A Both-And Approach to Leadership Development and Effectiveness
A leader’s life may have some value that others can easily observe, but not nearly the long-term influence that is possible if he sharpens his intellect and develops it to its full potential.
By Byron Klaus
Gordon MacDonald tells of browsing through an old bookstore with his wife hoping to find some treasures from the past. Together they found a biography of Daniel Webster written in 1840. They bought it, eager to glean new insights into this venerable American icon. While it had a worn cover and obviously someone had used it for generations, they discovered the book had been printed poorly. Previous owners had to cut apart many pages with scissors to read them; and, the more the MacDonalds investigated, the greater they realized this book may have been used, but had rarely been read.
The Christian leader who has not grown intellectually through life is akin to the book described in this story. A leader’s life may have some value that others can easily observe, but not nearly the long-term influence that might be possible if he had sharpened his intellect and developed it to its full potential.1
God’s call on my life has included ample opportunity to live in the tension that the prophet Isaiah described as spirit of wisdom and knowledge: a somewhat delicate balance between passion/zeal and the conceptual world of the intellect (see Isaiah 11:2). I have learned to live in the intersection between two tension points: on the one hand, a belief in Zechariah’s prophetic insight that ministry of eternal consequence is not by might, nor by power, but by the Spirit (Zechariah 4:6); and, on the other hand, Paul’s instruction to Timothy to study with thoroughness so he could carefully and reasonably present the Word of God (2 Timothy 2:15).
I have attempted to be obedient to God’s call to work in educational institutions that shape Pentecostal leaders with a both-and posture. At times, I feel like the proverbial frog the Swiss Pentecostal, Walter Hollenweger, describes in his Prayer of a Frog. Hollenweger muses about his life as a Pentecostal in the great universities of Europe, “O God, You made me an in-between being, but it is a tough job. Sometimes I am confused and terrified; strengthen my faith so that I am a cheerful in-between creature, a happy frog.”2
We tend to play out much of the tension in Pentecostal life, with respect to the care of the intellect, with stereotypes that conveniently allow us to dismiss obvious tensions using anecdotal evidence that confirms our personal assumptions. The passionate Pentecostal can easily recall the abstract, obtuse explanation of a seemingly simple question or principle that a more “cerebral” colleague has given — leaving listeners with eyes glazed over in confusion. The Pentecostal who values intellectual thoroughness can painfully remember the minimal attention to key interpretive frameworks for a biblical text that simply left a congregation with wrong conclusions and simplistic answers.
I have observed both ends of the spectrum and believe we need not live in this world of polar opposites. The Pentecostal tradition can avoid both confusing intellectual abstraction and mindless unfocused passion. To allow the points of tension to remain in play is to neutralize an incredible contribution that Pentecostals have to make to 21st-century Christianity.
I believe within the history of Pentecostal life there are guidelines for Pentecostals to turn the tensions we have all experienced into dimensions of dynamic interplay that do not debilitate, but enhance the strength of our tradition. For example, some might argue that historically people have seen Pentecostals more as doers than for intellectual prowess. Allow me an alternative view of that conventional wisdom.
Late in the 19th century, as the modern missionary movement was having growing results, there was much strategizing about how this global missionary effort might be done even more rapidly and effectively. The keen passion among a committed group of mission-minded people included a deep desire to see the restoration of the Spirit’s power as taught and illustrated in the New Testament. The appearance of the Pentecostal movement in the early 20th century and its central commitment to evangelize the world were not merely about a group of zealous folks who were radical, sacrificial, and gung-ho to take the gospel to the ends of the earth.
What our early forebears affirmed was a belief in the need for a subsequent spiritual empowerment that sent the recipient toward a destiny connected to the continuing redemptive mission of Jesus Christ. The empowerment was for the purpose of world evangelism, and the soon return of Christ made it necessary to “work while it is day” (John 9:4). Signs and wonders, empowered by the Holy Spirit, accompanied this work, thus energizing missionary efforts and hastening the return of Christ.
The late Pentecostal historian, Gary McGee, suggests that this new “radical strategy” was not merely some sort of “Holy Ghost breakdown”; it was a theological critique on the whole of 19th-century missionary endeavor that resulted in what McGee called the radical strategy.3Far from a mindless but passionate activity, this was a vibrant theological statement that was akin to Peter’s deeply spiritual evaluation of the events on the Day of Pentecost when he spoke those stirring words filled with magnificent biblical insight, “This is that” (Acts 2:16).
Models of Equilibrium in the Book of Acts
The first few verses of Acts 13 provide another picture with deep implications for 21st-century Pentecostal leadership. The church at Antioch was a new and out-of-the-box initiative that was thriving, but causing no lack of concern for the leadership in Jerusalem. Antioch had taken their evangelistic efforts to new groups of people who had no Jewish connections. The church was thriving under the leadership of Barnabas and Saul of Tarsus.
