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The Editor's Perspective

The Paradox of Christian Leadership

If my counterpart at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business announced that she was editing a magazine devoted to the theme of leadership, no one would bat an eye. If you take a minute to look at the school’s website, you’ll see the word leader or leadership several times on the homepage alone. There’s nothing remarkable about that; we expect a top-tier business school to tout its focus on preparing leaders.

By contrast, seminaries and divinity schools have had a more complicated relationship with the notion of leadership. This reflects a deep strain of tension in the Christian tradition. On the one hand, Scripture says that every believer has access to the throne of grace (Hebrews 4:16); on the other hand, Scripture describes institutional positions of leadership for the church. Jesus himself is described as the head of the church (Ephesians 1:22), yet he also said, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all” (Mark 9:35). This paradox lies at the heart of Christian leadership.

Throughout the centuries, Christian leaders and institutions have championed some of the greatest blessings that minister to the deepest needs of people, from hospitals to schools to food pantries to spiritual guidance. Yet Christian leaders and institutions have also been responsible for financial swindles, sexual abuse, and deceit. Any exploration of Christian leadership has to reckon with our complicated theology and history.

In recent decades, seminaries have begun training and forming ministers to follow the model sometimes called “Pastor, CEO.” Churches and other Christian institutions have adapted business practices from marketing, administration, and finance. Indeed, we must confront the reality that large churches and complex institutions require particular skills and insight from their leaders. At the same time, we must wrestle with whether a divinity school should change the focus of an M.Div. degree from the rich study of Scripture and the Christian tradition to become a sanctified M.B.A.

This issue of DIVINITY magazine will explore how Duke Divinity School participates in the conversation about leadership. We are well-positioned to engage this topic. We are part of one of the world’s great universities here at Duke, and yet we are a divinity school that is committed to training men and women for service and ministry. We are committed to the church, both the people of God who are to serve the Lord and the institutional structures that require leadership positions. We are academically rigorous and faithfully grounded in the Christian tradition. In many ways, we embody the paradox of Christian leadership.

Normally Dean Richard Hays would share his thoughts on this page, but in this issue he has expanded his reflections into an essay about the example of Moses as a biblical pattern for leadership. We also have an article by Stanley Hauerwas that explores the role of speech and truth telling for leaders. Kate Bowler reminds us that the ecclesial style of today’s celebrity pastors can prove tempting for divinity students. Other articles by William Lamar IV, Susan Pendleton Jones, Laceye Warner, and Dave Odom discuss and define other angles of leadership, such as the role of institutions and communities.

Duke Divinity School has a commitment to more than just thinking and talking about leadership. Leadership Education at Duke Divinity (LEADD) offers practical support for Christian leaders and institutions; you can see some of LEADD’s specific initiatives in our “Events and News” section. We are also keenly aware of our mission to form and prepare the next generation of leaders for the church. That means that leadership has to be more than an intellectual construct to study. Our engagement with leadership will shape the contours for future pastors and ministry leaders and the congregations and organizations they will serve.

As you read this magazine, our hope is that you will join us in this conversation about Christian leadership, in all its complexities and challenges. Whether you are clergy or laity, skeptical or supportive of leadership, we think you’ll be inspired to reflect on the calling we all have to serve God.  


Heather Moffitt is the associate director of communications at Duke Divinity School and editor of DIVINITY magazine.