In his latest post, my friend Greg referred to comments I made recently about the concept of leadership and the Bible. (You can read his comments here.) I remember the conversation, but the comments were casual and off the cuff, so neither of us have quotes to share. Nevertheless, I did tell Greg that I’m beginning to realize that a lot of what we label as leadership theory and practice is empty without the Word of God. Some of it is even contradictory to Biblical values, principles, and living.
This is an emerging paradigm for me, so I confess that I do not have a thorough analysis to present. I can say, though, that what really pushed me over the edge was a book I read recently by a well known Christian author who has a global audience in the leadership arena. The book was a step-by-step strategy for “designing the life you love” and “getting the life you want.”
What struck me as I read the book is that just a few years ago, I would have eagerly and excitedly devoured this book looking for the nuggets I could integrate into my own life as well as how to utilize it in my coaching work. My experience this time was different.
Perhaps God has pulled scales from my eyes, but I clearly saw that the core belief system of that book is humanism—the belief that when you believe in yourself, in your own and others’ goodness, and that you have ability to plan and effect good outcomes, you can achieve anything you want. The book reminded me of classic Norman Vincent Peale quotes such as: Believe in yourself! Have faith in your abilities! Without a humble but reasonable confidence in your own powers you cannot be successful or happy.
That’s so completely contrary to scripture on so many levels! Here is a just a start of what God says about that:
- “The heart is more deceitful than all else And is desperately sick; Who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9)
- ”But you shall remember the LORD your God, for it is He who is giving you power to make wealth…” (Deuteronomy 8:18)
- ”I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13)
- ”I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)
“But, Scott,” you protest, “that’s just one book about developing a life plan. It’s not really about leadership theory or practice.”
Yes, you’re right. It’s fair to point that out, but so much of what I see being passed off as helping leaders be better leaders rests on humanist beliefs. Humanism has so deeply invaded all aspects of our culture that Christians don’t even see it any longer. Humanism has become normalized even in the Christian community.
Am I saying that situational leadership theory and transformational leadership theory and LMX theory (etc.) are all based on humanism and are therefore false?
No, I’m not. In fact, when you study those and other approaches to understanding leadership you will find very helpful insight for all leaders including followers of Christ. Theories, though, are nothing more than an organized approach to understanding a phenomenon. In this case, we’re talking about the phenomenon of leadership.
The problem with the theories comes when we move to the next step of practical application in the creation and use of models for applying those theories. At that level we cannot avoid dealing with what lies in the heart of the leader and of the follower.
What motivates you?
What are your values?
Who or what do you serve?
The answers to these questions drive absolutely every thought we have, every decision we make, every action we perform, and every word from our mouth.
Without a biblical understanding of the heart, effective application of any leadership theory will be severely crippled.
As I said, this is an emerging paradigm for me. I intend to return to this in the near future after I devote more time to studying these issues from a biblical perspective. In the meantime, I welcome your insights and even disagreement on what I’ve said here.
Dr. Scott Yorkovich is a leadership coach and consultant. He works with individuals, small and medium organizations, and ministries. Contact him at ScottYorkovich[at]LeadStrategic.com with your questions.