Raymond L. Wheeler

Musings about leadership

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Leading is an act of reconciliation – or it should be

web version(An excerpt from the book, Change the Paradigm: How to lead like Jesus in Today’s World. Copyright 2015 by Raymond L. Wheeler. Used with Permission)

We sat around tables set up in a conference arrangement, and Professor Elizabeth Conde-Frazier sat just to my right. She paused long enough for me to rest from typing my notes. I realized after some moments that she was not going to restart her lecture immediately. I stretched my hands, repositioned them over the keyboard of my computer, and then glanced around the room. Every eye was aimed my direction. I turned to look at Dr. Conde-Frazier and caught a penetrating gaze. When our eyes met she inquired, “Why are you here?”

The question itself did not strike me as odd for two reasons. First, as a master teacher, she modeled a powerful and effective teaching style. She was a master at transitioning from content to dynamic reflection that refocused and honed our personal experience.

Second, as a middle-aged white guy in a culturally and gender diverse institution I often betrayed my own biases and upper middle class, suburban, and theologically conservative assumptions in my comments. This usually engendered a torrent of commentary from my academic peers on the evils of social privilege. A litany of historical references to abuse by those who held power and privilege often morphed into personal stories of marginalization or worse. I learned to listen to these stories as a process of education and reconciliation. I was, after all, a token representation of everything that social privilege represented in its best and its worst.

Power is not easy to possess when it is realized. The call to service Jesus gives makes power highly inconvenient. I would rather argue that it was not I who engaged in the kinds of social abuse described by my peers. However, as a leader I represent power and privilege—all leaders do. I did not grow up in poverty. I lived on the good side of town, and my parents remained married to one another throughout their lives. My upbringing was different from many of those in the classroom. I did not have to dodge gangs or violence each day growing up. I did not go hungry. I attended good schools and my parents could afford medical care. I was exposed to a great deal of cultural diversity as the son of a college professor. But the diversity I saw was sanitized—I saw it without its context. So, diversity was simply a curiosity—a distraction from the usual. I did not understand the experiences represented in the diversity I saw. Compared to so many others the word “privileged” does apply to me.

“I am not sure of the context of your question,” I responded.

“Why are you here,” she repeated with the same penetrating gaze. “Are you here to add to your social power and status through the acquisition of a doctorate or are you here to learn to serve?”

The question framed a tension that is common in a learning process and is common in engaging Christ. Is the acquisition or possession of social power de facto a contradiction of service? The inference beneath the frequently prickly comments of some of my academic peers in the program affirmed that many thought privilege and service were mutually exclusive. Many of them had suffered at the hand of social and ethnic prejudice. They arrived in this class by indefatigable persistence against all odds. Admittedly I did not understand the hurdles they had to cross to be there.

Clearly, a danger exists in the pursuit of power or added social currency. Blind pursuit of power leaves a wake of wrecked hopes and lives callously dismissed as mere collateral damage in the pursuit of ambition. But even if a person is not pursuing blind ambition the dilemma of injuring others while on the quest for justice does not go unnoticed by those hurt by the exercise of good intentions. A group of graduate students in Kenya helped me understand the damage of activism with good intentions. As we discussed ethics in leadership and the idea of reconciliation and justice, they pointed out that they did not object to justice. They objected to the way others defined justice for them. “We have a proverb here,” one of them stated. “When elephants make love, the grass gets crushed, and when elephants fight, the grass gets crushed.” From the perspective of the grass, the issue is not whether elephants fight or make love—the issue is that the elephants are unaware of the grass in the first place.

Leadership is complex. Effective leaders, those who know how to move people to work together toward specific objectives with passion and excellence, know that leadership requires more than style, skill, tools, experience, or power. Servant leadership works because of its underlying set of convictions about people, power, organizations, and success. For many it does not matter if the intentions of a leader are good or bad they still get crushed in the leader’s pursuit of success.

This reality is why defining servant leadership in the context of a leader’s life, work, organizational structure, spiritual development, and commitment to develop others is so important.

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Refocus your energy!

downloadOne of the themes that emerging from my client conversations lately is the need to refocus. What do you do when you or your organization experiences gridlock and a lack of energy? Or when increased activities just don’t result in the desired ends? Being gridlocked shows up in three ways: (1) an unending treadmill of trying harder, (2) looking for answers rather than re-framing questions, and (3) either/and or thinking that creates false dichotomies.
Sometimes a leader just needs to stop and refocus. The pressures of the daily grind and challenges that constantly jump in the way of progress have a tendency of dulling clarity and shifting actions to activities that have no direct impact on results. Take several steps to refocus your efforts and the work of your team.
First, identify the questions that are nagging at the back of your head. This requires some honest reflection – identify the “self-talk” that develops just behind your conscious mind. One client paused for a moment and said, “Oh, I get it.” Then he began to list his nagging questions,”Am I making a difference? Is this really worth it? Is this what I really want to do? Why have I failed in every major endeavor?” He paused, “This is tiring, I’m exhausted just saying these things.”
I sat on the phone quietly for a moment then responded, “Didn’t you start this conversation by saying you were exhausted and lacked energy?”
“Yes,” he said.
He had been working harder, looking for solutions and all he really accomplished was reducing his field of vision to false dichotomies e.g., his team was either loyal or disloyal, customers were either about to leave or diminish their orders, his spouse was either supportive or undermining his success. He identified the nagging questions, now he was ready for the next step. “Let’s re-frame the questions,” I said.
Second, re-frame the questions that had been nagging you at the back of your mind. The client above re-framed each of his questions in the following way: “In what ways do I make a difference? In what ways is this worth the effort or in what ways can my efforts be better directed? In what ways does the present contribute to my ultimate contribution in life?” (He had done the work previously of identifying what he wanted his ultimate contribution to be.) “In what ways have past failures positioned me for success in the present?”
As he re-framed the questions the cadence of his speech increased, his tone sounded more optimistic, and his thoughts became more prolific – less ponderous. The more he worked to re-frame the questions the more energy came over the phone and the more creative his brainstorming became.
Third, go back to your personal mission statement. If you don’t have a personal mission statement its a good idea to build one. It helps to focus attention on activity that contributes to the right end rather than getting caught in the treadmill of activity seeking to convince yourself that you are legitimate. When I suggested this my client just sighed. “I think,” he said, “I lost track of my purpose somewhere in the midst of this year’s challenges.” He restated his purpose and immediately determined to drop three initiatives that had no bearing on what he really wanted to accomplish.
Each of these steps can help pull a leader out of gridlock and back into being a contributor to a measurable purpose.
Use the same steps to turn your team around. Brainstorm with them to identify the questions nagging their performance and identity. Re-frame those questions together and watch new alternatives and new ideas begin to accelerate. Return to the mission of the organization and review the activities people are engaged in – stop and redirect activities that have no bearing on producing the value associated with your organizational mission.
Everyone loses focus at some point. Don’t let the nagging questions become the pimp of your talent selling your best energy to actions that have no return and no promise. One of my students in Kenya responded to these principles in a lecture by saying, “You metaphorically ask me to eat and elephant. Do you know how to eat an elephant Dr. Wheeler?” he paused with a twinkle in his eye. Then after the appropriate pregnant hesitation, he continued, “One bite at a time!”  So, go ahead face your elephant and start eating!

