Tag Archives | character

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.


After You Believe | N. T. Wright

Good things happen when you mash different subjects together (just search for “mashup” on YouTube and you’ll see what I mean). In Wright’s latest book for the public audience, he’s mashed up three topics:

  1. New Testament ethics
  2. Christian virtue
  3. Non-Christian ethics

Here’s the book in a nutshell: We are called to habitually practice the virtues of the Kingdom of God here in the present, so when difficult situations arise we will act according to our second nature (Christian habits) rather than our old nature. Wright develops this theme in quite a bit of detail.

My only criticism of the book is its length. While I love his 800 page works of theology, this could have been trimmed down for the popular audience.

Wright has an uncanny ability to pierce through the quagmire of mushy modern theology and deliver substance that will help the believer live life to the fullest. This is worthwhile reading for anyone who has ever wondered what to do after becoming a believer.

Heart-Work (A Series of Sermons)

Throughout the last few months of 2010, I felt the need to speak about Christian Character, or (as it’s traditionally been called) Virtue. Thus this series entitled, Heart-Work.
What does it mean to grow up as believers? If we are saved by faith alone, why bother renovating our character? How does my life now relate to eternal life in the new heavens and new earth God has planned? Where do I being? How do we work on our character without lapsing into legalism and blind rule-following (or worse, rule-making)? These are the sort of questions we looked at during January and February, 2011.

The major inspiration for this teaching came from an N. T. Wright book, After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters. If this topic interests you, I would encourage you to pick it up. You can find individual write-ups along with the resources I used in each message over at wspc.ca. As always, you can find the download links right here on the sermons page.

  1. Ta-Da (Matthew 19:16-30)
  2. Our Job Description (Genesis 1:26-28; 1 Peter 2:9)
  3. But That’s Impossible! (Matthew 5:1-11)
  4. Where Do We Begin? (Colossians 3:5-17; Romans 12:1-2)
  5. 3 Virtues, 1 Body (1 Corinthians 13)
  6. 9 Virtues, 1 Body (Galatians 5:16-23)
  7. How to be Royalty (John 1:1-13)
  8. It’s Getting Better all the Time (Genesis 39)

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