The Wesleyan Christian Leader

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In 2003, Asbury Theological Seminary officially began it Master of Arts in Christian Leadership degree.  It was the first new Master’s program for the institution in almost two decades and was created as a response to the wave of interest in the study of Leadership sweeping the nation at that time.

After researching and developing the core courses for this degree plan, it became apparent that the study of Leadership from a secular perspective was greatly outdistancing a Christian framework for understanding the discipline. The secular world had developed a paradigmatic approach to the study of Leadership that permitted theoretical constructs to be located within a particular era. The Christian world was still looking at the discipline through the frame of Christian management following in the footsteps of Ted Engstrom and his Making of a Christian Leader (Zondervan Publishing House, 1978). Engstrom worked with Ed Dayton, while serving as President of World Vision US Ministries, to develop this approach to Christian Leadership and the Christian Business Men’s Committee (CBMC) was an outgrowth.

I believed that the Christian world could do better. Great strides had been made to separate Leadership as a discipline from the field of Management.  I felt what was needed was Christian thinkers who were trained in the Leadership discipline to begin to formulate theoretical constructs of Leadership that were uniquely Christian. I was not alone in this and soon found encouragement in the work of writers like J. Oswald Saunders, Henry & Richard Blackaby, and J. Robert Clinton to name a few.

Today, the discipline of Leadership continues to grow and morph as it wrestles with concepts that offer guidance for greater leader effectiveness in this time of transformational change. Two of the most popular theoretical constructs for today are Appreciative Inquiry and Adaptive Leadership. As I worked with my leadership classes at Asbury Seminary, however, the students also wanted a theoretical construct that would speak to their Wesleyan theological underpinnings. It was in response to their requests that a seminar in Advanced Wesleyan Leadership was conceived and taught.  This seminar sought to marry Wesleyan theology and contemporary understandings of Christian Leadership in an effort to develop a Christian theoretical construct of Leadership that was uniquely Wesleyan. The following construct was the fruit of that labor. The class called the construct “Different as. . .Different so” and now offer it as an axiom for an understanding of Wesleyan Christian Leadership.

“Different as. . .Different so”:  The Wesleyan Christian Leader

Axiom: The life of a Wesleyan leader is motivated by a quest for personal holiness to love others into the kingdom of God through the love of Jesus Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit and for the glory of God the Father.

Thesis: Through the wooing of prevenient grace, God has invited us into personal relationship through Christ, into community with God’s people, and into a life of personal holiness.  Therefore, the Wesleyan leader is called to partner with the Holy Spirit to love others into relationship with Christ, seek a life of personal holiness, and participate in authentic community with God’s people—for the sake of the world.

Prevenient Grace

The life of a Wesleyan leader should be traceable back to a personal experience and acknowledgement of prevenient grace in ones own life.  Said leader should have a clear understanding of how God has moved and worked in the past, leading up to an occasion on which there was opportunity to accept the reconciling forgiveness and salvation through the Lord Jesus Christ.  In so doing, one will be able to share that it is not only about the decision to accept Christ, but also about his mercy extended during our rebellious and wayward life beforehand.

Relationship with Christ

It has been said time and again, but is worth reiterating. Christianity, and implicitly Wesleyan faith, is built upon a relationship and not only a set of religious tenets. The leader must be in continual fellowship with Christ, in order not only to have the empowerment and fervor to lead his congregation, but to revitalize and encourage his own soul. A Wesleyan leader must be aware of the possible danger of getting so caught up in doing things for God that he loses touch with simply having a relationship with God. The greatest leader must also be the most teachable, approaching the throne with a childlike faith and trust in God.

Community of God’s People

This was important during Wesley’s own life and ministry, as he was constantly working on ways to bring people closer together. It is of utmost importance that the leaders in the Wesleyan vein continue to emphasize the communal aspect of our faith. Even during Wesley’s own lifetime, his friend George Whitfield said in retrospect that he wished he had built up communities as well, fearing that he had only “begot children for the murderer,” and acknowledging that his followers had “become as a rope of sand.” It is because of this intentional building of faith communities that Methodism still survives today.

Personal Holiness

Personal holiness is the cornerstone upon which the effectiveness of a Wesleyan leader rests. If this is not actively and humbly pursued, failure will surely follow. This was a distinctive emphasis of Wesley himself, so much so that people criticized his definition of “perfect in love.” The contemporary Wesleyan leader must be both continually striving for this on a personal level, as well as seeking to instill a profound sense of dependence on God in his flock. Personal holiness therefore, is not something that should be uniquely Wesleyan. Rather, it is simply walking out the command of “be holy, as the Lord your God is holy.” Such is to be seen as an attainable goal, and not merely a suggestion.

Partner with the Holy Spirit

This is another crucial point in Wesleyan leadership, that one accepts the need for full reliance upon the Holy Spirit.  There is only so much that one person can do before facing the inevitable burnout that comes by doing work solely on ones own strength.  Therefore, we must first beseech God for his Holy Spirit to brood over us, lest our ministry be in vain. It is only when the Holy Spirit fuels the fire of our inner passion that the yoke is easy and the burden is light. Should we attempt to take up this task of our own accord the weight of responsibility would crush us.

Love Others, Relationship with Christ
Personal Holiness & Community

This is where the rubber meets the road, so to speak. It is the culmination of ones own relationship with Christ, pursuit of personal holiness, and actively seeking and living in community. As a natural overflow of these key principles, there is a spilling over of the blessing in the life of the leader to those he encounters. It could be said this way: The Wesleyan leader is burning so hot for God that when he meets others, even for a brief moment, they leave the encounter with contact burns. May it be that we as aspiring leaders would model this same attitude.  It is a contagious cure, now having God’s love the task at hand is to give it away.

For Sake of World

When the Lord blessed Abraham, he said that he would multiply and prosper him in order that “all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him.” Too often, we as Christians have an us and them mentality, in which we are the church and socialize people towards our way of life. Only then do we welcome them into our sanctuary. This was not the intent of our God when he blessed Abraham. Set apart is not to be read as a monastic experience. Rather, we are to be the peculiar people of God, sent into the world to love them as he loves them. Let what grieves the heart of the father also move us to action, never forgetting that the only difference between us and them is that we have responded to the good news. If we do not go, then who will tell them?

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Dr. Richard L. Rick Gray is professor of Leadership and Christian Ministries and the Leadership department chair at Asbury Theological Seminary. Richard is also the executive director of the Obsidian Society (African American Evangelical Scholars Organization) and conducts workshops on topics ranging from African-American history to youth ministry. He has received numerous community service awards, including awards from the Los Angeles Urban League Pasadena Branch, County of Los Angeles, City of Pasadena, California State Assembly and United States Congress. He and his wife, Coral, have two children.

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