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Define Your Ambition!

Ray at summitWhat is it that you want to accomplish? How clearly can you state your ambition? Ambition defined is as an earnest desire for some type of achievement or distinction, as power, honor, fame, or wealth, and the willingness to strive for its attainment.

Ambition has a bad rap with many and for good reason. There are those whose ambition for power, prestige, or pleasure has made them into users and abusers of people.

But does the abuse of a trait by some make it negative in every instance? Can ambition be good? I argue that ambition is imperative. It helps people clarify their goals and purpose and live/work with focus and impact. Jesus, the master leader understood the power of ambition and its potential for abuse. Consider for a moment that Jesus often asked people directly and indirectly to clarify their ambition.

Jesus’ questions intended to elicit honesty about what his listeners really wanted. In addressing the crowds about John the Baptist Jesus asked, “What did you go out to see?” He queried their deepest desire – people didn’t go to see John because he was eccentric, they went because he offered hope for change. In confronting religious leaders on the tyranny that resulted from their dishonest ambition Jesus told a story about two debtors both forgiven their debts. Then he asked, “Which of [the two debtors] will love him [the creditor] more?” The answer exposed these leader’s warped self-centered ambition. When approached by James and John who requested positions of prominence in Jesus’ kingdom Jesus asked, “Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?”

Jesus’ response refocused the ambition of James and John. Jesus did not rebuke their ambition – he shaped it and showed it to be misdirected. The question any leader faces is whether they will come out from inside themselves to be as honest as James and John about what they are really after. Ambition exposed can be shaped, challenged, encouraged, or redirected. Ambition hidden only warps, deceives, tyrannize, and suppresses others. Have you been honest about your ambition? Are you willing to allow God to reshape and redirect it? Like James and John honesty will result in a much larger commission than their original ambition was able to conceive. God will “blow you mind.” Go ahead, expose and submit your ambition to God and see what God does in you.

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Did God Say? When Your Sense of Destiny Surpasses Your Resouces

Moses burning bushHave you ever faced the tension of growth in your organization – that uncomfortable realization that (1) you are out growing your current resources; (2) that God has stirred your imagination and summoned you to a larger capacity faith and sense of destiny; and (3) that there is no clear way to step from where you are to where you see your organization will be? I have a friend that is in just this situation.  His organization has outgrown their current facilities, outstripped their fundraising, and expanded beyond their current administrative structure. It’s what every leader hopes for and then freaks when they see it happen.
It is normal to freak out over an expanding sense of destiny – that summons from God to take part in a work that requires God’s participation to carry out.  Moses freaked out in Exodus 4:1 after hearing God give him a new sense of destiny, “What if they will not believe me or listen to what I say?  For they may say, ‘The Lord has not appeared to you.'”  Joshua doesn’t freak out after the death of Moses although in giving Joshua his destiny vision God repeatedly tells him to be strong and courageous. (Joshua 1:1-9)  However, after his defeat at Ai he freaks out, “Then Joshua tore his clothes and fell to the earth on his face before the ark of the Lord until the evening…And Joshua said, ‘Alas O Lord God, why didst Thou ever bring this people over the Jordan, only to deliver us into the hand of the Amorites, to destroy us?'”  Saul freaked out when Samuel told him God had selected him to lead Israel as their first king, “Am I not a Benjamite, of the smallest of the tribes of Israel, and my family the least of all the families of the tribe of Benjamin? Why then do you speak to me in this way?” (1 Samuel 9:21)  You get the point.
Somewhere between believing that sense of destiny God instills in the leader and the full evidence of that destiny lie a series of choices that test the leader’s (1) attentiveness to God’s voice; (2) dependency on God’s provision; (3) and recognition of God’s purpose i.e., it’s not about the leader.  The question driving this period of development in the leader is, what step of faith do I take?  It is easy to run ahead – a problem that ultimately disqualified Saul from being king when he panicked at God’s apparent tardiness. (1 Samuel 15) This is exactly the situation my friend is in. He needs a bigger facility, he doesn’t have the budget, and God has given him a glimpse of a future he feels compelled to act on. He is at a boundary point of development and so wrote me to ask what he should do if the building that seems right (a series of events has led him to this moment) comes open before his board can fully take up the matter.  So, I wrote him the following and I share it here in hopes that it will encourage other leaders facing the same developmental boundary.
The situation of the building and its potential is great. I suggest a simple process of discernment when the building comes open – God’s guidance is met with God’s provision.
If the two converge take it. You have guidance – a clear sense that God is expanding the influence of your organization and that influence is both direct and indirect (i.e., meeting your organization’s mission and influencing other organizations to rethink their approach to equipping and release of gifts/talents/strengths). You have made the need known to your prayer network and the board – so let’s watch the provision come in.
If the two don’t converge at the point the investment group drops out – don’t force it.  Stay connected with what God is doing. You know that direction often unfolds with events over time and that first loss many times reinforces God’s ownership of God’s agenda (v our agenda) and brings God’s people into alignment with his purposes (think Moses’ initial “failure” to secure deliverance for Israel even with God’s clear guidance).
I’m confident that God’s plan so exceeds our capacity to see and envision that if we saw the thing clearly at the front end we’d run away terrified by our own inadequacies.  So, keep paying attention to what God is doing. Realize that the capacity represented in the building is the easy part of the process – to increase the physical capacity requires a corresponding increase in leadership capacity that impacts you, the board, and to a greater degree the national/regional coordinators. God is working on the entire system.
Run forward with joyful confidence that God is – see what God can do.

