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Truth to power

10 April 2012

Here is a passionately argued challenge, says Mike Starkey

Fear and Trust: God-centred leadership
David Runcorn

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IF WE want to build healthy churches, the key place to start is by training effective and visionary leaders. So say some influential voices in today’s Church. Many theological colleges and dioceses now routinely offer training on leadership; the UK’s Church Pastoral Aid Society has reshaped itself around training and resourc­ing leadership; the Willow Creek Association’s annual Global Leader­ship Summit draws hundreds of thousands of church leaders to its telecasts.

Others are uneasy at this develop­ment, concerned about the un­critical importing of inappropriate leadership models into the Church. In this latter camp is David Run­corn, best known as the author of a number of popular books on spir­ituality. “After all,” he asks, “wasn’t Israel supposed to be a sign of a dif­ferent way among the nations? And isn’t the Church, too, called to model a different way of doing things?”

Runcorn builds his case around a series of profiles from the First and Second Books of Samuel, a period of biblical history when questions of leadership were most to the fore.

He draws parallels between Israel’s demand for a leader as the other nations had, and the call in today’s Church for leaders skilled in the techniques of business and management. In both cases, the cry for strong leadership is the insecure product of an anxious era and, in both cases, it sits in tension with living under the rule of God.

Throughout 1 and 2 Samuel, he says, the official leaders of the people, such as Eli the priest and Saul the king, consistently show themselves inadequate to the task of good leadership, while figures in the margins of the story, those excluded from power and status, model a wiser vision and more godly path. Women in the narrative who weep (Hannah’s tears over her own child­lessness, those of Rizpah over the dead sons of Saul) challenge our assumptions about where true power and significance lie in the eyes of God.

This is a passionate polemic, critical of what the author perceives as the contemporary “pressure to know, to be in control, to have the answers”. Instead, Runcorn em­phasises the value of disciplines such as waiting, listening, and not knowing. So can today’s Church learn nothing at all from the best insights of leadership theory? Read­ers in search of a balanced, measured response to that question will need to look elsewhere.

The Revd Mike Starkey is the Vicar of Llanidloes and Llangurig, and the author of Ministry Rediscovered (BRF, 2011).

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