Christian Book Reviews, Author Interviews, Excerpts

Author Says Church Needs Scriptural Leadership Model

  • Randall Murphree AgapePress
  • 2005 12 Feb
Author Says Church Needs Scriptural Leadership Model

In an exclusive interview with Dr. John MacArthur, he discusses the influence of the Apostle Paul on his own life, as well as the example set by the apostle in the area of spiritual leadership. MacArthur says because of the extensive writings of Paul that are available in the New Testament, the apostle provides the "best leadership model" in scripture.

Q:  In "Hard to Believe," you cite the "true gospel" as a call to self-denial. Is this a theme that runs through your work? Are there other critical common threads?

A: The gospel seems to be the point of attack. When I came out of seminary, I thought there would be certain battles I would fight. You know, in seminary they're kind of arming you for the life of ministry. At that time, I never really thought that I would spend so much time trying to protect the gospel, though it does make sense that that's where the enemy would attack.

But that isn't all I do. That certainly hasn't been the focus of my preaching and teaching ministry in my church, or on radio. But there have been a number of books that I have written that were, in a sense, polemics in the defense of the gospel. Not every book follows that trail, but that certainly has been a theme that I have gone back to on a number of occasions.

Q:  Do we want to make the gospel too easy these days?

A:  Yes. We can disagree about mode of baptism and church organization, and we can disagree about eschatology and we can have a different view of the Holy Spirit, but we have to get the gospel right. We can't play fast and loose with that. In a world where Christianity wants to be accepted and wants to be popular, and in a world where marketing strategy has invaded the church, it's very easy to reinvent something based upon what we think the consumer wants. It's very easy to weaken the true message of the gospel to diminish what Christ Himself demanded. I've seen an awful lot of that.

Q:  There are a lot of books out there on leadership – both secular and spiritual. What gap did you see? Why did you feel a need to write on leadership?

A:  When they [Thomas Nelson] talked to me about a book on leadership, I said, "There are so many books on leadership. ..."

They said, "But we want one that's biblical."

In fact, it's almost humorous. There are so many books on leadership that I kidded the publisher. They couldn't even think of a title that hadn't been used, so they just gave it a sub-title:  "The Book on Leadership." It's almost a book without a title.

My response was, "If you want a book on leadership that's biblical, it's going to be a book that follows a spiritual leader. I mean, you're not going to find a [typical] CEO model in the Bible. You're not going to find a corporate model. You're not going to find a military model of leadership that becomes a sort of standard. You're going to find leadership in the kingdom of God, leadership in terms of spiritual ministry."

They said, "That's what we want." So that's kind of what we did. Maybe revisiting something along the line of Oswald Sanders' "Spiritual Leadership," a book written decades ago, that espouses the biblical pattern of leadership – in particular the New Testament, not so much the Old Testament, which has some limited insights into it.

The other element of it was that I wrote a book called "Twelve Ordinary Men," which has been a best seller on the apostles, and the one apostle that was left out was Paul, the last of the apostles, sort of in his own time. In my judgment, he is the best leadership model in the scripture because we have the most material about him. We have 13 epistles at least, we have most of the Book of Acts, and we can really construct a very, very good case for his approach to spiritual leadership.

It sort of seemed to complete the apostles to use him as the model, and rather than talk in doctrines or principles of leadership, to look at a life and see how it fleshed out.

Q:  From the reader's perspective, Paul works great as a model for leadership. How has your study of Paul influenced your life?

  Paul is really my mentor. I've had a lot of living people who have influenced my life, but no one has had a greater impact on my life than Paul. I guess it's probably because I've basically done a verse-by-verse exposition and written a commentary on everything he wrote and also on the Book of Acts. So I have imbibed Paul at the deepest levels and he is to me the epitome of a spiritual leader. For me it was a great exercise. I only felt like the book should have been three times as long. I had to cut and whittle so much down.

Q:  Don't you know we readers don't like long books any more?

  I understand that.

Q:  We'll come back to that. Your publicist referred to "The Book on Leadership" as a "roadmap for character development." Is there a sequence to your 26 principles?

  Not in the sense that you would prioritize them spiritually. But the order really flows out of the narrative. When you get into the story of Paul and his trip to Rome, and the shipwreck, you sort of take it the way it comes. I do think there's a general flow. In other words, the first characteristic of a leader that I talk about is that a leader is trusted or trustworthy.