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Conceptualizing Leadership Development

Look at Leadership Three Dimensionally

Thinking about leadership development.

How does this fit in my experience?

“This looks like it is built for business, it seems like it only loosely applies to me,” the statement stemmed from wonder – having just completed a 360 degree assessment of leadership competencies Terry was looking for a way to integrate the concise definitions of competencies into his experience. “How do I integrate these insights into my role in leading a mission organization?” he asked.

The question is not uncommon. The contrast in purpose and metrics between a church or mission agency and a business seem stark. However, the way business and non-profit leadership is defined reveals far more about the degree to which a person has integrated their faith and work than it does any inherent difference in purpose between these two entities. Why? Because business fundamentally seeks to define needs and answer them.  Faith based ministries fundamentally do the same thing. Each works in a different sphere of human experience that often crosses into the domain of the other.

True, some businesses seem driven solely by profit and are sometimes willing to sacrifice friendships, people, family, and care for the environment to make a greater profit. But before I go too far in raising straw man arguments of false comparison; it is equally true that some non-profits are pure and simple charades designed solely for the enrichment of the founder or pastor or evangelist. Abuses happen in all sectors – the banality and reality of evil is ever-present. So, making false comparisons that vilify either business or faith reveals only mental laziness.

Understanding leadership is not an easy chore.  Often the challenge is that leadership is defined one dimensionally i.e., as a matter of applied skills or competencies (as happens in business) or as a matter of applied values and purpose (as happens in ministry). However, it does not take long to discover that leadership is as much about one’s self-awareness and personality as it is skill. What’s more, endurance, resilience, and consistency over time as a leader have more to do with a sense of meaning or purpose that we associate with spirituality.  Loehr & Schwartz (2003) writing on managing energy as a leader point out that the physical, emotional, and mental capacities of a leader are dependent upon a leader’s spiritual development.[i]

It helps to have a comprehensive model of leadership development that illustrates a three-dimensional approach to defining leadership. I use the term three-dimensional to point toward the necessity of seeing leadership as actions that stem from and are dependent upon the spiritual, personal, and skill development in a leader’s life. These three dimensions of a leader’s life represent the leader’s sense of empowerment, motivation, and learning posture. These three dimensions are illustrated in Figure 1.

Figure 1: Components of Leadership Development[ii]

Critical Developmental Categories

Possessing a model like Figure 1 allows a leader, or those charged with developing leaders, to imagine a holistic process of development. Terry’s integrative work needs a model such as this to help categorize his thinking and conceptualizing.  Competencies are categorized as skill development in this model. Skills build competence. The importance of develop skills recognizes the truism that good intentions not only pave the road to hell, they undermine a leader’s credibility when not accompanied with the competencies needed to do the work of leadership.

Terry’s consternation in attempting to synthesize what he knows about leadership was compounded by the fact he has participated in a variety of assessments. The Birkman Method® Assessment, Strength Finders, Meyer’s Brigg’s, the Birkman 360, DiSC, and others do not measure the same thing to the same degree. It is important to categorize assessments by development domain. Terry for example, threw Strength Finders and the Birkman 360 into the same bucket (Personal Development in Figure 1). These two instruments are better categorized and Personal Development and Skill Development respectively (Figure 1). An integrative model such as Figure 1 accelerates understanding the relationship between personality and skill development.

Models also help diagnose difficulties faced by leaders. I sat with Ted, a CEO of a privately held firm with annual revenue of $50M. Ted expressed frustration with his team, the direction his company was going, and the mediocre performance of his company. It could be argued that Ted lacked certain competencies (e.g., vision casting or dealing with conflict) but this did not fully explain his own sense of aimlessness. The longer we talked the more clear it became that Ted’s real lack emanated from the fact he had lost his sense of purpose and ultimate contribution. Ted was in a spiritual crisis that undermined his ability to cast vision for the future. His company was disintegrating into a series of silos competing with one another for a dwindling pool of resources. In the absence of a clear purpose the company was collapsing into turf wars between strong personalities jockeying for power.

I saw in the real struggles Ted expressed the same patterns I found reading through the Prophet Amos (common to both Christian and Jewish Scriptures). I was struck with the fact I could synthesize my model of leadership development with Amos’ commentary on the disintegration of his social context to define derailed development see Figure 2.

Figure 2: Symptoms of Derailed Development in Leaders

Derailed personal develop Amos

Amos outlined three destructive cycles of derailed development. Each of these cycles corresponds to categories of development: indifference stems from derailed spiritual development, anger stems from derailed personal development, and destructive behavior is the result of derailed skill development. I have seen all three of Amos’ destructive cycles in the workplace. Notice in Figure 2 that Amos provides symptoms to each of his destructive cycles. Figure 2 serves as a diagnostic model from which to name the root problem that derails leadership development.  Ted for example had started his company with the desire to model servant leadership and social responsibility. Yet his lack of skill in knowing how to build strong teams and deal with conflict eroded his sense of purpose to the point he withdrew from leading. He looked at his team with suspicion and contempt. The fact is he looked in the mirror with the same emotions and projected them onto others. He became angry when I asked him to define his sense of purpose. He deflected the question by telling me to work on enhancing the skills of his leadership team. He became even more agitated when I suggested that the root problem was a lack of purpose not skill and that even with improved skills on the part of his leadership team he would be not happier than he was now. In fact improving the skills of his leadership team would only guaranteed more conflict as his team attempted to cast vision without him.


