The Leadership Lessons of Jesus: Timeless Insights for Today's Leader,by Bob Briner and Ray Pritchard (Broadman & Holman, 120 pp.; $14.99, hardcover). Reviewed by John Throop, president of The Summit Group, a management consulting firm in Peoria, Illinois, and an Episcopal priest.
A contemporary temptation in popular theology—and the rage in Christian publishing—is to put Jesus into a coat and tie to teach a leadership seminar. The Sermon on the Mount may be replaced by the Sermon from the Top Floor Corner Office. Jesus' disciples become his management team. The Bible becomes the strategic plan. Jesus the Savior remains, to be sure. But now, meet Jesus the Mentor.
It's very easy to reclothe Jesus in contemporary images to meet current needs rather than to let Jesus be Jesus. Translating his first-century ministry into the end of the twentieth requires careful exegesis and a nuanced hermeneutic. The temptation is to impose our own agenda on the biblical text instead of being challenged by it.
In The Leadership Lessons of Jesus: Timeless Insights for Today's Leader, sports entrepreneur Bob Briner and Ray Pritchard, senior pastor of Calvary Memorial Church in Oak Park, Illinois, cull the first six chapters of the Gospel of Mark for material on Jesus' leadership insights. They present 52 brief lessons—one per week—designed to help a leader in business, charity, or the church.
These two faithful men seek to make Christ relevant in the workplace, a laudable goal. Their point is well taken, too; there is indeed something important and eternal in Jesus' leadership method. His followers changed the culture and conscience of the ancient world, and we still follow his teachings today.
Yet Briner and Pritchard's approach is too brief and broad, and their use of Scripture too superficial. For example, in a discussion about calling (a most important subject), the authors point to Mark 1:11 and state, "Evidently, Jesus' leadership status needed to be re-affirmed by God the Father as Jesus began his earthly ministry." But what precisely does this mean? Did Jesus struggle with his calling? How? Will we, too, hear a voice from heaven?
The application of the text is no better: "Never let someone else determine God's will for your life. No one else can understand God's unique call on your life as clearly as you." But are there not times when we need the guidance and even the reproach of others—times when we don't see clearly at all? Is calling an entirely individual activity, or is there a role for the community of faith?
Sound-bite reflections can make it appear that Jesus' kingdom mandates fit seamlessly with the suburban pieties of American culture. Is it even accurate to speak of Jesus' "leadership" as if he and a corporate executive or a football coach were engaged in the same task? Only deep and thoughtful engagement between theology and the workplace will give us the tools we really need for leadership on the front lines of daily labor and commerce.
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