If you think about everything in leadership, that might not be the thing you come up with first, but after all is said and done, that is the absolute foundation for a leader. I'm not going to lean my ladder on your building if I can't trust it to hold up. I'm not going to give my life up to follow you unless I trust that where you're going and what you're doing is right. I'm not going to invest everything I have in following you unless I trust you with the investment of my life. So there is a sense in which these 26 [principles] are somewhat natural expressions of leadership. You have to start somewhere, and you start with being trusted.

The second [principle] is that a leader takes the initiative. Until a leader does that, he's not a leader. So there is some flow, and I think that, rather than have some esoteric approach, it is the natural flow of the way that leadership develops in a crisis. That's what I've tried to show with the apostle Paul. When it moves to other portions of scripture, you might be able to arrange those in differing order, but I think there's a general flow to it.

Q:  How do you perceive the willingness of the Body of Christ to buy into the St. Paul model of leadership?

  I think [the Body] is challenged today. I don't think people in churches today know what a spiritual leader should look like. The church has been basically commandeered by entrepreneurs. The "successful" churches – the big churches, the mega-churches, the churches that are in the public view – their pastors are selling books by the millions, they're holding seminars, they're starting associations, they're trying to export their church model. These are great illustrations of entrepreneurship at its best in a marketing scheme. So the success in the church today that's being hailed as success is an imported corporate model.

I heard Rick Warren, the other night on "Larry King [Live]," say that his mentor is Peter Drucker. That's an interesting statement for a pastor to make: "My mentor is Peter Drucker." He's a guy who writes [secular] books on the corporate structure. That's a change. The model that's being imported into the church is the marketing model, the entrepreneurship model – cultural sensitivity, social savvy, style, form, determining felt needs. That's the model.

So you're sitting in a church and it's not the model of a godly man, it's not the model of a servant leadership, it's not the model of a man who gives his life away. It's not the model of a man who is an articulate teacher of the Word of God with depth as a theologian, who is a craftsman in handling the Word of God.

I think there's a lot of confusion. And you've got everything from that [biblical model] to the extreme sort of business-corporate-marketing model and everything in between. I'm not sure people know what the model of spiritual leadership is supposed to be.

I think there's a place to put a book out there, and to say, "Take a look at this; let's go back to basics." That is what I try to do – go back to the Word of God. What does it look like when you look at leadership in the way that it's laid out in scripture. After all, Christ is the head of the church. He has the right to mediate His rule in His church. How does He do it? He has defined it in the Word of God. It is trans-cultural, trans-generational, trans-national. This is the biblical pattern.

Q:  Changing gears, to draw a point or two from  "Follow Me." What do you see as advantages and disadvantages of the little books so popular today?

  Well, the disadvantage of these little books is that people think that's all they need to know. The idea is that everything can be handed out in fast-food, small-dose portions and that's a nutritional spiritual diet. And people don't necessarily think penetratingly or think deeply. [They require a] give-it-to-me-quick, give-it-to-me-short, get-it-over-with approach. That's the downside – they assume that the Christian life and experience and doctrine and theology at a superficial level is sufficient. Of course, it isn't.

The upside of a small book is, since people already think that way, if you can just get them to read something that has some depth, if you can whet their appetite for something that's beyond the superficial, something that takes them down a little ways, if you can generate interest in that, then maybe they'll search a little deeper.

In discussions with the publisher, we often say that these smaller books are entry points into other books that will take people deeper. But before they're going to be willing to do that, they have to get a little taste of what might be a little more profound and challenging than what they're used to.

I like the fact that you can open ["Follow Me"] at any page and read it and get a unit, kind of like a daily devotional. It does cover the subjects of discipleship, but it is really an entry point to all those subjects, in response to which somebody could go deeper into the Word of God and then think more richly and read more broadly about it.

I like the way it's formatted. Particularly for men, who don't tend to read as extensively as women do, it's a way to get a grip on some convicting, challenging and encouraging elements that are at the foundation of a solid Christian life. I'm very encouraged with the book and so far with the response to it.

Randall Murphree, a regular contributor to AgapePress, is editor of AFA Journal, a monthly publication of the American Family Association.

Dr. John MacArthur, author of numerous best-selling books, is pastor-teacher of Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California, president of The Master's College and Seminary, and president of "Grace to You" radio program.

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