What Lens?

kinnon —  February 5, 2006 — 9 Comments

It would be easy to blame this post on Seth Godin. After all, his Squidoo project is all about creating lenses. His site lets lens creators share their "peculiar viewpoint" from which to view content on the web. Perhaps you’d like to see software developer James R’s lens on Christian music. Or Squidoo Community Developer Heath Row’s lens on Fast Company and Innovative Leadership. (Shouldn’t Heath Row be creating a lens for British Airports – at least one?) Perhaps your interests tend more towards Homo Sapiens and their Canine Friends, so Andy Rankin’s lens would interest you. Squidoo is thousands of lens – thousands of viewpoints.

But really, Squidoo is just a hook for me to get into a theological topic. (Some of you may decide that this is a perfect time to wander off and explore Squidoo.)

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Let me state up front – although I am a student of theology, I am no theologian. My book shelves may be littered with the works of NT Wright, Stanley Hauerwas, Eugene Peterson, John Stott, Spurgeon, Lewis, Chesterton, McLaren (himself no theologian) and the greatest of all living English theologians, Adrian Plass – but I am still a simple Christian stumbling my way towards God. I invite you to join me as I stumble through this propositional post.

The idea for this topic began germinating quite some time ago, but the writing of it was kickstarted this past week when I happened to be listening to a West Coast pastor expound on the role of a Senior Pastor. This pastor has a particular viewpoint common to the independent, charismatic megachurch leader – in fact common to many megachurch leaders period. Let me unpack a little of it first before I name the lens through which I believes he views leadership – the lens through which he inteprets the Bible.

This man knew his bible – accurately quoting numerous scriptures from memory to prove his points (oft referred to as proof texting.) From Hebrews 13:17, he reminded his listeners to "obey their leaders." He spoke to us of King David and the people David gathered around himself (his mighty men) – how he had to first trust them before he would accept them. This pastor told of his own training up of young leaders to the point where they would respond simply by the way he inclined his head. He went on to describe the importance of the leader’s family and the special role entrusted to them in running the church – backing it up with reference to the views of a now dead hero in the faith. (Never mentioning Jesus response to his own earthly family.) This West Coast pastor’s message was well delivered, with mild self-deprecation and a stated desire to see "the lost won to Christ" – a desire best fulfilled, in his view, if the people would just be obedient, and let the leaders lead.

His lens – the lens of a king. I found it telling how often King David was referred to – I awaited his reference to David’s armour bearers – a book on that topic was probably available in his church bookstore. When he spoke of the New Testament, he tended to quote only Paul. (I recognize that the authorship of Hebrews is debated.) Jesus was only mentioned in our need to win people to Him.

Why would there be any problem with a Christian leader using King David as a model for his or her leadership? Is there anything wrong with the king model for the Christian church leader?

In fact, what might God’s viewpoint be on kings – from 1 Samuel 8:4-20. (As translated in The Message )

Fed up, all the elders of Israel got together and confronted Samuel at   Ramah. They presented their case: "Look, you’re an old man, and your sons   aren’t following in your footsteps. Here’s what we want you to do: Appoint a  king to rule us, just like everybody else."

When Samuel heard their demand–"Give us a king to rule  us!" – he was crushed. How awful! Samuel prayed to GOD.

GOD answered Samuel, "Go ahead and do what they’re  asking. They are not rejecting you. They’ve rejected me as their King. From   the day I brought them out of Egypt until this very day they’ve been behaving   like this, leaving me for other gods. And now they’re doing it to you. So let them have their own way. But warn them of what they’re in for. Tell them the way kings operate, just what they’re likely to get from a king."

So Samuel told them, delivered GOD’s warning to the  people who were asking him to give them a king. He said, "This is the way   the kind of king you’re talking about operates. He’ll take your sons and make  soldiers of them–chariotry, cavalry, infantry, regimented in battalions   and squadrons. He’ll put some to forced labor on his farms, plowing and   harvesting, and others to making either weapons of war or chariots in which he can ride in luxury. He’ll put your daughters to work as beauticians and   waitresses and cooks. He’ll conscript your best fields, vineyards, and  orchards and hand them over to his special friends. He’ll tax your harvests   and vintage to support his extensive bureaucracy.  prize workers and   best animals he’ll take for his own use. He’ll lay a tax on your flocks and   you’ll end up no better than slaves. The day will come when you will cry in desperation because of this king you so much want for yourselves. But don’t  expect GOD to answer."


But the people wouldn’t listen to Samuel. "No!" they   said. "We will have a king to rule us! Then we’ll be just like all the   other nations. Our king will rule us and lead us and fight our battles."


