Traditions in Leadership: How Faith Traditions Shape the Way We Lead, ed. by Richard J. Mouw and Eric O. Jacobsen (Max De Pree Center for Leadership, 2006, 243 pp., $20.95). Available at

"Theological education is leadership education!" Daniel Aleshire, executive director of the Association of Theological Schools, has sounded this theme in seminaries and divinity schools throughout the United States and Canada. Boards, faculties, students, and constituencies generally agree. In fact, many of them know that the word seminary comes from the Latin for "seed bed," and seminaries are seed beds for the future of the church. Communities need leaders to guide and accompany them on their pathways of worship, work, and witness.

The questions theological school boards and administrators ask of themselves are challenging. In our educational strategies to prepare leadership, are we delivering what we are promising? And, more profoundly, what wisdom do we bring to the leadership we hope to provide?

Intellectual understanding is highly prized in all accredited theological schools. This is graduate education, after all, and for some schools critical intelligence is virtually the definition of leadership education. Spiritual formation is also part of all good theological education. Effective leadership, though, has become the test in a growing number of schools, and some track their results by how well communities are led by their graduates.

A good board spends much of its time assessing the school's capacity to accomplish its mission. But when board members look around at other theological schools, they see varied educational strategies and contrasting visions of leadership education. "Next to others," they ask, "how well does our curricular strategy prepare astute, wise, and able leaders?" They may also wonder if their own faith tradition has a distinctive wisdom or a vision for good leadership. If they do have a particular wisdom, the school's future rests not merely on what is possible or on how one school compares to its peers. Rather, education for leadership is an expression of a school's theology and its spiritual traditions.

Traditions in Leadership is a tutorial on how faith traditions shape the ways their communities are led. This book stands out among other volumes on "how to lead" by including nine explorations on "why we lead the way we do" (see below). Published by the De Pree Leadership Center in 2006, the volume was edited by Richard J. Mouw, president and professor of Christian philosophy and ethics at Fuller Theological Seminary, and Eric O. Jacobsen, a doctoral candidate at Fuller who is also pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Tacoma, Washington.

Leadership in faith traditions is about mission, or at least maintenance-moving together to a promising future while resisting changes that threaten. And how is leadership authorized? Writing on Jewish traditions of leadership, Elliot Dorff notes, "Because there is no established organizational structure within the Jewish community, there is no hierarchy of the sort that exists in the Catholic and some Protestant churches" (p. 23). His chapter then moves through rich stories of rabbinic, communal, and military leadership, each of which manifests "the view of God, the human being, and the relationship between them that underlies these forms of Jewish leadership" (p. 15).

Beliefs and practices are embedded in communities in particular times and places. Traditions in Leadership makes no plea to return to John Calvin's Geneva, Tevya's shetl, or Garrison Keillor's Lake Wobegon, and none of the authors claim to speak for their whole tradition. The volume, however, displays how living traditions can be wise in "the way we do things," including how we lead. The delight of these essays lies in the stories of religious and political leaders who embodied and advanced what their tradition believes.

The charism of leadership

Father Mark O'Keefe, a monk of Saint Meinrad Archabbey in Indiana and the former president-rector of Saint Meinrad School of Theology, takes the reader inside the lore of the Benedictine vision of religious leadership. He recites the words of St. Benedict's Holy Rule, which are "elegantly and vividly carved into the wooden door of the abbot's office": He is believed to hold the place of Christ in the monastery. O'Keefe states: "Perhaps there is no more striking way to suggest, in a Christian context, both the authority and the responsibility of a Benedictine abbot. It also suggests a strong sense of call, of vocation, in leadership" (p. 101).

O'Keefe tells the remarkable story of Benedictine Father Martin Marty, who immigrated from Switzerland in 1860 to become the first abbot of Saint Meinrad. O'Keefe notes that Abbot Marty was hardly typical, but his gift for leadership left a distinctive mark as he introduced "an interesting mix of traditional monastic discipline and an amazing willingness to try new things" (p. 109). Marty's vision moved him out of the monastery to work among the Sioux in the Dakota Territory. At times his zeal muted wiser voices that might have warned him or derailed his missionary work. But he was not dissuaded from his task.

