climate change.
Our organization must take action for the sake of social justice.
Increased diversity in our workforce improves our business performance.
We must eliminate gender inequality.
These statements, and many others like them, are heard frequently in boardrooms and training sessions worldwide. They represent what Schein (2017) describes as the “Espoused Values” of an underlying culture and notes that the person espousing these values may or may not be aware if the espoused values actually produce the outcomes that were expected and hoped for.
The manifestations of any cultural worldview are the actual results or observable outcomes of that worldview, the “Cultural Artifacts,” which remain largely unchallenged so long as they align with the espoused values. Problems arise, however, when the espoused values appear inconsistent or contrary to the observable facts represented by the cultural artifacts (i.e., what if an increase in diversity of a particular workforce negatively impacts business productivity?). Therefore, leaders and leadership teams who wish to affect organizational change must realize that achieving positive outcomes may involve delving deeper into the “Tacit Cultural Assumptions” that govern what individuals and organizations do, and explain why they do it.
This essay will describe an approach that a firm with a Christian worldview can employ to provide the client organization’s leadership team access to a professional-grade scriptural understanding of its specific challenges. This approach will also assist the organization in understanding the degree to which the different worldviews held by its members influence the overall organizational culture and recommend steps that will help the organization achieve its goals.
The Bible as an Option for Cultural Assessment:
For over 2000 years, the Bible has been an organizing source of information that profoundly impacted culture and society. One option for a leader or leadership team facing the laborious process of uncovering and aligning the organization’s espoused values, cultural artifacts, and tacit cultural assumptions may be to understand more clearly what the Bible says about the deeper cultural aspects of the subject being considered. However, in today’s multi-cultural workplaces, this approach is often fraught with ethical perils.
In the Western world from the early middle ages until the end of the seventeenth century, Christianity had so penetrated Western society and culture that even those who rejected the faith considered themselves immoral because they compared their own behaviors to Christian standards of conduct (Sire, 2009). This is no longer the case in the modern global environment where individuals in any large organization may believe any one of (or combination of) dozens of radically different and readily available worldviews. Many people are fearful of overtly expressed Christian ideals and distrust of strong religious believers. This distrust can also be found among those contemporary political philosophers whose liberal values are threatened by people who may prefer revelation over reason and therefore appear to alienate themselves from the rules by which liberal democracy organizers itself (Wolfe, 2003). However, a professional Christian leadership team that is trained and practiced at the critical explanation and interpretation of Biblical texts can provide useful and reliable information about how to apply that knowledge to specific organizational challenges. The approach is not dogmatic; instead, it invites and facilitates a deeper exploration of the other worldviews.
The Christian Leadership Approach
Schema of Questions
The first step in deriving a scriptural understanding of an organization’s specific challenges is for the leadership team to employ schemas, or organized sets of questions. At every step, the leadership team will keep these questions in mind as they interview employees, and they will also pose these questions to themselves. Dillon (2003) proposes a comprehensive classification scheme of questions used to guide action and as a means to enhance the understanding and practice of organized questioning.
Christian Leadership Team Questions
Christian Leadership Team Member
Is the team member competent?
What is the team member's role?
Which traits come into play?
What steps needed to develop as a professional?
Who is the client?
What is the organization like?
What expectations does the client have?
What is the problem? Which one?
What are the features involved?
Where and When?
Why? To what end?
How to act?
What to do?
In what relations with the client?
With which means, resources?
In which manner?
What comes of it?
What are the results?
What is their value? How do you know that?
Adapted from: Dillon, J.T. (2003)
To derive a scriptural understanding of an organization’s specific challenges, the Christian leadership team must add another schema of questions designed to guide them through a process of discernment which Barton (2012) describes as “the capacity to recognize and respond to the presence and activity of God as a leadership group” (p. 11). This function is provided by team members who have been specifically trained in the art of discernment. Barton (2012) describes a series of three steps in the discernment process that would be merged into the schema of questions in Table 1.
Movements in Discernment
Clarify the question for discernment.
Gather the community for discernment.
Affirm (or reaffirm) guiding values and principles.
Putting Ourselves in a Position to be Led
Prayer for indifference.
Test for indifference.
The prayer for wisdom.
The prayer of quiet trust.
Discerning God's Will Together
Listen to what brought the question for discernment.
Listen to each other.
Listen to prominent facts and information.
Silence-create space for God.
Reconvene and listen again.
Select and weigh options.
Seek inner confirmation.
The Will of God
Communicate with those who need to know.
Make plans to do God's will as you have come to understand it.
Adapted from: Barton, R. (2012)
For the Christian leadership approach, it is essential to understand that the task of discernment would fall to the organization’s highly trained team of practitioners skilled in the art. The time and effort it takes to develop talent and ability in this area are exactly what is missing from the organizational decision-making process in today’s highly complex work environments. The desired output of the discernment process would be for the leadership team to agree upon a scriptural pericope that best represents the organization’s specific challenges. This sets the stage for the next phase of the process, the exegesis.
Providing an Exegetical Analysis for the Organization’s Specific Challenge
In Barton’s model of discernment, the assumption is that the Christian organization will move forward with action in what they perceive to be God’s will. However, in a multi-cultural organization, this direct route to action may not always be appropriate. It is almost certain that other members of the organization, who do not share the Christian worldview, will not agree that the discernment findings accurately reflect God’s will. Nevertheless, it is reasonable to expect that most members of an organization would accept that the leadership team can provide authoritative advice about what is written in the Bible about a specified topic. Therefore, instead of creating a situation where people feel that a group of zealous Christian believers is threatening their own values, a much more palatable argument is made: that a group of highly trained Christian specialists can speak with authority that a small extract of a sacred text applies to the current challenge faced by their organization. The exegetical analysis can begin once the leadership team has identified the most appropriate pericope(s) that apply to the organization’s specific issues.
