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The chief of their tribes    

04 November 2016

Anthony Phillips looks at biblical models for wise leadership

The Gift of Leadership: According to the scriptures

Steven Croft

Canterbury Press £9.99

(978-1-84825-865-5)

Church Times Bookshop £9

 

THE Bishop of Oxford’s book is not primarily for clergy, but for all Christians engaged in the difficult and complex task of leadership. He examines ten passages from the Hebrew scriptures to identify what they can tell us about leadership.

Behind each meditation is the author’s own model, in which he divides leadership into four areas: watching over myself; working
with individuals and teams; guiding and guarding a community; leadership in the wider world. Some of the ensuing studies are about one of these areas, some about the relationship between all four. Frequent reference is made to the New Testament, in which Jesus is seen as fulfilling his leadership role as servant.

The passages selected cover a wide range of scripture. The story of Rehobam’s accession is used both positively and negatively for taking up a new position. It is followed by Psalm 23, in which the image of the shepherd describes the proper nature of leadership as one of tending and tenderness, but also of being able to rely on God’s care oneself.

Ezekiel’s vision of the river of life flowing from the temple illustrates that ultimately the message of a Christian leader must be one of hope. Steven Croft uses Elijah’s flight from Ahab as an example of how to deal with fear and pain, an inevitable experience in leadership. The appointment at Jethro’s suggestion of “capable men” to assist Moses shows the necessity for team work as well as the identification of the tasks that the leader must reserve for himself or herself alone.

A proverb recommending a gentle tongue indicates the importance of the leader’s choice of words. They literally effect what is said, and can cause either immense harm or good. Gentleness should characterise them. God’s ordering of chaos at the opening of Genesis illustrates how to deal with the inevitable crises that confront every leader. One needs “to brood” and also have the ability to understand and shape time creatively.

Ruth’s pledge to Naomi to go where she will go provides Croft with an example for that commit­ment that every leader must make to colleagues, and it leads him to discuss mentoring — both receiving and giving; for part of leadership is raising new leaders. The people’s request to Samuel for a king prompts the author to consider how a leader responds to the challenge of change particularly when it involves the part that he or she plays.

Finally, the spying out of the land in Numbers 13 and 14 indicates the essential place of vision for any leader. Indeed, leaders must always concentrate on the vision, as revealed in scripture, of God’s intention for his world.

Croft’s analysis contains much practical common sense — the proper meaning of wisdom in the Hebrew scriptures. But he omits two important aspects of leadership both of which have good biblical precedents: risk, and dealing with failure.

Any leader worth his or her salt will have at some stage to take a risk to carry forward the organisation or project in question. Abraham setting out from Harran provides a good example. And, while success is not difficult to absorb, dealing with failure is a far greater challenge, but can yet prove a hugely significant learning-point, as David shows after his adultery with Bathsheba and the death of Uriah.

 

Canon Anthony Phillips is a former headmaster of The King’s School, Canterbury.

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