The king lens is a lens of power and domination. It’s a lens of nepotism – the royal family inherits the throne. It is a lens that separates the people from a proper relationship with God – as God tells Samuel, "They are not rejecting you. They’ve rejected me as their King." The leader as king replaces the relationship God wants to have with His people.

And how does God respond to that rejection? A thousand years after Samuel, He comes Himself, in the guise of a baby, born to a poor virgin, raised in the backwater town of Nazareth, reveals Himself at thirty years old with a three year ministry that teaches us His ways, then reconciles we who have rejected Him – the reconciliation that takes place at the Cross. At the Cross, the Son of Man, very God of very God (as the Nicene Creed reminds us) becomes the perfect sacrifice for us – to reconcile us to Himself.

The Cross is the lens through which we need to view Christian leadership. Through the Cross we interpret the Scriptures. When Paul speaks of obeying leaders – he is seeing leaders through the lens of the Cross. The Cross is hard. It is the place where the Creator of the Universe, chooses to abase Himself, to make Himself the lowest of the low – that we who rejected Him would be won back to Him. Paul never loses sight of his Saviour on the Cross. As he says in 1 Corinthians 1:23, "but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles". When Paul speaks of leaders, he is speaking of those who are willing to lay down their lives for those they lead. Leaders who are right in the midst of their people. Paul views leadership through the lens of the Cross. To interpret his teaching any other way is to miss what he is saying completely.

And what does Jesus say of leadership in light of the Cross? When Zebedee’s sons, James and John, who still view Jesus through the king lens, ask to sit on his right and left in "glory" – Jesus asks them whether they are able to "drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptisim I am baptized with." (Mark 10:38 ) Jesus is asking whether they are willing to be crucified like Him – though they do not understand his question even as he has just explained it to them in Mark 10:32-34their lens is still the lens of the king. They still expect Jesus to take His throne at the Temple in Jerusalem. But Jesus knows where He is heading. And in Mark 10 he continues and tells His disciples what His leadership looks like, through the lens of the cross.

Mark 10:42b-45 "You’ve observed how godless rulers throw their weight around," he said, "and when people get a little power how quickly it goes to their heads. It’s not going to be that way with you. Whoever wants to be great must become a servant. Whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave. That is what the Son of Man has done: He came to serve, not to be served–and then to give away his life in exchange for many who are held hostage."

Our experience, background, families impact how we see the world. We bring all that baggage with us as we choose our lenses. But the lens through which we view scripture – the lens through which we see biblical leadership is proscribed for us. It is the lens of the cross. Any other lens takes us into territory that becomes heterodoxy.

Of course, I’m not a theologian. Perhaps I’m mistaken.



A television editor, writer & director since 1978. A Christian since 1982. More than a little frustrated with the Church in the West since late in the last millennium.

9 responses to What Lens?

  1. Bill,
    This is a great post. One need not be John Calvin to see through this one! Reading your description of this West-coast-pseudo-king’s justification for his activities as Sr. Pastor gave me the creeps. Clearly this guy has an exaggerated sense of self-importance and an expectation that he can, with enough proof-texts, convince many they should be loyal to his cause. Historically, God seems not to let this kind of “leadership” last very long. He will probably by kissing the “mega” in his “mega-church” good bye in God’s good time. Another good cross-shaped leadership lens is Philippians 2:6-8. Unfortunately, those who use the “lens of a king” you describe here apply death on a cross to their loyal subjects, not to themselves. -Susan

  2. Hey Bill–

    Nice post. Thoughtful reflection on the many “images” of leadership in the Bible. While it may be argued that the Davidic Monarchy is a valuable “lens” through which to understand pastoral leadership, the problem is kings often become megalomaniacs (as do senior pastors)or at worst despots that need to be deposed.

    Viewing pastoral leadership through the “lens” of the cross has a biblical ring to it and is worthy of holding up in contrast to the monarchical view. Again, the problem with this model of leadership is that leadership like this often results in crucifixion.

    Perhaps there needs to be a concerted effort among leadership theorists in the church to reexamine the various metaphors of the Bible that speak to leadership. We may be surprised to discover that the best leaders exhibit a variety of styles in a variety of situations.


  3. Bill
    I too say “great post!” As a pastor, I am well aware that people constantly critique and listen to every word that comes out of my mouth. And I said things that have offended people and where out of order, but I realize that I am not perfect…nor do I pretend to be. I desire to be real and authentic with people. Actually, the biggest ‘compliment’ was paid to me yesterday in a counseling session when a person I just started to play hockey with said that because of my personal aggression (I love hard hitting hockey) on the ice, it made him see that not only was I normal, but so was he! Go figure. Can spiritual leaders be normal? No, we must be kingly! Touch not the Lord’s anointed must apply to hockey as well!