Leadership Development models offer a way to guide development, integrate new material, measure behavior, and diagnose derailed development. Is there a bottom line for leaders? Yes, leaders who do not think critically about their own and other’s development are leaders who eventually find themselves caught in cycles of indifference, anger, and destructive behavior. If you want to be a leader who finishes well then do the work of reflecting on and encouraging your own and other’s development from a three-dimensional perspective.

[i] Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz. The Power of Full Engagement: Managing Energy, Not Time, is the Key to High Performance and Personal Renewal (New York, NY: The Free Press, Simon and Schuster, 2003).

[ii] Raymond L. Wheeler. Change the Paradigm: Learning to Lead Like Jesus in Today’s World (Maitland, FL: Xulon Press, 2015). (Not yet released – coming this fall.)


Restoring a Wounded or Broken Leader

broken-potA friend of mine recently wrote me to ask, “A local friend who is a professional consultant for non-profits and church ministry (organizational leadership) went through a divorce this past year (after 20 years of marriage and 5 kids). We meet together last week. I sought him out to for purely relational follow-up  – we had been out of touch for just short of 3 years. He took advantage of my invitation to share with me all that had transpired. In our discussion I asked if he had any sort of “restoration” or “rehabilitation” to leadership in place for himself. (As this may be important for future clients to know.) Nothing official as such. He has sought individual services and support, but nothing that is outside of his own initiative. Hence, he invited me to present a plan or concept  – to which he would be most grateful.   I thought I’d ask you if – you had any quick thoughts on this or reference points handy.”

I wrote him the following response.

Yes, I have personal thoughts on this however I don’t have any resources for you. So, let me start with a definition and move on to come comments. Restore: renew, rebuild, or to bring back into existence. It is a process epitomized in Psalm 51: 10-15.
Typically the issue around Christian ministers is that some governing body has suspended their credential because of some mitigating circumstance or trauma to: (1) build the margins needed to work through the trauma; (2) work through the pain and the loss incurred to seek restoration of broken relationships if possible; (3) reaffirm the gifts and the calling of God for the sake of the one being restored (God’s gifts and calling are without repentance however the one traumatized is often filled with self-deprecating grief and guilt); (4) represent the person to the body of Christ as one who has been made whole/healed and so is able to re-engage the demands of ministry with integrity and accountability.
In the case you outline the only thing missing is a governing body that would start the restoration. So, your friend is subject to the diverse opinion of his potential clients. These fall into three categories in my experience:
1.  Those who know him  and know of the way he has worked over the years to attempt restoration to no avail.  These watch at times with uncomfortable uncertainty about what to do while others make sure that he does not collapse from weariness, guilt, grief, or shame or any combination of these by checking in with him regularly.  A process of restoration is important for this group because they care about his well-being and such a process will reassure them.
2.  Those who don’t know him and may treat him as though his trauma is contagious (it is actually a reminder that nothing in life is certain and that scares people). They may reject him or marginalize him by holding him at arm’s length not really trusting the integrity of his character and spiritual health or because they simply are uncomfortable facing the messy, painful realities of following Christ in a broken world. A process of restoration is important for this group because they need to see that painful loss is not the end – they need the reassurance from others that your friend is a trustworthy man in whom they can be confident.
3. Those who don’t know him but will gladly throw him under whatever self-righteous bus happens to pass by. I have never really understood the rationale of these except it seems to me that causing pain somehow momentarily eases their own pain or at least gives them someone else to focus on before the gravity of their own narcissism pulls them back into themselves. A process of restoration is important because it will combat the attempt to destroy your friends reputation and ministry that these people will attempt.
To enter a process of restoration (on the assumption that something has been lost and something has died) requires a group of leaders that your friend trusts and that others respect as leaders – people who can help him walk through any blind spots, or areas still immobilized by grief, or emotions that have yet to find good expression, or anger that still must be processed and expressed, or fears that try to limit his reach.  This group must have permission to probe and ask hard questions. They must name, with your friend, what the end of restoration looks like because they put their reputations on the line for your friend.  This is what the body of Christ looks like.
I urge you to put together such a proposal, ask your friend who he trusts, and then recruit these people to (1) hear his story completely; (2) define what restoration looks like for him; (3) walk out the process I just described; (4) affirm when the goals have been reached for both your friend and anyone else who asks; (5) so that his ministry in the body of Christ can be warmly received and released without fear of future failure stemming from some unresolved residual issue around the mitigating crisis.
That’s all I’ve got, he is fortunate to have a friend like you who has raised the subject.

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What does it look like to integrate faith and learning – faith and business?

brain-photoChristian Universities and Colleges face the challenge of educating future business entrepreneurs, pastors, healthcare practitioners, managers, church staff, technicians, and executives in a way that integrates faith and learning.   The depth of the challenge is described by Robert Dubin:

We live in a highly secular world. The morality of the Judeo-Christian tradition is no longer the consensual boundary within which practical decisions are taken in the operation and management of work organizations. Secular man, even though he is an executive and decision maker, is very much in need of moral guidelines within which to make his decisions…. Today’s rational organizational decision-makers avidly see moral justification for their actions and are only too ready to see the new morals in the scientific theories of the applied behavioral scientists.[1]

Dubin wrote to lament the adoption of simple philosophical ideals of organization that failed to validate themselves with the rigor of true scientific theory. His lament however, equally applies to the position Christian Colleges and Universities find themselves today. The loss of what David Dockery calls a Christian worldview from learning and teaching has developed a bifurcated and disconnected approach to education that experiences a loss of faith in specialized disciplines and a reduction to personal pietism at best and fundamentalism at worst in those disciplines. The problem did not arise ex nihilio. The history of theological education in the United States is deeply impacted by its social context and controversies. For example, the Modernist-Fundamentalist controversies of the early twentieth century contributed to the divorce of faith from teaching and scholarship. The inadequacy of alternative perspectives such as the separatist pietism of American fundamentalism, the pragmatic pietism of William James, the common faith civil religion of John Dewey, or the ahistorical experiential religion of Harry Emerson Fosdick is evident in the irrelevance many place on faith.[2]

The bifurcation of faith and learning is clear in the pastoral students I see in the classroom over the last decade who, for example, often deny the need for critical thinking in learning and look askance at the suggestion that their participation in missio Dei is not confined to the walls of their congregational sanctuary.  The bifurcation of faith and learning is not limited to pastoral studies students. CEOs I coach in private practice are often at as great a loss to understand how to integrate faith and business as pastoral studies students are in integrating faith and learning. In the complexities and personally traumatic decisions CEOs make I am often queried on how they can apply or integrate their faith to their decisions.

