“Behind it all is surely an idea so simple, so beautiful, so compelling that when — in a decade, a century, or a millennium — we grasp it, we will say to each other, how could it have been otherwise? How could we have been so blind for so long?”John Archibalad Wheeler in The Hand of God
What is the simple, beautiful, compelling idea? The quote comes from a book that suggests there is a god beneath all the science we know. As Christians, we know the simple, beautiful and compelling truth is much more profound than that, that we were created by God to enjoy loving relationships. Jesus made it very clear:
Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
So everything else hangs on this one idea of love, including (we can infer) everything to do with leadership. How do we incorporate love into leadership? Let’s turn to biblical-theology for some help.
As individuals, we are made in the image of God. The corollary is that as a community, we are made in the image of the Trinity.
- Being made in the image of God means that we are made to love, because “The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love.” 1 John 4:8
- Being made in the image of the Trinity means that we are made to love, respect and honour one another, just as the three persons of the Trinity do. As one theologian says, “Because all human beings are created in the image of God, the perfect community of love in God’s inner relationships are the foundation for all social ethics. Presence, reciprocity, giving, receiving and returning define the deep law of structure of both divine and human life.” (Donald Faris, “The Trinity as our guide” in The Trinity .)
- Also in The Trinity, Andrew Stirling wrote about the community of the Trinity being a role model for humanity. God wants us to enjoy the same quality of relationships as the three persons of the Trinity enjoy with each other.
Leaders must therefore love the communities they lead, and care for them just as God loves and cares for the entire human community.
So what does infusing leadership with love look like?
- Loving leadership will be patient and kind, not envious, boastful or proud. It will not dishonour others or be self-seeking. Leaders will not be easily angered nor will they keep a record of wrongs. Leaders will rejoice in the truth, and they will always protect, trust, hope and persevere. Those words from 1 Corinthians 13 are easily written and more difficult to live, and they are challenging in that in the workplace we need standards of performance and accountability for performance, and employment law effectively requires a record of any problems should it come to dismissal. So, leaders need to be wise as to how to meet civil requirements while always living out the godly life that God has called us to. That leads to the next point…
- Leaders need to be immersed in prayer, Bible study and other Christian spiritual practices in order to know God’s mind so well that they have the wisdom to deal with the issues they face in a Christ-honouring way. Returning to the question of meeting civil requirements in a godly way, just as Jesus had to confront his disciples about their lack of performance from time to time, ministry leaders will also need to confront and not gloss over performance issues, but it will be a confrontation based on love and not anger. It will be about looking for a better solution than the one that caused the confrontation. It will be about helping a person give the best performance they are capable of giving or helping them find a job they can perform well. It will be confrontation that honours and respects the other person while challenging the negative issue.
- Loving others surely includes loving Christ’s church and it must also include loving all who are called to vocational ministry (as a subset of loving ‘others’). That means that as leaders we will take into account the effect of our ministry’s actions on other ministries and we will do no harm to other ministries. We will not use their good ideas in competition against them nor will we do anything meant for our good at their cost. We will work together as much as possible to demonstrate Christian love and unity, because as a community we bear the image of the Trinity.
- Loving your staff includes:
- providing for them in terms of fair compensation so they can live reasonably well and providing them the tools they need to do their work (so resourcing your ministry is an important leadership responsibility)
- developing them to be all that God wants them to be in terms of their vocation (so you should have a continuing education budget and a professional development plan for each person)
- developing policies and defining values that support their Christian life in a work context (for instance, some reward systems pit staff members against each other in a competitive environment, or expediency takes priority over what is right). Create a culture supported by policies that supports your staff’s Christian walk.
- respecting staff for their contributions to the ministry (not only for the regular ongoing work they perform, but also for the ideas they contribute). To help them contribute well, make sure you have conveyed the criteria for good contributions, including how you weigh one idea against another. What are you looking for? What are the priorities?
- Of course, in a Trinitarian model all persons have the obligation to love, honour and respect one another, and that includes team members loving, honouring and respecting their team leader! Leaders are just as entitled as staff are to be loved.
I’m sure there is much more to write about love and leadership, but this is enough to prime the pump and get you thinking about it. If you think of any ways to apply the idea of “loving leadership,” please post them below. And if you have other points to add about what loving leadership looks like, please add them too.
Please note that I am using “Loving Leadership” in distinction to “Servant Leadership” or “Visionary Leadership,” not as a replacement but as an additional aspect of leadership. The flip side of this post is that team members should also love their team leaders.
By the way, I found the quote at the top while on retreat at The Sabbath House in The Hand of God: Thoughts and Images Reflecting the Spirit of the Universe, one of the books out on a coffee table. The quote is from a scientist, John Wheeler. The book is full of beautiful pictures from space combined with quotes such as this one from scientists and theologians. The theme is that science and religion can peacefully co-exist.