Theo-logical Leadership

I have started reading an interesting little book by Joseph S. Nye Jr.: The Powers to Lead (Oxford University Press, 2008). Nye is well known in the field of conflict and peace research for – amongst other things – the distinction between hard and soft powers. In this new book he attempts to study and present the relationships between leadership and power, taking into account precisely the tension between soft and hard power.

While reading this book, I start reflecting on “theo-logical leadership”. That expression, to me, does not mean the search for theologians who would enjoy a leadership position in the community of theologians. It refers, rather, to the question: what does leadership mean from a theological point of view, taking into account that I am speaking as Christian theologian? If we want to define leadership from a Christian theological perspective, what are the features of the concept that strike us? How do we define the web of “theo-logical leadership” and what are its anchor points?

As Christian theologians know, this is a far from unimportant issue. Leadership and how it has to be understood is a bone of contention in ecumenical and inter-religious dialogue. It is a key topic in ecclesiology – i.e. how Christians think about the Church – and it is profoundly related to tradition and revelation – leadership is, therefore, closely associated with mission and ordination. These are theological and pastoral issues. There is more. Today, when globalisation points to the worldwide interconnectedness of people and when challenges – such as the environmental crisis or the millennium goals – are global and multifaceted, religious and church leadership are increasingly looked for and taken into account. I want to start thinking about this in this post … that means, of course, that I will be exploring avenues and ideas, that I initiate a heuristic process, the result of which I do not know at this point. In this post, I merely want to point to some of the anchor points, some of the key dimensions, of what I have called “theo-logical leadership”, leadership as understood in a logic that refers to God.

(1) Theological leadership refers to the capacity to connect people in the shared effort of community building in view of the Kingdom of God. Obviously, this indicates “authority” in a double sense: as received from the already existing community which, for its continuation and for its growth, needs forms of leadership; and as arising in individuals or groups of individuals who enjoy the charism or grace of leadership. When speaking about “the Kingdom of God”, I also want to indicate two perspectives: that leadership is connected to a vision as it is received from God but always concretely enacted by people; and that it is a crucial element for what we could consider the core of the Christian message and gospel: community building or ecclesiogenesis, which requires leadership, indeed, as the capacity to initiate and sustain common apostolic discernment.

(2) Theological leadership embodies God’s commitment to the world in the incarnation. This kind of leadership rallies people to engage into the world, particularly there where the suffering is at its height – on the lines of a preferential alliance and option with the poor. Theological leadership means serving the world, as God is serving the world.

(3) Theological leadership means governance along the line of God’s immanent and economic trinitarian relationships. This kind of leadership is about weaving interconnectedness as God weaves interconnectedness. What does it mean to live the trinitarian relationships between us? I feel very inspired at this level by the mystical diaries of the Flemish Jesuit worker priest Egied Van Broeckhoven.

(4) Theological leadership also means saying “yes” or “no” as God says “yes” or “no”. How do we encourage people, but how can we also in a critical way question their behavior, their attitudes, their convictions and thoughts, their prejudices? Here, processes of discernment are required, and theological leadership refers also to the ability to accompany such processes.

These are merely four ideas. They seem important to me, but there is certainly more to be said. I hope to explore these matters further in the coming days.


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