The Transformational Leadership of Prophets: A RANT

Written by Mark Van Steenwyk : May 16, 2006

In my OT course (which is my final class at seminary!) we are reading
through the prophets.  Every week we have to evaluate our reading from the
OT.  One of the questions is: "in which way does X demonstrate
transformational leadership?"  The way most denominational leaders
and ministry professors evaluate leaders is by their outcome.  Whenever
one privileges outcome too highly, faithfulness usually loses out to success.
The church growth movement itself points to growth as a sign of faithfulness.
Obviously, the prophets were pretty faithful and blessed, but few listeners
caught on to their message. Jesus himself was more of a "prophetic"
leader than a "transformational" leader. In fact, the only reason
that the numbers came in Jesus’ ministry was because he rose from the dead and
poured out his Spirit. Unless we too, have this strange power, we shouldn’t be
too quick to look at him for a model of "success", unless, of course,
our definition of success is faithfulness.

Jesus "sucked" as a leader of a large group. People followed him in a
mostly marginal way. And when he got a large following (who were mostly around
because he did miracles), he was intensely NOT seeker sensitive.  He told
them dumb things like "eat his flesh and blood." The truth is, we
build our own 21st century version of what it means to be a leader out of the
scraps of consumer capitalism and western rugged individualism and then we
anachronistically delve into the Gospels to see the ways in which Jesus fits
our model of leadership. Jesus’ leadership had VERY LITTLE to do with
technique. It had more to do with his love, his miraculous deeds, and his
spiritual depth. He listend to the Spirit.  He did what he saw his father
doing.  We shouldn’t emulate his encounter with the woman at the
well.  We should follow the same Spirit that led Jesus to that

In the end, as we read in Acts, he was rejected like every other prophet. That
is his legacy. Instead of trying to follow in Jesus’ footsteps, why are we so
eager to make Jesus follow in ours?   A few years ago, I was told in
a preaching class not to preach James 4 in such a way that was too challenging.
I was told to make the following verses ENCOURAGING, since preaching is
supposed to be about gathering seekers:

4You adulterers! Don’t
you realize that friendship with this world makes you an enemy of God? I say it
again, that if your aim is to enjoy this world, you can’t be a friend of God. 5What do you think the Scriptures
mean when they say that the Holy Spirit, whom God has placed within us,
jealously longs for us to be faithful?   6He gives us more and more strength to stand against
such evil desires. As the Scriptures say,   
    "God sets himself against the proud,
       but he shows favor to the humble."
7So humble yourselves
before God. Resist the Devil, and he will flee from you.   8Draw close to God, and God will
draw close to you. Wash your hands, you sinners; purify your hearts, you

I was told that the challenge should come via small groups or discipleship
class.  That way, people can come and explore our faith before they are
challenged too much.

So, leader.  If you want to follow Jesus’ "model" for
leadership, be a prophet.  You may gather a crowd for a while, but in the
end, you will suffer and possibly die alone.  That is the burden of
prophets.  If you’d rather gather a happy crowd and spoon feed them
spirituality according to their comfort level, be a transformational leader.   

for further reading . . .

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10 Responses to “The Transformational Leadership of Prophets: A RANT”

  1. russ on May 16th, 2006 4:48 pm

    My youth leader is high school told me that a good preacher should always be on the brink of being run out of town.

    I think Jesus also must have believed this.

  2. Bob Evans on May 16th, 2006 5:16 pm

    Yes. That’s what I’m talkin’ ’bout! I think there is something both prophetic and transformational in what you say.

  3. shane on May 16th, 2006 9:24 pm

    love it…love it…
    preach it preacher man!

  4. b-nut on May 17th, 2006 9:25 am

    I have a similar rant–glad you expressed it so well. In my first response to that class requirement I even stated that I have no idea what transformational leadership is…or how to find it in the prophets. I have just been making up stuff ever since.

    Jesus and the prophets do not fit any paradigm of transformational leadership that I have heard of…the whole concept makes me a disgruntled student. I thought it was a bizzar question to see on a worksheet about the prophets…

  5. JVD on May 17th, 2006 9:51 am

    YOu can’t find leadership in Nehemiah?

  6. Chris on May 17th, 2006 10:35 am

    Of course anyone can find “leadership” in Nehemiah, but if that’s going to have any relationship to what Mark has just posted, the question should be, “Does the transformational leadership paradigm fit the character of Nehemiah?” He may possibly be the closest fit for such a paradigm, but I just think the whole endeavor is kind of like trying to fit the same pair of blue jeans on any person you can find.

  7. JVD on May 17th, 2006 10:57 am

    Ok, well then you can find leadership in Nehemiah. Leadership gets trashed so easily, but when we look at the bible, there are clear cases where people get behind a leader and move forward.

  8. JVD on May 17th, 2006 10:59 am

    Much like how a seminary professor is excited about a house church movement, and then students rally around the house church movement - just as a thought…

  9. Van S on May 17th, 2006 11:06 am

    I have no problems with leadership. I just have a problem with the way we think leadership should look like. Our modern categories for leadership are inadequate and too results oriented. That is my critique. Leadership is complex and varied. We should be more nuanced and pneumatological in our understanding of church leadership. I hope I don’t come off as ripping on leadership…that wasn’t my intent.

  10. JVD on May 17th, 2006 2:40 pm

    Mark - I agree with you on what leadership should look like, as you know - I believe in a team leadership model that utilizes individual strengths & giftings to benefit the whole. It is the overall critique on any leadership study that gets me. JVD

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