Chapter 13 begins with a key description of the nature of leadership in Antioch. Luke described for his readers the fact prophets and teachers were central to what made this church thrive. Clearly, Antioch had a vital combination of enduring solid biblical grounding and a sense of discerning the dynamic of the present tense of Jesus at work by the power of the Spirit. Luke noted the presence of both prophets and teachers in the context of the regular discipline of worship and fasting that results in clear direction by the Holy Spirit to set apart Barnabas and Saul for a special new initiative.
The quick glimpse into this vital New Testament church provides a key insight: we do not need to hamstring vital spiritual experience by thoroughness in biblical foundations. In fact, we can draw a reasonable conclusion that the Antioch church, with its combination of vital spiritual experience and deep rootedness in Scripture, was the model the Spirit clearly wanted replicated as the Antioch church commissioned Barnabas and Saul for what we term Paul’s first missionary journey.
Acts 13 and 14 describe this first missionary effort and the resulting churches that Paul and Barnabas established. At the beginning of Acts 15, we see a deeply theological problem come to a head. The future of the Church is at stake as the nature of salvation is in sharp dispute. The issue being disputed is whether a person must become a Jew, in the pattern Moses had taught, as a prerequisite to salvation or whether any person of any culture could, by faith in Christ alone, receive salvation.
The Jerusalem Council is not really about a controversy over missionary strategy or pragmatic methodology. Barnabas and Paul rooted their strategy in a deep-seated biblical belief that salvation was by faith alone. This is not a small matter. While they recount the incredible impact of the gospel on Gentiles through signs and wonders, they are simultaneously shaping and clarifying the nature of the Church’s understanding of salvation.
As Peter and James weighed into the discussion, they helped formulate the biblical foundations for the continuing vitality of the expansion of the Church. Acts 13–15 gives us a wonderful case study of how Pentecostal leadership can thrive. Reliance on God’s supernatural power to transform people, joined with keen minds that recognize the enduring issues at stake, is the clear pattern worth emulating (13:2 and 15:12–18).
The Acts 17:16–34 account of Paul’s preaching in Athens provides another affirmation of the effectiveness of keeping our intellect sharp as part of continued effectiveness in ministry. Paul’s ministry in Athens shows a clear understanding of the cultural awareness Paul had of his surroundings, as this passage reveals glimpses into life in Athens. He is aware of the Athenian’s religious and aesthetic values and highlights this in his discussions with intellectuals at the Areopagus (Mars Hill). He uses both the aesthetic and religious assumptions of the privileged class he is in dialogue with to frame his talking points. However, this is not simply a case study in the intellectual prowess of Paul or the need to be well-read to impress the people to whom you are presenting the claims of Christ. Paul is obviously intellectually astute and a clear match for his dialogue partners, but this is merely the framework for him to present the eternal truth of the clear superiority of Jesus Christ as seen in the Resurrection.
The common language Paul can speak with this group of well-heeled Athenians is clearly a necessary tool and he does it well. But Paul is making his point that their system of life is lacking and God has put up with their “ignorance” long enough. It was time for them to see the light and repent (verse 30). Paul joins bold proclamation of the gospel empowered by the Holy Spirit with the clear conceptual framework that he lays in his encounter with the elite of Athens. Again, we see the pattern of reliance on God’s supernatural power to transform lives joined with a keen mind to recognize the enduring issues at stake in the context.
John Wesley: Proto-Pentecostal?
John Wesley is arguably the most helpful historical figure that provides for us a combined model of pastoral excellence with keen intellect. Wesley spent his early life in the parsonage of a long-term pastor. His father, Samuel, pastored the same congregation for 39 years, and with his wife, Susannah, raised 18 children. John and his brother, Charles, had the privilege of a wonderful education at Oxford University’s Lincoln College. John’s spiritual journey led him to a variety of experiences including missionary work among Native Americans in what is now the state of Georgia. Upon his return to England he met some Moravian missionaries whose spiritual lives deeply impacted his life and under whose influence he testifies to a conversion experience.
As Wesley’s influence grew, his foundational principles for ministry came to be known as the Wesleyan Quadrilateral.4 These four pillars provide a significant template for our consideration. The first pillar of the Quadrilateral was the primacy of Scripture. We clearly see his passion for Scripture when he says, “O give me that book, at any price give me the book of God.”
The second pillar for Wesley was what he called the authority of tradition. In an age where revolution was destroying all sense of tradition and authority, Wesley argued that Christians must value their connections to believers of all preceding ages. He believed their experience was a critical source for understanding contemporary life and ministry and a hedge against repeating past mistakes. He believed believers must acknowledge the Holy Spirit who orchestrated the continuing redemptive mission of Jesus Christ throughout history. Wesley said, “If any doubt still remains, I consult those who are experienced in the things of God. Then the writings, whereby being dead, they yet speak. And what I thus learn, that I teach.”
The third pillar for Wesley was the authority of reason. While we can understand how a person in the middle of the Age of Enlightenment would make such a claim, Wesley is simply suggesting that we acknowledge the full use of a faculty God gave us. He is willing to live in the tension that this pillar must navigate. Wesley says, “Let reason do all that reason can. Employ it as far as it will go. But at the same time, acknowledge it is utterly incapable of giving faith or love and consequently of producing real virtue or substantive happiness. Expect these from a higher source.”