    As I read your post I was reminded that King David’s was a great king, even a man after GOD’s own heart…yet he was an adulterer, power monger and he destroyed his own family….no thanks, I do not want to be king! I was to be real, a fellow traveler on the road. I, by calling and vocation am perceived and see myself as a ‘leader,’ yet I find that biblical leadership is really an Oxymoron. I keep seeing that a biblical leader is really a servant, one who is at the back of the line…

  4. Bill,
    This is a great post! As a pastor for 23 years at the same church I would periodically be urged “to be king.” Some of our more charismatic types took the “lens of the king” and looked at (and prayed over)both me and Julie through them. There’s something both attractive and repulsive about that kind of image. Because of my love for Jesus and my immersion in the Gospels, I always resisted taking the local church throne. The “lens of the cross” rings so true. Your insightful essay has helped me clarify some of my feelings. I am so glad you’re not a theologian 🙂 Thanks!

  5. There is a dilemma here, Bill. The real problem is not whether the “pastor as King” or your “Cross” lens is an appropriate metaphor for leadership. The real problem is the proof-texting of Scripture to make MY point. I see this in so many treatments of church leadership. In isolation, I can accept a case for the “King” and the “Cross” metaphors. The same is true for “servant leadership” and the leader as “activist.” The problem from my point of view is that whatever leadership in the church needs to be has to submit to what God wants the church to be. For me this works itself out through the “lens of creation” and a sub-lens of the “Trinitarian nature of human relationships.” What this perspective leads me to is a focus on context. Leadership identity, styles and moral/ethical behavior are part of that, and can’t really be ultimately meaningful apart form that context. This is the biblical context as well. To the point, we don’t look to David for leadership advice. Rather we look to the context of David in relationship to God as a way to interpret his actions as a leader. Leadership is a lot more complicate than this, and it only become simple when it is seen in the context of what is God’s purpose for his creation.

    Now, that lens maybe too general, and we need to get more specific about the practice of leadership. My only suggestion is that we look at four areas of leadership from a Christian perspective. 1. Our response in life to the grace of God. 2. Our relationships with one another. 3. Our Vision or Calling from God. And 4. the organizational structure that provides the real world context for all these things to be worked out. Each one is essential for the other. We need them all we need a real relationship with Christ. We need open, honest, caring, accountable relationships. We need to have a clear, compelling vision for what God wants to do through, not only me, but through us, as the people of God. And finally, the importance of organization for achievement. It is this fourth area that is most often ignored in discussion about leadership. Too much of it is focused on the pastor being influential. I believe this is one of the weaker areas of the modern church. Sure mega-church are highly organized, but the question is To What End? The church structure serves the relationships and the vision. It is in a subordinate position to the rest, and yet it is integral to their viability.

    Lastly, there just may be a connection between the proof-texting of Scripture and the cult-of-personality that you so aptly criticize.

  6. Me again, sorry, after the last post there by ED, I would like to add something here…
    A friend just sent me this metaphor from the book, Leading with Authenticity in Times of Transition, and it goes like this:

    “Imagine a wheel that has trust as its hub. Radiating out from that hub are the spokes, which represent twelve leader competencies for dealing with change and transition. Six spokes represent structural competencies; the other six represent people-related competencies. Any of the twelve competencies can be overdone, underdone, or held in a
    positive, dynamic balance. If a leader neglects or overplays any one element, he strains the trust that is needed to lead effectively during times of transition.”

    The twelve leader competencies are:

    1. Catalyzing change – championing an initiative or significant change, consistently promoting the cause and encouraging others to get on board.

    2. Coping with transition – about recognizing and addressing the personal and emotional elements of change. It includes being in touch with your own emotions and reactions.

    3. Sense of urgency – taking action when necessary to keep things rolling. A leader who has a strong sense of urgency moves fast on issues and accelerates the pace of change for everyone.

    4. Realistic patience – knowing when and how to slow the pace down to allow time and space for people to cope and adapt.

    5. Being tough – the ability to make the difficult decisions about issues and people with little hesitation or second-guessing.

    6. Being empathetic – taking others’ perspective into account when making decisions and taking action.

    7. Optimism – the ability to see the positive potential of any challenge and to convey that optimism to others.

    8. Realism and openness – a willingness to be candid and clear about a situation and prospects for the future. It includes speaking the truth and admitting personal mistakes and foibles.

    9. Self-reliance – a willingness to take a lead role or even to do something yourself when necessary. A leader who is self-reliant has a great deal of confidence and is willing to step up and tackle most new challenges.

