Transformational Leadership from an Anabaptist/Pietist Perspective: part 3

Posted: April 14, 2011 in Theology

Source of Transformational Leadership

To this point I have focused on the descriptive markings of transformational leadership as exemplified by the life and attitude of Jesus in ministry. Now I move the argument to one of source. Even as theological discussions surrounding the source of Jesus’ power to perform miracles have, especially recently, surrounded the notion of kenosis,[1] so also the question must be posed regarding the source for transformational leadership as practiced in the life of the community.

Surely leadership in and of itself is a natural occurrence among human beings. History bears witness to the many forms of leadership and types of leaders who have arisen and accomplished remarkable things. However, leadership that is dependent upon human ability is destined to fail and prove itself corrupted at least at some level. Transformational leadership as exemplified in the life of Jesus finds its source outside of human ability while it is exercised in cooperation with the human person. In Luke 4:16-19, Jesus made the prophet Isaiah’s words his own as he read in the synagogue, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” While commentators agree that this is the stated purpose for Jesus’ ministry, this passage also implies an empowering source—the Spirit of the Lord.

The Spirit Guides the Ministry

Even as it is the Spirit of the Lord that leads and empowers Jesus in his ministry in Luke’s gospel, so also is the sending of the Spirit upon believers in the Acts of the Apostles the source for transformational leadership among the disciples. The narratives of Acts bear witness to the Spirit guiding the direction of ministry, the nature of ministry, and the message of ministry.

Like the first believers it is the work of the Spirit that guides the direction of ministry so as to fulfill Jesus’ command to be witnesses to him “in Jerusalem, all of Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Throughout Acts the reader encounters the first believers being directed by the Spirit as to where they are to go and in what form of ministry they are to serve. It is an underlying assumption that all believers will serve in some form of ministry to the body. It is the responsibility of each believer to discern in community the direction toward which the Spirit is leading both them and the community. Secondly, as alluded to above, the Spirit is the one who guides the nature of the ministry. In terms of the source of transformational leadership, it is the Spirit that decides what ministry the believing community (and each individual within the community) will have. Thirdly, it is also the Spirit that provides the message and witness the ministry will communicate. The obvious explanation of this third aspect of the Spirit’s leading is that the message will communicate the gospel of Jesus, the Messiah. However, this also pertains to the particulars including the timing of the message. In Acts the message of the first believers was that the Jesus who was crucified has been raised to life and that the invitation to be part of the people of God is extended to all people without prejudice. Over the course of the narrative the particulars of the message change according to the Spirit’s leading, but the content is primarily the gospel of Jesus. The entirety of Acts portrays a people who are led by the Spirit in ministry and that the leading determines the location, the type of ministry to be performed, and the message of ministry.

The Spirit leads in Contrast to the Law and Condemnation

Paul’s letter to the Romans also speaks of the Spirit’s leading. In Romans 8:1-17 the Spirit’s leading is juxtaposed to the law and condemnation. In this passage, Paul proclaims the freedom from sin and death for those in Christ Jesus. This liberation from the bondage of sin and death is none other than the grace given to those who demonstrate faith in Jesus. While living according to the Law of Moses demonstrated the failure and human inability to live up to it, the Spirit (of life according to Paul) leads to grace, forgiveness, and reconciliation with God. A person who lives according to the Holy Spirit lives in such a way that demonstrates that person’s reconnection to the source of life. This grace reverses the effects of sin and death (which separate human beings from the source of life) and delivers the life of abundance Jesus promised in the gospel of John. What this means is that transformational leaders are led by God’s Spirit to grace-filled living.

Genesis’ creation account portrays God’s creation as a physical manifestation of shalom. God created all things and in particular the earth in a harmonious existence. All things were in whole relationship with each other and God. It is in this state of rightness that the first human beings had access to the source of eternal life (the Tree of Life) and it was when they disobeyed that the shalom was broken and they were removed from that source. In the break, human relationship with God was breached as is the relationship between human beings as they blame others (Gen. 3). In addition the relationship between humans and the environment was also broken. Suddenly rather than shalom, the human experience of life was one of enmity (which is symptomatic of sin and death). It was God giving the law which showed the way to relational restoration. Ultimately it made plain human corruption and sinfulness through their inability to live according to it.

It is the Spirit who leads according to the grace of Jesus. Graceful living is the responsive action to the loving divine act of forgiveness. Instead of living dutifully perpetually striving to live according to the Law of Moses, the believer receives the forgiveness given and responds in gratitude by obeying Jesus’ commands to love God and neighbor (especially in accordance with Jesus’ expanded interpretation of loving neighbor). Thus rather than a life of condemnation and judgment, the Spirit filled and led  believer lives lovingly always conscious of the believer’s own dependency upon the grace received through Jesus for the reconciled relationship with God and thus extends that same grace to others (thus the continual extension of Abraham’s blessing). It is by the leading of the Spirit in this way that leadership becomes transformational.

When believers have submitted themselves to the leading of the Spirit where they live as described above, these believers begin to experience the life that only comes through Jesus. This is the life of abundance. This is not so much a description of possessions and resources as it is of relationships. In 2 Cor. 5:18-19, Paul describes God restoring the broken relationship between human beings and the divine. Yet it is not so simple to separate this relationship from the co-relationships shared among humanity. Therefore, as an expression of God’s reconciling work with the world, believers are made ambassadors of reconciliation for the purpose of extending the news of this work to all people. The Spirit, then leads to and works toward the recreation of God’s shalom through the transformation of the believing community. Ultimately, from a believing community that follows the leading of the Spirit, this community bears spiritual fruit (see Galatians 5:22-26): love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

Transformational leadership recognizes its full dependency upon the Holy Spirit. Even as the Spirit leads these communities, the Spirit is also the source of its power to lead and minister transformationally. In Luke 4, Jesus reads the prophet Isaiah in the synagogue. Even as it was for Jesus in his reading, which points to the Spirit’s abiding presence for the empowerment of a specific purpose, so also is it for the believing community to rely upon the Spirit of God for empowerment.


[1] Kenosis is the theological concept which argues that in the incarnation the Son emptied himself of the rights of his divinity in order to become flesh. Thus Jesus relies upon the power of the Spirit for the signs and wonders of his ministry. It is essential to understand the workings of this in a Trinitarian manner as the dynamic interrelationship of the Father, Son and Spirit work cooperatively in coeternal relationship. For a fuller discussion of this, see, Michael J. Gorman, Inhabiting the Cruciform God: Kenosis, Justification, and Theosis in Paul’s Narrative Soteriology, (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2009).

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