Archive | Leadership

Ministerial Ethics | Joe E. Trull & James E. Carter

The cover of Trull and Carter's Ministerial Ethics

The world today is marked by an “ethical uncertainty” (13) which makes it difficult for people, let alone professionals, to know what they ought to do in any given situation. This problem is magnified for Christian ministers since their unique role is more ethically demanding than other professions (14–15). Recognizing a lack of information on this topic, Joe E. Trull and James E. Carter wrote Ministerial Ethics with two purposes in mind. First, the book “intends to teach Christian ministry students the unique moral role of the minister and the ethical responsibilities of that vocation” (11). Second, the book was written “to provide new and established ministers with a clear statement of the ethical obligations contemporary clergy should assume in their personal and professional lives” (11). This book is intended to contribute to the character formation of ministers in training and to be pulled off the shelves by those same students years into their vocation in order to hone their ethical acuity.

Ministerial Ethics can be grouped into three sections (160). The first two chapters are foundational, exploring the minister’s vocation and underscoring the importance of moral vision. The following four chapters explore the various moral situations that the minister will encounter in the four spheres of life: personal, congregational, collegial, and community. The final two chapters focus on one particular ethical issue, clergy sexual abuse, then provide a code of ethics primer to aid the minister in responding to this crisis. It is worth noting the substantial appendices which include example codes of ethics from various eras and organizations. This valuable resource gives practical examples for the theoretical content of the final chapter.

Foundational Issues

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A Tale of Three Kings | Gene Edwards

The cover of Edwards' A Tale of Three KingsA Tale of Three Kings is dedicated

To the brokenhearted Christians
coming out of authoritarian groups, seeking solace,
healing, and hope. May you somehow recover
and go on with him who is liberty.

And to all brokenhearted Christians:
May you be so utterly healed that you can still answer
the call of him who asks for all because he is all.

The book’s theme is simple. God used David’s suffering under King Saul to form his character. When David’s son tried to usurp the throne, David refused to become Saul-like. I can understand how appealing this sounds to those who have suffered under abusive leadership. The fact that this book is so popular is a sad testimony to the state of leadership in the church!

While there is deep value in suffering and God uses everything in our lives to develop our character, this book offers but one answer to the problem of Saulide leadership: “What, then, can you do? Very little. Perhaps nothing” (44). To the abused, this is a counsel of despair.

Edwards’ story presupposes an authoritarian type of leadership in which the leader, for good or for ill, is anointed of God and in place to call the shots. There’s nothing for the Davids of this world to do but to endure. While rebellion is never a good solution to poor leadership, mute endurance only enables the abuser.

Jesus has demonstrated and calls for a different type of leadership—servant leadership. Perhaps the model of King and servant isn’t the best metaphor for church leadership in light of the one who washed our feet.


Edwards, Gene. A Tale of Three Kings: A Study in Brokenness. Carol Stream: Tyndale House Publishers, 1992.

Lives Entrusted | Barbara J. Blodgett

The cover of Blodgett's Lives Entrusted

The ability to trust other people is fundamental to the human experience. Trust is “the very basis for acting in the world—our sense of security, our relationships, and our ability to navigate through problems. Without it, life becomes despairing” (8). In Lives Entrusted, Barbara J. Blodgett develops a philosophy of trust which she uses to explore four “relational practices” (31) of ministry: confidentiality, misconduct, gossip, and bullshit. Blodgett is concerned with how trust operates as a verb. Trust is something we do. More specifically, “[t]rust is a transaction that establishes a relationship” (2).

A Philosophy of Trust

Blodgett approaches trust with a philosopher’s eye. She examines the phenomenon from a variety of angles in order to precisely describe the structural features of trust. This process is evident in chapter one when Blodgett rejects three impostors of trust. First, trust resembles familiarity since we often trust those whom we are familiar with. However, there are times when we trust strangers and withhold trust from people who are familiar to us (17). Second, trust also resembles reliance since we rely on people whom we trust. Blodgett considers motivation here. Some people are reliable simply because they follow a set of instructions which indicates something less than a trust relationship (18). Third, trust resembles consistency, since we trust people who behave in a consistent fashion. Sometimes, however, relationships require rule-breaking or inconsistency in order to be trusting (18). Continue Reading →

Ethical Leadership | Walter Earl Fluker

The cover of Fluker's Ethical LeadershipEthical Leadership was written to an America in crisis. In 2009, the date of publication, Walter Earl Fluker lamented a nation involved in “two costly wars; struggling with financial crisis precipitated by unscrupulous ethical practices on Wall Street; recovering from a presidential campaign that degenerated into character assassination based on race, religion, and unresolved cultural wars” (vii). The following years have only seen the issues grow more severe. We are in desperate need of ethical leadership.