Perhaps more troubling is that scholars such as Phil Zuckerman can so handily undo the claims of evangelical fundamentalism with a simple sociological study of secular society.

…I argue that society without God is not only possible, but can be quite civil and pleasant. This admittedly polemical aspect of my book is aimed primarily at countering the claims of certain outspoken, conservative Christians who regularly argue that a society without God would be hell on earth: rampant with immorality, full of evil, and teeming with depravity. Well, it isn’t. Denmark and Sweden are remarkably strong, safe, healthy, moral, and prosperous societies.[3]

Zuckerman addresses and rather convincingly defeats the argument he cites. The problem is that the argument he addresses is poorly framed and theologically deficient – a product of the very lack of integration between faith and learning that this paper seeks to discuss. Zuckerman’s functional definitions of immorality, evil, and depravity are soteriologically (and narcissistically) not cosmologically grounded. Zuckerman seems argue against spiritualized Gnosticism masquerading as Christian thought. This is not to fault Zuckerman’s argument but to lament that the only objection he has faced from his students to secularism is a self-absorbed soteriological view.

I am drawn to Dockery’s argument (citing Abraham Kuyper) that the dominating principle of Christian truth is cosmological not soteriological. Moving from a soteriological to a cosmological ground is the inherent challenge of moving today’s Christian education toward a true integration of faith and learning.  A cosmological ground respects the sovereignty of the triune God over all spheres visible and invisible and thus avoids the error of spiritualized Gnosticism or the equally deficient perspective of pure materialism.  Framing the argument for the integration of faith and learning on a cosmological foundation does not reduce the universality of the claim that salvation is only found in Christ, it amplifies it raising it above the popular formulations of pluralism (that consistently minimize divergent cosmological and epistemological perspectives to find common ground) to engage an exploration of truth that, “… recognizes that all scholarship, all invention, all discovery, all exploration – which is truth – is God’s truth.”[4]

Learning is an Integrative Process

Christian education that builds learning or builds discipleship delivers facts to students while simultaneously providing them with a way to structure knowledge so that it becomes transferable rather generating information that remains siloed in curriculum specializations and personal pietism. At its essence learning is a developmental exercise that results in changes in behavior and perception. Science defines learning as a development through ascending levels of abstraction including description, explanation, and theory. A learning centered environment in the Christian University must present meaningful structures in knowledge that allow the student to: recognize problems using underlying principles and relevant concepts; efficiently use information to decide a goal oriented outcome; stay flexible in their self monitoring through the process; and present a principled and coherent explanation.[5]

The ability to present a coherent explanation as a result of learning includes an ability to integrate faith and reason in Christian education. That is students should be capable of identifying their assumptions, values, and frame and to critique the conclusions of others from the perspective of a Christian cosmology. It has been argued that the differentiation between Christian education and education generally speaking is the cosmological foundation from which Christian education works.  Peter said it this way, “…but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence; and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.”[6] There is no discipline that does not wrestle with the reality of God’s sovereignty. Either directly through deliberate theological reflection or indirectly through an active rejection of the reality of God – the cosmological foundation of Christian education has, and should exert, a voice in the discussion.

What I hope to make clear is that faith integration is helped by possessing a definition of learning that moves beyond the memorization of facts. This definition is elaborated by Bransford, Brown and Cocking:

The new science of learning does not deny that facts are important for thinking and problem solving…. However, the research also shows clearly that “usable knowledge” is not the same as a mere list of disconnected facts. Experts’ knowledge is connected and organized around important concepts (e.g., Newton’s second law of motion); it is “conditionalized” to specify the contexts in which it is applicable; it supports understanding and transfer (to other contexts) rather than only the ability to remember.[7]

What is especially important to leaning that occurs in Christian education is the fact that connected knowledge includes truth that is revealed as well as discovered and that this insight also organizes around important theological concepts such as Luther’s priesthood of all believers as well as Newton’s second law of motion. Connecting knowledge is a function of faith integration that starts with open dialogue between curriculums and ongoing dialogue between professors and programs that advance understanding of the applicability, complementarities, and contradictions between organizing theories and principles in the knowledge base of each specialization or program.  The pursuit of knowledge and truth is never complete – this includes the pursuit of theological or revealed truth. The epistemological position of the Scriptures is not naïve – it affirms the incompleteness of knowing. Incompleteness of knowing does not equate to unknowable. Scripture acknowledges that reality outside the human capacity to define and symbolically represent that reality exists and is knowable and discoverable however partial knowing may be. Consider Paul’s summation:

For we know in part, and we prophesy in part; but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away….For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I shall know fully just as I also have been fully known. But now abide faith, hope and love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.[8]

Possessing a cosmological commitment does not negate critical inquiry or learning. Instead it engages a critical epistemology that is aware of the concrete claim that truth is cosmological that avoids the extremes of spiritualized Gnosticism and materialistic metaphysic.[9] This premise forms the foundation for our claim that all truth is God’s truth regardless of truths revealed or discovered source.

Faith integration addresses the challenge every classroom faces, regardless of the subject i.e., how to strike the proper balance between automaticity of skills and promoting understanding. Automaticity in skills renders technicians who master formulas in the closed environment of the classroom (e.g., church growth principles, business analytics, theological concepts, accounting methods, marketing principles, etc.) but who fail to transfer their knowledge to life settings.[10] As a result for example, pastors hide behind pronouncements and are seemingly incapable of the critical thinking needed to do theology in context. Or in another example, business students face competitive pressures and ethical decisions like deer standing in the headlights of a truck – apparently incapable of ethical thinking that renders decisions that advance missio Dei.