In contrast, Cecil M. Robeck Jr., a Pentecostal scholar, identifies his tradition as "a radical experiment in the democratization of the believing community and, therefore, of its leadership" (p. 142). "Since every member of the Body of Christ is the recipient of some charism," says Robeck, "every member is a potential leader" (p. 143). Indeed, the remarkable leadership of William Joseph Seymour (1870-1922) at the Azusa Street Mission ensured that "the priesthood of all believers was a reality rather than a mere theological ideal" (p. 152) - at least in the early 20th century in Los Angeles.

The public vocation of leadership

In his chapter on the Reformed (or Calvinist) understanding of leadership, Richard J. Mouw rehearses his tradition's witness to leadership in accord with "the three-fold office of Christ" - prophet, priest, and king. He emphasizes the unity of these offices in the person of Christ as a transforming integration to be sustained in "shared leadership rather than individual leadership patterns" (p. 129). Dutch politician-theologian Abraham Kuyper (1837- 1920) is his example of a civic leader who celebrated "the experience of a Savior's love" and emphasized the sovereignty of Jesus Christ over all of life. Kuyper declared: "[T]here is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry "Mine,'" (p. 131). Mouw weaves his own experience as a public leader and seminary president into his essay. He also infuses the Calvinist leadership models associated with Kuyper with the broader Reformation witness to "the humility and suffering of the incarnation" (p. 135).

The historic peace churches are represented by Wilbert Shenk's essay on the Mennonites and Richard Wood's reflections on "Vulnerability and the Exercise of Power in Quaker Leadership." These communities have made large contributions to leadership studies in and beyond the church - especially their selfcritical reflections on minority status and power. For example, Harold Bender's presidency of Goshen College was committed to training leadership and not simply to "conserving Mennonitism for Mennonites" (p.175). Robert Greenleaf's distinctive understanding of servant leadership "grows out of Quaker understandings of leadership in the gathered Meeting" (pp. 216-217).

Leadership in service of God's holy mission

The volume is enriched by the theologies and liturgies of the Orthodox and Episcopal traditions. Nonna Verna Harrison recounts how in different times and places, both St. Antony (the 4th-century Egyptian hermit) and St. Innocent Veniaminov (a 19thcentury Russian missionary to Alaska) were "living icon[s] of Christ to his flock" (p. 89). Harrison says that Orthodox ethics are "maximalist," striving for perfection rather than the lowest requirements for salvation, and thus leadership models are "articulated in terms of an exhortation to strive for personal sanctity" (p.94). Moreover, leadership is personal - even familial, using metaphors like father, mother, and husband. Exercising personal pastoral decisions, bishops apply disciplinary rules not as impersonal laws, but individually for the persons involved. Harrison notes that the upside of this approach is that it gives priority to the community of persons rather than to transitory structures. On the other hand, poor leadership leads to "administrative arbitrariness and organizational chaos" (p. 92).

In her chapter on leadership in the Episcopal tradition, Fredrica Harris Thompsett maintains that the centrality of baptism within her tradition "grounds leadership expectations as expansive, consensual, and collaborative, rather than hierarchical" (p. 190). She clearly demonstrates the force Episcopal worship has on shaping leadership, and her examples of leadership represent the public engagement to which she believes the tradition is called. Thus Frank William Stringfellow, a 20th-century Episcopal layman and social activist, emphasized that baptism, common to all Christians, is the call to mission, and that each person carries the good news of the gospel, not as a saint, but as a human being (p. 201).

Yes, "Theological education is leadership education!" And the variety of North American seminaries mirrors most of this continent's faith traditions. In their many patterns of leadership education, these "seed beds" demonstrate once again that what we believe matters.

Traditions in Leadership: How Faith Traditions Shape the Way We Lead, ed. by Richard J. Mouw and Eric O. Jacobsen (Max De Pree Center for Leadership, 2006, 243 pp., $20.95). 

Essays include:

  • Jewish Models of Leadership
    Elliot N. Dorff

  • The Mormon Lay Leadership Tradition
    Eugene England

  • Leadership in the Orthodox Christian Tradition
    Nonna Verna Harrison

  • The Benedictine Abbot
    Mark O'Keefe, O.S.B.

  • Leadership and the Three-Fold Office of Christ
    Richard J. Mouw

  • A Pentecostal Perspective on Leadership
    Cecil M. Robeck, Jr.

  • Leadership in the Mennonite Tradition
    Wilbert R. Shenk

  • Episcopal Images of Leadership Shaped in Community
    Fredrica Harris Thompsett

  • Vulnerability and the Exercise of Power in Quaker Leadership
    Richard J. Wood

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