The final pillar for Wesley was the authority of experience. The vibrancy of faith that Wesley affirmed is one of his enduring contributions to Christian life. He integrated his deep commitment to strategies for maturing disciples into his belief that an encounter with God’s empowering Spirit was necessary for Christian maturity. Wesley said, “It is necessary that you have the hearing ear and the seeing eye, that you have a new class of senses opened to your soul not depending on organs of flesh and blood to be evidence of things not seen. … to discern spiritual objects and to furnish you with ideas of what the outward eye has not seen neither the ear heard.”
The effectiveness of John Wesley and his long-term ministry throughout England is one of the enduring examples of a both-and person. His spiritual vitality was alive and profound and his intellect was a source of breadth and depth in understanding the significance of what was spiritually at stake in his era. Wesley understood his calling in God’s plan when he said, “I’m not afraid that the people called Methodist should ever cease to exist. I am afraid lest they should only exist as a dead sect, having the form of religion without the power.” Wesley’s life and example and particularly his Quadrilateral deserve serious consideration for Pentecostals who seek to embody the vibrancy of spiritual encounter with God and the breadth of thoroughness in conceptual rigor.
Ralph Riggs is a shining example in Assemblies of God history of a leader who valued a both-and approach to leadership development and effectiveness. In an era when people might have viewed a bright mind with suspicion, Riggs said “preparation for the ministry should begin at the moment when we sense the call upon us. It should never end.”5 He spent a lifetime championing a truly Pentecostal perspective which affirms that sustaining excellence in life and ministry includes caring for the intellect. Riggs’ life was the deepest of commitments to champion this principle because, in so doing, he made a huge contribution to all of Christianity.
The biblical example of the apostle Paul and the historical examples of Wesley and Riggs testify to deep spirituality as well as sharp intellect. Their lives testify to the enduring influence and effectiveness in ministry that a both-and combination can bring. The vitality of our Pentecostal heritage can sometimes cause us to wonder why preparatory training and continuing growth include so much abstract stuff, while so many people with real problems demand attention right now.
Our effectiveness as leaders depends largely on our proactive immersion into the thick of the battle where hurting lives are everywhere and the needs seem to increase exponentially. We can become impatient with mastering biblical themes, historical lessons, and theological controversies.
The equation for influence over a lifetime is not only a good heart and attitude toward our calling and the ministry God gives us, but the development of enduring pillars of understanding that are timeless and resistant to fads. Thomas Aquinas said, “We can be clear in our actions only if, first of all, we are clear in our thought.” His statement makes it quite plain that action follows vision.
There are times at which we encounter keen insight from secular sources that almost seems to have a prophetic edge. The writer, Edna St. Vincent Millay, offered such insight in 1939. In a poem entitled, “Huntsman, What Quarry?” she offers a poignant observation that has become more real in the 70-plus years since she wrote these words:
“Upon this age, … this age endowed with power
To wake the moon with footsteps. …
Upon this gifted age, in its dark hour,
Rains from the sky a meteoric shower
Of facts … they lie unquestioned, uncombined.
Wisdom enough to leech us of our ill
Is daily spun; but there exists no loom
To weave it into fabric.”
I am struck by the insight of this poem. Before space travel put a person on the moon and before the information age was truly in place, some had already defined the problem. St. Vincent Millay sees clearly that we have the information to solve much of the ills of our world. We simply have no loom to weave it into fabric. We live in a world of massive information with little to give meaning to the ever-growing accessibility to mountains of information.
The Pentecostal leader stands as a witness to the gospel that truly is the loom that can weave a redemptive fabric. The testimony of biblical and historical examples is clear. Pentecostal leaders have opportunity to model effectiveness in ministry that makes sense intellectually to a clueless world and does so with reliance on eternal resources that are seen in the miraculous.
1. Gordon MacDonald, Ordering Your Private Life (Chicago: Moody Press, 1984), 109,110.
2. Walter Hollenweger, Pentecostalism: Origins and Developments Worldwide (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 1997), 388.
3. Gary McGee, “The Radical Strategy in Modern Missions: The Linkage of Paranormal Phenomena With Evangelism,” in The Holy Spirit and Mission Dynamics, ed. C. Douglas McConnell (Pasadena, California: William Carey Library, 1997), 69–95.
4. For a thorough introduction to Wesley’s Quadrilateral, see Donald Thorsen, The Wesleyan Quadrilateral (Minneapolis, Minnesota: Light and Life Publishers,1990); all Wesley quotes are taken from the writings of Wesley as referenced in Thorsen’s volume.
5. Ralph Riggs, A Successful Pastor (Springfield, Missouri: Gospel Publishing House, 1931), 20,21. See also my reference to Riggs and this statement in “Lifelong Learning: Developing Excellence and Finishing Strong” in Enrichment journal, Winter 2007, 48.