Finding a Common Ground in Curriculum – Ethics

In addition to holding and exploring a commitment to a cosmological foundation in Christian Education, there are curricular intersections that offer a direct opportunity for students to explore what it means to live out this cosmological conviction. Every leader faces ethical challenges and while it seems that the study of ethics has fallen from favor in some Christian Universities it certainly has not lost its significance.  It is evident in church management, business management, the social sector, entertainment and others that an ethical crisis faces society and by extrapolation also faces Christian education.  Johnson describes the crisis in equally universal terms:

The modern landscape is littered with fallen leaders. Wherever we turn – business, military, politics, medicine, education, and religion – we find leaders toppled by ethical scandals.  Nearly all have sacrificed their positions of leadership and their reputations. Many face civil lawsuits, criminal charges, and jail time. The costs can be even greater for followers.[11]

Framing ethical thinking as a point of faith integration represents a movement from cultural imperialism to cultural intelligence in international business and a movement from Greek dualism to a kingdom theology in the church that is capable of avoiding the trap of secular/sacred distinctions so ingrained in the culture of the West.

Ethical thinking requires that leaders make explicit the assumptions on which they operate to define the way their moral norms interact with the particular judgments, rules, principles, and convictions that make up their ethical decisions. These layers of ethical reasoning depend on a way of defining the world in which decisions are made. Business works on assumptions about capitalism and mission (assuming a Christian is engaged in commerce) that both need to be clarified to offer definition of faith integration.

The business models used in western enterprises depend on capitalism as an economic framework. Capitalism may be defined in various ways. One definition that aligns with the objective of faith integration describes capitalism as that mechanism by which new solutions to human problems occurs. Capitalism provides, “…incentives for millions of problem-solving experiments to occur every day, provides competition to select the best solutions, and provides incentives and mechanisms for scaling up and making the best solutions available. Meanwhile, it scales down or eliminates less successful ones.”[12] This view of capitalism defines business as the process of “…transforming ideas into products and services that solve problems.”[13]

In contrast business may also be defined in a limited sense as the maximization of shareholder value. In this view business makes the maximization of shareholder value their primary aim and assumes that the maximization of economic efficiency will itself offer a basis for social welfare.  The challenge to this view however is that emerging economic theories do not support the view that consumers maximize utility in their decisions in a move to efficiency in the allocation of resources. Instead behavioral and experimental economists observe that people do not behave rationally and financial markets do not always act efficiently. The assumption behind maximizing shareholder value i.e., that capital is the scarcest resource in an economy, contributes to a myopic focus and decline in long-term investments of the type that generate creative new solutions. This reality was clearly evident in the recession of 2008 – a view toward increasing shareholder value gave way to self-serving profiteering confirming the worst of all fears about the inability of business to think beyond its own self-preservation and enrichment at the great expense of society.

In order to illustrate the possibilities of faith integration in Christian Education with regard to business it will help to define what I mean by mission. Possessing a definition of mission is necessary for determining the flash points in which faith integration might occur most obviously. Starting with a definition of mission also supplies a foundation for understanding the ethical decision-making that makes up so much of the business landscape operationally and relationally to achieve a profitable position in highly competitive markets. My definition of mission starts with a theological frame that accepts the historical/particular quality of the biblical narrative and the prophetic strands of Scripture which proclaim that God acts in and on behalf of human experience. Add to this the influence of a Pentecostal perspective that further acknowledges the role of the supernatural and the current need and legitimacy of all the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

Mission is that activity of God into which we have been commissioned by faith in Jesus Christ who introduced the now and future reign of God that is: reconciling (John 3:16; Matthew 28:18-20; 2 Corinthians 5:19); refreshing (Luke 4:18-19); concrete (Luke 4:21, Galatians 5:19-26, 1 Corinthians 2:4, 5); and eschatological (Mark 1:14-15, 1 Corinthians 2:9).

Using the definition of business supplied above, Table 1 compares the aims of both mission and business in particular those points of overlap and those points of tension. In dialogue over curriculum and student development the interactions between mission and business offer a basis for faith integration and illustrate the challenges in ethical reasoning and decision-making. The integration of business and faith (like the integration of faith and learning) has a strong foundation in the Scriptures:

Beware lest you forget the Lord your God by not keeping His commands and His ordinance s and His statues…lest when you have eaten and are satisfied, and have build good houses and lived in them, and your herds and your flocks multiply, and your silver and gold multiply, and all that you have multiplies, then your heart becomes proud, and you forget the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt…He led you through the great and terrible wilderness….that he might humbly you and that He might test you, to do good for you in the end.[14]

Addressing the arrogance of success ensures that just distribution remains the fundamental mandate of economic ethics. The theme of just distribution repeats itself through hundreds of Old Testament passages which seek to prevent and finally decry distributive economic injustice.[15]

  • Distributive justice: the justice that is concerned with the apportionment of privileges, duties, and goods in consonance with the merits of the individual and in the best interest of society.[16]
  • Distributive justice: the nature of a socially justallocation of goods in a society. A society in which incidental inequalities in outcome do not arise would be considered a society guided by the principles of distributive justice. The concept includes the available quantities of goods, the process by which goods are to be distributed, and the resulting allocation of the goods to the members of the society.[17]

Table 1: Mission and Business Contrasted – A Starting Point for Faith Integration

Integration diagram

At first blush it may appear easy to outline the ethics of business or corporate management for the simple reason that the law outlines such a vast swath of behavior in business.  However, as pointed out by Tarintino and Hynes (2012), “…law and ethics will overlap: what is perceived to unethical will also be illegal. However, in other situations, law and ethics do not overlap – and, in fact, they may even be far apart. In some cases what is deemed to be unethical will be legal and in others, what is illegal may be perceived as ethical.”[18]

So what is the challenge? Meeting the requirements of the law is not only insufficient to the current business environment it can function in way far removed from the cosmological foundation of Christianity.  Preparing students to work in the seams created by business law is the direct charge of Christian education whose ends include the development of leaders capable of working with a personal awareness of the kingdom of God.  As pointed out by Sheller,

Legal and ethical considerations create risks for businesses, and these risks must be avoided, minimized or managed. A practical understanding of law and ethics has thus become a critical element in business decision-making and strategy. Businesses cannot rely exclusively on outside counsel or in-house legal staff to manage all risks. Managers need an understanding of the legal and ethical environments in which they operate.[19]

The development of leaders in Christian education presents yet another opportunity to find common ground in curriculum design for faith integration.

