How can leadership be hopeful?
Jude Padfield introduces his new book Hopeful Influence: A Theology of Christian Leadership
God calls us into a different kind of future.
This has been the promise that has energised people of faith, and particularly people of the great Abrahamic faiths, to take steps towards the world as it could be rather than accepting the world as it is.
It’s a hopeful idea. An optimistic idea. An idea bristling with clear skies, wide open places and the whisper of a welcome invitation
Leadership is a subject that sparks a thousand and more different reactions. Many reactions discoloured with heavy, forceful shapes of people trying to create a future in their own image. Many reactions uncritically baptising activity and relationship that puts some of us at the top and others underneath.
Amidst the Church, despite our deep reservoirs of theological, historical and holy spirit led understanding, we seem to disagree as much as the world does about whether leadership is a sufficiently human activity. What is it? Should we be doing it? How much of it is properly Christian?
The Christian faith, in the heart of a believer at least, starts with the confession that ‘Jesus is Lord.’ To be a Christian, means to locate oneself under a new King; one who fortunately also happens to be the messiah, the conqueror of evil, sin and death and who loves us so much he chose to give his life for us.
And this King has a Kingdom. The place where the King’s good authority is received with gladness. A Kingdom that starts in the hearts of every believer, but which has as it’s unavoidable target the whole scope of the created order, a new heaven and new earth carved out in loving relationship to the new King Jesus.
What if the leadership conversation began here? What if our social influence on others was located firstly in the advancing Kingdom of God? What might we learn about the shape of true Christian leadership? What resources might we discover for unified thinking, for inspirational activity, for a people set free to fulfil their vocation in the world?
According to Lesslie Newbigin, the Kingdom of God works eschatologically. It is now and not yet. That is; it is located in its fullest sense at a time yet to come but becomes increasingly manifest through human history as more and more people bow the knee to Jesus. As such, the Church at any moment in any cultural context, bears witness to this Kingdom by functioning as a sign, instrument and foretaste of that better future which we all long for.
If all this is true, then perhaps we can define Christian leadership as the moment when any one of us human creatures helps another to see, participate in or experience this advancing Kingdom of God. When we help each other to choose to step further towards the world as it should be, the world under the Lordship of Jesus.
Humanities great advance seems to be following Jesus on that cosmic pathway towards the right hand of God. A pilgrim people, extending sacrificial, servant natured arms of love and support to those who travel with us, and with an awareness that not only are all invited in, but that all of creation is beckoned on that sacred pathway.
Hopeful Influence is the name I give to Christian leadership understood in this way. It’s a motif, a way of gathering our thoughts around an idea, a way of thinking about how we might see social movement into a constantly renewed future. This book is a beginning. A first word. An initial attempt to marshal this idea and apply it to a variety of leadership contexts.
In our social groupings we formalise, and informalize, positions of leadership to help us move towards particular kinds of futures. Jude aims to resource us to occupy these positions with an informed posture, striving to ensure that the leadership activity we engage with is as genuinely hopeful and Kingdom orientated as it might be.
Taking five spheres of life – Church, politics, business, third sector and leadership towards the next generation – I explore firstly the role each sphere has to play in this eschatological reality we are called to occupy, and then how our activity of Hopeful Influence might be expressed in each sphere. As with the rest of the book, as each chapter develops, a different voice is introduced to reflect on how the ideas presented resonate with their own experience. Each chapter also concludes with a study guide to steer further discussion and reflection.
Our current historical moment brings such tremendous vitality, yet such potential also for destruction. In many ways our technological developments have run far ahead of our capacity to ensure they take the most sufficiently human shapes. For people preparing themselves for leadership in the Church, indeed for Christians everywhere, my aim is that Hopeful Influence might be a helpful motif to sharpen and inspire us so that our collective journey into that better future might be preserved and accelerated. Christian leadership is nothing if not Hopeful.
Jude Padfield currently serves in a Church planting context in Liverpool city centre.