Friday, December 30, 2011

Passionate Visionary: Leadership Lessons from the Apostle Paul

Having worked through books about David, Saul, and Moses as models for organizational leadership, I find myself now chugging my way through an assessment of the leadership style and approach of the Apostle Paul.  The book, entitled Passionate Visionary: Leadership Lessons from the Apostle Paul, was written by Dr. Richard Ascough and Dr. Charles Cotton, respectively a Professor of New Testament and a leadership consultant hailing from Canada's Royal Military College.
Entering into the book, the concern puttering about in the recesses of my subconscious was that it would shoehorn Paul into a box of current leadership literature, or misrepresent the core of authentic Pauline theology.  Neither of those fears proved justified.  With the input of both authors, the book moved seamlessly between the world of contemporary organizational dynamics and Paul's teaching and sociocultural context.

I particularly appreciated the decision of the authors to focus on the seven undisputed letters of Paul, and to leave the pastorals and the other deutero-Pauline letters out of the assessment of Paul's impact on the Jesus movement.  In doing so, Ascough and Cotton present a more accurately nuanced picture of Paul in all his bright, ferocious complexity.

In reading through this well-structured and conceptualized book, a few key features leapt out.

The end of chapter "questions for reflection" were actually rather engaging.  This is not always the case in  but I found myself consistently meditating on how and in what ways my own experience of leadership were reflected in the themes from the chapter.  In chapter fifteen, for instance, the reflections on the honor/shame dynamics that can stifle authentic conversation in communities resonated strongly.  Having recently left a ministry that was deeply influenced by the honor/shame dynamics of Korean culture, I found the assessment of those influences (standing in opposition to the Christ-centered freedom encouraged by Paul) to be accurate.

I found myself powerfully resonating to the chapter on the "bottom line" for Paul.  Keying off of the soaring hymn to love in 1 Corinthians 13, and echoing off of other core Pauline texts, the authors accurately present love of other as absolutely central to Pauline theology.  By extension, this is also the bottom line in Paul's approach to leadership, and the core measure by which anyone in leadership needs to be assessed.  As Ascough and Cotton put it:
Vision counts for nothing without compassion, charisma fades without it, and all the spin doctors in the world produce meaningless words if the leader does not connect with followers in a caring, compassionate way. (p.146)
This measure, I think, gets to the core of what is most vital and life-giving in organizational leadership, whether it be in a congregational context or, quite frankly, in any gathering of human beings.

Finally, the emphasis on Pauline "chaordic" leadership...meaning leadership that embraces, directs, and empowers the generative character of human communities...was also resonant, although it was not clear as I was reading it whether or not this was simply because I grok to this approach.

Ultimately, this was a solid, well-developed, and readable work, rooted strongly in both organizational literature and the theology of one of the most influential individuals in the Christian faith tradition.  It's a fine read, both for pastors and for any Jesus folk struggling to see how they might apply some of the core principles of our faith to their life out there in the world.

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