Finding a Common Ground in Curriculum – Leadership

Servant leadership is an orientation to leadership that owns a transparent moral imperative, exercises personal awareness of the impact of leadership behaviors, recognizes the contribution potential of employees, and builds a culture characterized by modeling, mentoring, development, discipline, and fun. Servant leadership engages the essential business activities of vision, structure, profitability, and benevolence in an accessible way to employees, board members, stakeholders, and stockholders.  Interestingly enough the development of servant leadership in the business world did not emerge from Christian Colleges or Universities – it emerged from thoughtful leaders who inherently exercised a Christian cosmological foundation.

Like the practice of ethics, the practice of leadership is exercised in business and the church (non-profit) with equal significance. This makes the subject a significant faith integration point in curriculum and in practice within the academy. Because the concept of servant leadership started with an assumed Christian cosmological foundation its development as a leadership concept and the research conducted in and around its practice provides a rich venue for continued exploration and definition.

Recent scholarly studies on Servant leadership offer a variety of definitions from which to apply servant leadership in practice and to continue research into its viability as a leadership approach.  Consider:

Greenleaf (1977) states that the focus of servant leadership is on others rather than self and on understanding the role of the leader as servant. The servant leader, according to Russell and Stone (2002), takes the position of servant to his or her fellow workers and aims to fulfill the needs of others. Page and Wong (2000) define servant leadership as serving others by working toward their development and well being in order to meet goals for the common good. Another definition that is evident in the servant leadership literature describes servant leadership as “distancing oneself from using power, influence and position to serve self, and instead gravitating to a position where these instruments are used to empower, enable and encourage those who are within one’s circle of influence” (Rude, 2003 in Nwogu, 2004, p.2). Servant leaders trust followers to act in the best interests of the organization and focus on those followers rather than the organizational objectives (Stone, Russell & Patterson, 2004).[20]

Anecdotal evidence confirms the positive impact of servant leadership on organizational success. Alan Mulally, former president and CEO of Ford Motor Company took the helm of the Ford Motor Company in 2006. At that time Ford was losing billions of dollars and was on the brink of bankruptcy. After Mulally stepped in, Ford posted a profit every year since 2009.  When asked about his leadership style, Mulally responded,

At the most fundamental level, it is an honor to serve—at whatever type or size of organization you are privileged to lead, whether it is a for-profit or nonprofit…. Starting from that foundation, it is important to have a compelling vision and a comprehensive plan. Positive leadership—conveying the idea that there is always a way forward—is so important, because that is what you are here for—to figure out how to move the organization forward. Critical to doing that is reinforcing the idea that everyone is included. Everyone is part of the team and everyone’s contribution is respected, so everyone should participate….A big part of leadership is being authentic to who you are, thinking about what you really believe in and behaving accordingly. At Ford, we have a card with our business plan on one side and the behaviors we expect listed on the other. It is the result of 43 years of doing this.[21]

When Ken Melrose (former CEO of Toro) stepped into his role at Toro the company was losing money with sales plummeting from $400 million annually to $200 million annually. The perspective Melrose took to the assignment was one of servant leadership.  Melrose believed in people. He states, “You have to grow good people to be even better people. It’s like growing fine turf. You need to feed (train) them, pull them up in time of need (nurture and motivate them), and basically give them room to grow (empower them). Toro has great people, which makes for a good work environment.”[22]

The changes Melrose initiated at Toro started with a significant reduction of force and a reduction in perks (servant leadership does not mean avoiding difficult realities – conversely it means facing them squarely). Everyone shared the burden of the circumstance including the executive suite. Melrose intentionally exercised servant leadership and created a company culture in which employees know they work for the customers and everyone is empowered to serve the customers.  Did servant leadership work?  Near the end of his service sales at Toro hit $1.4 billion!

In addition to demonstrating servant leadership’s contribution to business success, the theological foundation to servant leadership is easily established. The encounter Jesus had with the ambition of John and James in Matthew 20 sets the stage for understanding servant leadership as the model Jesus encouraged.

Jesus’ response refocused their ambition. James and John were not rebuked for their ambition. Instead they were given a challenge that transformed their ambition from self-serving to serving a purpose in line with the intention of God. In Jesus’ view, leadership was not a means of acquisition, but of stewardship. Jesus was also clear about the cost of leadership, (i.e., “drink the cup”). It is a rare ambition that pictures sacrifice as part of accomplishment. More often our ambition foregoes sacrifice in favor of pursuit of prominence, power, and pleasure. However the formation process of servant leadership includes sacrifice.[23]

My thesis is that without a deliberate focus on the development of a servant leadership model the University inadvertently contributes to the pursuit of prominence, power, and pleasure on the part of graduates who find themselves better prepared in skill and knowledge than their peers to step into leadership roles in business or the church but who may lack a model for effective moral leadership. The ethical question faced by the academy is, what kind of graduates and leaders are we developing? The knowledge trust inherent in the academy summons this kind of stewardship perspective. Additionally, the fact that we are a Christian University beckons an even greater sense of responsibility do everything in our power to help students emerge as men and women who live faith integration in every aspect of their lives.

Developing a curriculum and a cultural practice of servant leadership within the academy goes a long way toward supporting the development of students who are capable of (1) transferring learning to action and (2) acting in a way that indicates faith integration to their values and assumptions.