Ethical leadership is the successful navigation of two worlds: lifeworlds and systemworlds.

“Lifeworlds” refers to the commonplace, everyday traffic of life where people meet and greet one another, where common values and presuppositions about order and the world are held. “Systemworlds” refers to the vast, often impersonal bureaucratic systems dominated by money and power (economics and politics and the various structures of communications and technology), which are frequently at odds with the pedestrian traffic of lifeworlds. (7)

A leader navigates the intersection of these two worlds through three ethical practices which have corresponding dimensions (viii) and are each marked by three virtues (130):

  1. Character  is the personal realm marked by integrity, empathy, and hope.
  2. Civility is the societal realm marked by reverence, respect, and recognition.
  3. Community is the spiritual realm marked by courage, justice, and compassion.

This three-times-three matrix forms “The Ethical Leadership ModelTM” which Fluker fleshes out by drawing on the work of Howard Washington Thurman and Martin Luther King Jr. along with a variety of voices from the black church.

On the positive side, Ethical Leadership is a thoughtful elucidation of many key virtues. Fluker’s selection and categorization was often thought provoking. You might expect reverence to be a spiritual virtue, but he explains it with respect to civility. Conversely, he explains the spiritual value of courage where I would have assumed it to be a personal virtue.

Unfortunately, two features took away from the value of the book. First, the selection and categorization of virtues seemed arbitrary. It is uncertain why he chose some virtues and ignored others. Second, his writing style didn’t suit the subject matter. He wrote about these academic issues like a preacher would preach. There were few concise sentences. If one term was sufficient, two were better, and three were preferred. This style undermined clarity and added (unnecessarily) to the length of the book.

The “The Ethical Leadership ModelTM” developed by Fluker is still a timely message, but it would be better experienced in a live conference than a book.


Fluker, Walter Earl. Ethical Leadership: The Quest for Character, Civility, and Community. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2009.

Calling and Character | William H. Willimon

The cover of Willimon's Calling and CharacterWe clergy ought not to flatter ourselves, as if our clerical vocation somehow placed a greater burden upon our backs than the challenge that taking up the cross and following Jesus holds for any disciple. (9)

These words, from the first paragraph of the introduction, indicate the unconventional wisdom of William H. Willimon. He turns many of the common perspectives about the life of the pastor on their head. For another example, consider his thoughts on burnout:

The great ethical danger for clergy is not that we might “burn out,” to use a metaphor that is popular in our time, not that we might lose the energy required to do ministry. Our danger is that we might “black out,” that is lose consciousness of why we are here and who we are called to be for Christ and his church. (21)

In every page of Calling and Character, Willimon reminds clergy of “why we are here and who we are called to be” (21). The call to ministry is a high calling. Rather than waste time lamenting the “pedestal” we’re sometimes placed upon, clergy should buck up and wear the mantle. To nuance that metaphor, it is incumbent upon clergy to develop a virtuous character so the mantle actually fits.

Richard B. Hays used three biblical images to frame his ethics: community, cross, and new creation. Willimon uses this threefold framework to develop his ministerial ethics. Clergy are those people “who embody Christian community, cross, and new creation in their lives” (59).

You may agree wholeheartedly with everything Willimon has to say—or not. Regardless of your position on the various issues, Willimon will challenge you to examine your life and practice in light of a high clerical vision.


Willimon, William H. Calling and Character: Virtues of the Ordained Life. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2000.

 

The Power of Habit | Charles Duhigg

The cover of Duhigg's The Power of HabitSt. Paul expressed the frustration:

For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. (Romans 7:15 ESV)

Why do we persist in doing what we don’t want to do? Why do we bite our nails, eat in front of the television, and check our social media compulsively? Habits. Habits are patterns of behaviour imprinted so deeply on our brain that they function without conscious thought.

In The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg explains the habit cycle and suggests ways to co-opt that cycle for good.

A habit loop consists of three elements.

  1. Cue: This is something that triggers the habit. For an overeater this might be sitting in front of the television.
  2. Routine: This is the content of the habit—smoking, drinking, eating, name your vice.
  3. Reward: This is the feeling of satisfaction you receive when the habit is temporarily satiated.

The more times we run a certain routine, the deeper the habit is ingrained in lives.

The key to changing these is understanding what triggers the cue and substituting a different routine that delivers the same reward. Say the bad habit is biting your nails. The trigger might be boredom when you have spare time. Substituting a healthier routine such as having a book on hand to reach for may give you the same sense of satisfaction as a set of nails closely bitten.

Duhigg doesn’t stop with personal habits, he carries the theme on to the organizational habits. What cue-routine-reward cycles do we mindlessly run through in our churches?