Using the socio-rhetorical criticism approach to sacred text pioneered by Robbins (1996) calls for approaching the pericope of sacred text as though it were a “thickly textured tapestry” (pp.2-4) that can be viewed through up to five of the following different perspectives:
Inner texture analysis: Concerns features configured inside the pericope such as repetition of particular words, the creation of beginning and endings, alternation of speech, and storytelling.
Intertexture analysis: Concerns a text’s configuration regarding what lies outside the text, especially historical, cultural, and oral-scribal references to the pericope in question to other parts of the Bible.
Social and cultural texture analysis: Concerns the capacity of the text to evoke cultural perceptions of dominance, subordination, difference, or exclusion. These are further divided into Specific, Common, and Final cultural categories.
Ideological textural analysis: Concerns the way the text itself and interpreters of the text position themselves in relation to other individuals and groups.
Sacred textural analysis: Concerns the communication about gods, holy persons, spirit beings, divine history, human redemption, human commitment, religious community, and ethics.
Once the exegetical analysis of the relevant pericope is complete, the leadership team prepares the customized findings of its interpretation to the organization’s leadership team and a detailed summary that explains in layman’s terms what the Bible says about the particular challenge or issue the organization is facing. It is crucial for all members of the organization to understand that when this type of analysis is conducted properly that “any analysis or interpretation of a text will yield highly limited insight into the text” (Robbins, 1996, p. 2). The goal of socio-rhetorical criticism is to provide insights that are both intricately sensitive to scriptural detail as well as useful and applicable to the modern world in which we live.
Therefore, because it represents highly detailed and specific insight into a single issue and not a torrent of evangelical exhortations, the exegesis should not be viewed as a polemic discourse that threatens the worldviews of other organization members.
This is not to say that the customized findings are without their own inherent danger to the organization. The detailed scriptural information made possible by this approach would be available for the leadership team to influence any number of organizational activities such as vision, mission, and goal-making and inform the decision-making process. Members of the organization may question why the Christian worldview was selected as a baseline rather than some other worldview. A significant amount of discord could logically be expected to occur when the Christian leadership team provides answers to questions such as these:
What does the Bible say about reducing the carbon footprint and climate change?
What does social justice mean from the perspective of the Christian worldview?
What guidance does Scripture provide in regards to diversity?
What is God’s will in regards to gender equality?
When subjects like these are examined from the Christian worldview perspective, there is often a sense that a cultural taboo has been broken. This is because members of a cross-cultural organization typically interact with others on a superficial and “safe” transactional level (Schein 2017). Daring to clearly and explicitly state the worldview perspective that is being employed immediately takes the interaction to a deeper, more meaningful level. This step is essential if the challenge an organization faces results from a profound underlying cultural tension.
If the challenges organizations face are rooted in the entrenched levels of multi-cultural interaction, it would be irresponsible for the leadership to avoid investigating, seeking to understand, and eventually changing the underlying cultural dimensions that negatively impact organizational performance. These issues will not simply go away if they are ignored. Therefore a reasoned, systematic approach for addressing these concerns is required. Indeed, not having such a system in place would be irresponsible and extremely counterproductive due to the tendency of human beings towards discord in this arena.
Competition between Worldviews
One might imagine a situation where an organization’s leadership team, facing a significant organizational challenge at a deep cultural level, hires three to four different consulting groups with three to four different and competing worldviews. Each would interview the staff and employees, analyze the organization from their unique perspectives, complete their analysis and make competing recommendations back to the leadership team to choose from. In this thought experiment, all consulting teams would have access to the same raw data and present independent findings. This theoretically would eliminate worldview apologist propaganda and polemic attacks against opposing worldviews because each of the consulting teams would be operating independently and provide their recommendations back to the organization at the same time.
As a practical matter, however, it is not reasonable to assume that any organization has a compelling interest in hosting a “contest” between opposing worldviews for the sake of some ideal of fairness. Instead, it is reasonable to expect that an organization would address the issues in a manner aligned with its espoused values and organizational objectives. This specific type of information is available for organizations that hold a Christian worldview. If the leadership team feels it is valuable, then they can most certainly gain access to it.
There is (and ought to be) fierce competition in the realm of cultural worldviews. Christians believe that all truth flows from a single source in Jesus Christ. To the Christian leadership team with the correct combination of training, experience, insight, and talent, the doors are open to providing detailed information about God’s will for any organization, and their findings ought to stand the test of competition against any competing competition worldview. The goal is not propaganda and cultural hegemony; it calls for a level playing field in the contest for ideas.
Barton, R. (2012). Pursuing God’s will Together: A discernment practice for leadership groups. InterVarsity Press. Downers Grove, IL.
Dillon, J. T. (2003). The use of questions in organizational consulting. The Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, 39(4), 438-452.
Robbins, V. K. (1996). Exploring the texture of texts: A guide to socio-rhetorical interpretation. Trinity Press International. Harrisburg, PA.
Schein, E. (2017). Organizational culture and leadership. John Wiley & Sons. Hoboken, NJ.
Sire, James W. (2009). The Universe Next Door: A Basic Worldview Catalog, 5th Edition. IVP Academic. InterVarsity Press. Downers Grove, IL.
Wolfe, A. (2003). The Transformation of American Religion: How We Actually Practice Our Faith. The University of Chicago Press. Chicago.