Transformational Leadership from an Anabaptist/Pietist Perspective: part 4

Posted: April 19, 2011 in Theology


In as much as the Spirit leads and the way in which the Spirit leads, transformational leadership is dependent upon the empowerment that comes from submitting to and living in accordance with the Holy Spirit. Repeatedly in the narratives of the Hebrew scriptures the Israelites are delivered or victorious by the power of God’s Spirit. Not only does Abraham receive the divine blessing due to his expression of faith, but he and his descendents overcome tremendous odds because of God’s provisional presence. When Moses is confronted by God on the mountain, God calls him to lead his people to freedom (the promised land). Moses rejects this call in part due to his physical inabilities as well as his fear. God’s repeated assurance to Moses is that “I will be with you” (Ex. 3:12ff).  It is by the empowering presence of God’s Spirit that Moses leads the people of Israel out of Egypt and through the wilderness. Here God is revealed as the source of life and sustenance to the wandering Israelites.  Their only hope is in the power of God to accomplish what God has promised.

With the monarchs the reader finds that it is God’s Spirit by which they are able to reign. When Saul uses a medium to summon Samuel rather than trusting God, God removes his Spirit from him and the narrative is clear in telling the resulting demise of Saul’s reign. In another narrative, after David sins (adultery with Bathsheba and killing Uriah), his confession reveals fear that God would remove his Spirit from him (Ps. 51:11). David did not wish to end his reign as Saul but sought to be faithful through repentance. The historical narratives of Israel outline the reign of kings and the character of their reigns. For those who are faithful, God’s presence is evident and for those who are disobedient there is a distinct absence.

Through the prophets God comforts his people with the promise of his presence. It is here that God is revealed as “Immanuel,” especially in their second exodus back from exile. Moreover, God promises through the prophet Joel that one day God would pour out his Spirit “upon all flesh” (Joel 2:28-29) as a special empowerment and manifestation of his presence. It is the Christian belief that this promise is fulfilled on the day of Pentecost in the upper room (Acts 2). The New Testament portrays the fulfillment and power of God’s promised presence. In Luke’s gospel it is clear that Jesus ministers to the marginalized of society by the power of the Spirit.

There is no place where the empowerment of the Spirit is more evident upon the believing community in scripture than in Acts 4. Having faced persecution by the religious leaders, Peter and John are released from custody and the early believers responded gathering and praying a remarkable prayer. Following the harsh treatment of Peter and John by the council, the reader anticipates a prayer for protection. However, to the contrary the community reminds God of the injustice that is occurring and the threats being spoken against the messiah and his followers. Instead they pray that they would speak his word with all boldness (Acts 4:29). God responds by pouring out his Spirit upon the community. Luke’s narrative description of the event leaves little question as to the effects of God’s renewed presence. He says, “The place in which they were gathered together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God with boldness.” Transformational leadership does not merely recognize the empowerment of God’s Spirit, but it is dependent upon the Spirit’s life giving power for the effective exercise of ministry.

This is not to say that a believer practicing transformational leadership relies upon some obscure intuitive “feeling” for guidance. There is clear danger in mistaking emotional responses as the leading and empowering of God’s Spirit. The underlying assumption is always the role of the believing community in the discernment process. Spiritual discernment takes place in conversation with other believers. Even as the Christian faith professes God’s Spirit having been poured out upon all believers, it then is equally implicit that it is by means of brothers and sisters in Christ that the Spirit most directly ministers to the individual. Thus even though the Spirit indwells the believer empowering and leading in ministry, it is in the context of the believing community that giftedness and direction are discerned. Therefore, the Spirit of God is the source of empowerment for transformational leadership and as such the believer requisitely relies upon the Spirit for this empowerment in the context of the believing community.

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