    10. Trusting others – being comfortable with allowing others to do their part of a task or project. It includes being open to others for input and support.

    11. Capitalizing on strengths – knowing your strengths and attributes and confidently applying them to tackle new situations and circumstances.

    12. Going against the grain – involves a willingness to learn and try new things – to get out of your comfort zone – even when the process is difficult or painful.

    Your thoughts?

  7. There are a few other lenses too. One is from John 13, the lens of a servant. It always riles me when senior pastors (there is an unbiblical term) are more informed by business leadership theories or Old Testament kingly models rather than by what Jesus said about leadership…which is really servanthood.

    Great post, Bill.

  8. Bill,

    Wow. You have written well and obviously put a lot of thought and passion into your entry. As you know, I am “out there” in the church, confronting this issue of leadership almost every day. I have great empathy for those leaders who are called to lead God’s people and trying to do great things for Him. At the same time, I empathize with the people and followers who do the work to make the Church function, since that was my role for many years.

    I think our lens for leadership can be no less than Jesus Himself, which sounds sort of trite and even super-spiritual. If I would offer a second lens, it would be Paul, who took every opportunity to direct the people’s attention and gaze to Jesus (Paul mentioned the name of Jesus 51 times in his letter to the Philippians alone!).

    This week I was producing my online weekly Bible study in Corinthians. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthains 4:1, “So then, men ought to regard us servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the secret things of God.” I discovered that the word translated “servants” or “ministers” there is the Greek word “hupeeretees.” Let me share with you what Adam Smith had to say about this word in his commentary:

    The word hupeeretees means an under-rower, or one, who, in the trireme, quadrireme, or quinquereme galleys, rowed in one of the undermost benches; but it means also, as used by the Greek writers, any inferior officer or assistant. By the term here the apostle shows the Corinthians that, far from being heads and chiefs, he and his fellow apostles considered themselves only as inferior officers, employed under Christ; from whom alone they received their appointment their work, and their recompense.

    So we who work in leadership are simply “underrowers” on a galley ship of which Jesus is the captain and supreme ruler.

    Thanks again for providing this forum for this critical subject. I pray that we all will be good underrowers for Him, setting an example that the lens of Christ has helped us see and understand by the grace of God.

  9. I’ve really appreciated the comments from all of you – people for whom I have great respect.

    Susan & John,

    Sadly, I believe that this Senior Pastor will probably live long and prosper. Christians today have the same issues as the people of Israel in Samuel’s time – they still want a king as John so aptly points out in his comment. The dysfunction is not just on the part of the leader – the “disease” needs a willing host.


    Gee, I thought crucifixion came as part of the package. (GRIN)

    I do agree that the issue of leadership is a critical discussion for the Church as I’ve “waxed eloquently” (or gone on and on and on – depends on your viewpoint) on this blog. As Darryl comments, we’ve spent more time being informed by the world’s understanding of leadership and applying that model to our own corporate structure.

    SoulPastor G,

    Can hockey players be Christians??? We know they can be gamblers.

    I too believe leaders are called to be “real”. However, many have been devasted in their attempts to be transparent, have withdrawn from those attempts and then taught other leaders the danger of transparency – based on their own experience. I’m reminded of the story of a leader who was overheard telling one of his young acolytes just before that acolyte preached – “Don’t trust anyone.”


    Proof texting is a sin I commit much too often. It’s often the hammer I use to remove the speck in my brother’s eye. Which tends to be a little destructive when one is operating blind.

    Thank you for your well reasoned response and your ongoing discussion of Leadership at your blogs

    Soulpastor G,

    The book you mention is from the Center for Creative Leadership, an interesting organization committed to advanc(ing) the understanding, practice and development of leadership for the benefit of society worldwide. Definitely worthy goals. And the points you outline from the book (available as a pdf download for purchase) are great leadership management competencies. However, I still want to hammer home (see my above comment) that the lens we need to view this through is the lens of the Cross.


    I  agree and would suggest that servant leadership is leadership through the lens of the Cross.


    Thanks for unpacking the word we translate as “servant” or “minister”. This is especially relevant as you are teaching in Zimbabwe and Kenya this month – two countries we both love and two countries that have been devasted by “elected” leaders who view their countries through the Lens of the King. I am profoundly saddened that the hope placed in Kenya’s new administration appears to be misplaced as their practice seems to be the “Same as it ever was” – to quote Talking Heads.

    Thanks again to all of you – and I look forward to any other responses.


    As a technical aside: This comment was created using a great Firefox Plug-In called Xinha Here! This plug-in allows me to save my comments as I work on them, add hyperlinks and text-formatting, insert pictures, special characters and more. Xinha Here! works particularly well with Typepad blogs.


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