Next Steps

Others more familiar with the inner working of the academy may have better suggestions for next steps than what I provide below. Regardless I offer these as beginning points to a process of change.

  1. Design/provide a platform for thought development among the faculty. Breakthrough concepts in how students learn as well as faith integration concepts will lead to changes in how course work is managed and engaged. With the multiplication of new learning platforms faculty need input in keeping their educational skills as well as their professional knowledge current.
  2. Adopt a learning centric and faith integration perspective from which department learning outcomes, course syllabi, and student assessments may be critiqued and developed. Given the fact that all knowledge is partial, it should not come as a surprise that constant review of the University’s products should occur. Like number one above this means engaging professors in the University in a way that encourages and provides for much greater collaboration in curriculum/course design and execution.
  3. Review curriculum offerings with the goal of identifying those points of intersection (like ethics or leadership) between programs where greater emphasis may be made in creating common learning and faith integration outcomes.
  4. Review student practicum courses for the degree to which they encourage the development of a learning and faith integration mindset among students. Design new ways to assess student development in faith and learning.

Scripture taken from the New American Standard Bible, © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1973, 1975, 1977, by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

[1] Robert Dubin. “Theory Building in Applied Areas,” Handbook of Industrial and Organizational Psychology, Marvin D. Dunnette ed. (Chicago, IL: Rand McNally, 1976, pp. 17-39), 22.

[2] David Dockery. “Integrating Faith and Learning in Higher Education.” (The Research Institute of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, September 20, 2000). Source:  https://www.cccu.org/professional_
; Accessed 3 February 2015.  Dockery tracks the impact of a pietistic view and its impact on education i.e., the ultimate bifurcation of faith and reason which he insists are not in contradiction to one another but in proper tension with one another.

[3] Phil Zuckerman. Society Without God: What the Least Religious Nations Can Tell Us about Contentment. (New York: New York University Press, 2008), 4.

[4] Dockery 2000.

[5] John B. Miner. Theories of Organizational Behavior (Hinsdale, IL: The Dryden Press, 1980), 3. See Miner’s discussion of the nature of scientific theory.

[6] 1 Peter 3:15-16 (NASB)

[7]  John D. Bransford, Ann L. Brown, and Rodney R. Cocking, eds. How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School (Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 2000), 9.

[8] 1 Corinthians 12:10 (NASB)

[9] Naive realism: naive realism holds that the view of the world that we derive from our senses is to be taken at face value: there are objects out there in the world, and those objects have the properties that they appear to us to have. As plausible as naive realism may sound, it has serious problems, among which is the problem of the variability of perception.  Differences do arise that are clearly related to the experience and the cultural view of the perceiver. Critical realism: Critical realism theory states that the theory of knowledge, or epistemology, is different form a theory of being, or ontology. There is a reality which exists independent of its human conception. Critical realists believe that there are unobservable events which cause the observable ones; as such, the social world can be understood only if people understand the structures that generate such unobservable events. This is important in the experimental context, because it allows the scientist to distinguish between the event and what causes it.  Of the views this one most matches 1 Corinthians 13:9 of knowing in part. Agnostic realism: any position involving either the denial of an objective reality or the denial that verification-transcendent statements are either true or false. The problem with this view is it cannot itself be validated or verified. It is pure subjectivism in which the construct of the perceiver is the final word on existence since reality is non-verifiable in this view.

[10] Bransford, Brown and Cocking 2000:139.   See the discussion on knowledge centered learning environments and the necessity of providing organized cognitive activity and a structure for knowledge in the learning environment.

[11] Craig E. Johnson. Meeting the Ethical Challenges of Leadership: Casing Light or Shadow 3rd. ed. (Los Angeles, CA: Sage Publications, 2009), xv.

[12] Eric Beinhocker and Nick Hanauer. “Redefining Capitalism” in McKinsey Quarterly (September 2014), 6.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Deuteronomy 8:11-16 (NASB)

[15] Glenn H. Stassen and David P. Gushee. Kingdom Ethics: Following Jesus in Contemporary Context (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003). See the discussion by Stassen and Gushee, 420.

[16] Source: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/distributive%20justice; Accessed 18 November 2014.

[17] Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Distributive_justice; Accessed 18 November 2014.

[18] John A Tarantino and Katy A. Hynes. “Truth in Ethics: Law v Ethics,” AP&S Ethics Seminar Presentation, May 10, 2012. Source: http://www.apslaw.com/media/article/41_2537_001.pdf; Accessed 18 November 2014.

[19] Source: http://scheller.gatech.edu/degree-programs/undergraduate/courses-curriculum/curriculum-lawethics.html; Accessed 18 November 2014.

[20] David E. Melchar and Susan M. Bosco. “Achieving High Organization Performance through Servant Leadership,” The Journal of Business Inquiry 2010, 9, 1, (http:www.uvu.edu/Woodbury/jbi/volume9), 74-88.

[21] Rik Kirkland. “Leading in the 21st Century: An Interview with Ford’s Alan Mulally,” McKinsey & Company, November 2013.

[22] Source: http://nasba.org/features/ken-melrose-being-a-difference-then-and-now/; Accessed 4 February 2015.

[23] Raymond L. Wheeler. An Inconvenient Power: the Practice of Servant Leadership (Claremont, CA: Unpublished Manuscript, 2013), 11. Also see John Howard Yoder. The Politics of Jesus 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1994), 38. A similar affirmation of the centrality of service in leadership occurs in Matthew 22:25ff. Here Yoder comments, “In none of the accounts where this word is reported does Jesus reprimand his disciples for expecting him to establish some new social order, as he would have had to do if the thesis of the only-spiritual kingdom were to prevail.  He rather reprimands them for having misunderstood the character of the new social order which he does intend to set up.” My observations regarding the events surrounding John and James’ request is similarly understood. It is not drive (ambition) that Jesus seeks to correct as much as it is the character of that ambition. That men or women in leadership roles possess a drive to make a difference is universal what is not universal is their understanding of how Jesus wants to reshape their drive around the values of the Kingdom of God so that both their approach to leadership and their ethical decision-making are transformed.