Changing habits is hard work, but understanding how they work is a healthy first step on the path.

—Charles Duhigg, The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do In Life and Business (Toronto, ON: Anchor Canada, 2012).

Essentialism | Greg McKeown

The cover of McKeown's EssentialismWhen I first arrived at a new staff position in a former church, one of the well-meaning members caught up with me and asked me to participate in her project. It would only take an hour or so once every week. Under pressure to make a good impression I said yes. It didn’t take me long to realize my mistake. The opportunity was fine, but it was not what I was brought in to do.

Pastors in multi-staff or small churches are pulled in hundreds of directions every week. Greg McKeown’s book on Essentialism caught my eye. While he wrote the book for a business audience, I wondered how it could apply to pastoral leadership.

The Book In Brief

We have a limited amount of energy to spend in life. We can move an inch in thousands of directions, or a mile in one. The undisciplined pursuit of more is our default mode. In order to break out of it we need to learn three skills:

  1. Explore: Rather than jump on opportunities and say, “yes,” to everyone who asks, essentialists explore all their options and choose carefully where to apply their energy. We need space in order to make these decisions so time to retreat and reflect is critical.
  2. Eliminate: Once we have clarified our purpose, we need to remove the other good but unessential tasks from our lives. McKeown uses the analogy of cleaning out a closet. Resist the temptation to hold on to those items that you think you might wear some day. We need to get rid of everything that does not align with our key purpose in life.
  3. Execute: Once we know what to do and have eliminated the competing options from our life, it’s time to make the execution of our main goal effortless. We remove obstacles and leverage the power of small wins and habits to achieve our goals.

McKeown’s book is simple and direct. The value comes not so much in the ideas he presents, but in their application.

Pastoral Application

Pastoring is (or at least should be) different from corporate achievement. Our “success” is measured not by the goals we attain but by faithfulness to the Spirit of God. I think of God’s commissioning of Ezekiel:

But when I speak with you, I will open your mouth, and you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God.’ He who will hear, let him hear; and he who will refuse to hear, let him refuse, for they are a rebellious house. (Ezekiel 3:27)

Ezekiel’s success was not measured by the people’s response to his message but by his faithfulness to deliver God’s message.

Here is where essentialism comes into play for the Pastor: our most essential task is to be faithful to God. The exploration comes when we take times of regular retreat from the world to reflect on our main goal. This helps us to see the things (even the good things) that crowd their way into our pursuit of God allowing us to eliminate them. As for execution, we put habits into place: regular attention to spiritual disciplines that enable us to hear more clearly the Spirit’s voice.

Ironically, being a godly “essentialist” might mean not pursuing one earthly goal at the expense of all others. Earlier this week, for example, God has interrupted my pursuit of preparation and teaching to help a woman find rent money so her and her children would evade eviction. The same day I prayed with a person in distress. If I were a business-style essentialist, I might be tempted to see those events as intrusions against my main calling. As a pastor, I need to constantly remember that my goal is to remain faithful to my Creator. This is essentialism at its finest.

—Greg McKeown, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less (New York: Crown Business, 2014).

The Grasshopper Myth | Karl Vaters

The cover of Vaters' The Grasshopper MythThe low price of oil has dampened the Canadian economy. According to a London Free Press article, our GDP during the first three months of this year (2015) contracted by 0.6%, when it was expected to increase by 0.3%. Leah Schnurr of Reuters writes, “It was … the first time Canada’s economy has failed to expand since the second quarter of 2011, which saw zero growth.”

This analysis reflects the view of our society at large: if you’re not growing (i.e. if the numbers are not increasing), then something is horribly wrong. Many church leaders operate from this usually unspoken assumption. When the numbers we submit on our Annual Church Life Report don’t edge up, we get nervous and wonder what could be wrong.

Karl Vaters challenges this view head on in The Grasshopper Myth. The small churches of the world (which he defines as churches of 25-350 people) have a critical role to play in God’s redemptive plan. They have a strategic advantage in their ability to try new things, to reinvent themselves, and to train people to serve who might not get a chance in a more excellence-driven large church.

It’s time for small church pastors and leaders to stop feeling insecure in the level of their metrics and to develop a great small church. Vaters encourages pastors to proudly own the size of their church by taking a photo and displaying it on his Nametag Wall.

This is a motivational book with ministry insight. If you know a small church pastor who feels defeated, this book is medicine for the soul.

We do need to move further. Now that the case has been persuasively made for the legitimacy of the small church, I would love to see more literature focuses on how to maximize the strengths of the small church. Perhaps a sequel is in order.

—Karl Vaters, The Grasshopper Myth (USA: New Small Church, 2012).

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