The Naked and Broken Leader 2.1

The Disrobing of Contemporary Leadership 2.1


          These are just some of the confident words touted as the essence of leadership in books, in seminars, in educational centers, in corporate juggernauts, in self-help programs and also on posters and mugs throughout North America.  Our society has tended to value leaders who embody these qualities and has been quick to dismiss the worth of a servant.  We want leaders who produce prestigious achievement and quantitative success.  Attractiveness, autonomy and authority are character traits that have oft been romanticized within the prevailing climate of leadership in our culture.  Leaders are viewed as those who manipulate outcomes by exercising effective or profitable control over organizations through top-down hierarchical structures.  As a result, what people generally desire in the person of a president, a CEO, a celebrity is an undefeatable, indestructible, unflappable, inexhaustible, and unbelievable leader.  In other words, if to err is human, then society seeks an un-human leader!
          Christians across the continent have been caught up in the temptation of this pervasive “superman” leadership theory.  Emulating corporate culture, many local churches headhunt for the unassailable leader.  Many spiritual leaders are viewed within their congregations with an esteem of infallibility.  Other ministries effectively market the alluring influence of their leaders towards quantitative success.  The cult of leadership worshipped in North America is so embedded in the Church’s perception of spiritual leadership that pastors and heads of ministries find themselves struggling to be real.   It has become assumed that a truly spiritual leader will not wrestle with the struggles of life and faith and sin and weakness and pain.  Brokenness is not a characteristic of leadership that has ever been placed on the profile of a church job description.  As a result, all too often, Christian leaders across the continent have succumbed to the temptation of performance-based leadership rather than embracing or promoting the raw reality of sin and fragility that so mockingly and honestly plague every human being.  Henri Nouwen proposes that Christians do not see, nor want to see the “participation in the pain, the solidarity in suffering, the sharing in the experience of brokenness.” {3}
          With such an embellished view of spiritual leadership it is no wonder that congregations respond with shock and righteous indignation upon learning the truth that their pastor is an imperfect and flawed human.  But instead of forcing followers of Jesus to admit the need for a principle of brokenness in spiritual leadership, one scandal after another among our churches and parishes have actually created a greater thirst for the heroic leader.  As the ecclesial dehydration for the exalted persona of leadership increases, the influence of authenticity within our churches decreases.  Ironically, as our pulpits demonize pharisaical leadership, our congregational votes have ordained it.
          The raw truth is that the unconstrained cultural temptation to idealize an heroic view of leadership threatens the mission of the North American church.  Against the folly of searching for the head-above-all-others standard like a King Saul, followers of Jesus are called to embrace a leader more akin to a suffering shepherd like David.  Followers of Jesus are to embrace an authenticity of leadership more germane to the human experience.  In doing so, we will learn that true epic leadership in our world is not found in the archetype of a comic book super hero but in the humbly wrapped power of Jesus Christ.
          So it is that even as accusations of weak leadership are flung at him, Jesus offers the world another cheek of his theology of leadership.  Through his actions, his words, and his intentional mentoring methods, Jesus unveiled an approach that looks absolutely counter to the typical pursuit of aggrandized leadership.  When the crowds begged Jesus to seize power, he laid it aside. When his followers argued about great-ness, Jesus conveyed a philosophy of least-ness. When the masses demanded his ascension to a throne, he chose a cross.  Within the shadow of prevailing headships of power and precision and production, Jesus astonishingly advanced towards a style of leadership that was constrained in weakness.  In an era where leadership was clothed with grandeur and awe, Jesus bore nakedness and brokenness to Golgotha.

{3} Nouwen, Henri.  Out of Solitude: Three Meditations On the Christian Life (Notre Dame, IN: Ave Maria Press, 2004), 35.


  1. You speak as though your dream for the hub is an us not in a you. When I asked the question, I recognized that you would probably answer with a shared vision, but how do you mean to practically place this kind of servant leader, broken and obedient leadership within yourself and those you surround yourself with to lead?

  2. Further- brokenness doesn’t have to disable someone. In fact, I’m finding for myself, that it is welling within me more ambition and vision than I’ve ever known.

  3. Great question Andrew… and on a personal note, a much appreciated one. By emphasizing brokenness in leadership, I am not negating influence. I do believe that Christians must influence and impact this world… as much as possible. The dreams for the HUB are dreams that God may or may not enable us to bring about. But instead of forcing the “success” of our Sunday night gathering through our own power and will, I truly want to enter into the launch of this endeavor with humility and unselfishness. Through our perishableness, God’s light and treasure shines! In our transparency, others may see God at work within us- as messy as that can be! By the posture of kneeling before God we are able to stand! Through the hands of a servant we are able to be the church. So for me, Andrew, this is more than theory… it is identity. From there… I trust that God connect his plans with our moldable hearts.

  4. I think I am beginning to understand your heart on the brokenness of Christian Leadership. When you told Adam and I your story it really got to me and I was hurting just because of you and what you went through. If this whole area you are preaching here is true and your dreams for the hub are real, how are they to fit together? I know, you will hate me for that question, but I cannot help wondering. What do you think?

  5. Thanks Mark! That’s a great everyday example of how a “boss” can be an up-lifter of others rather than be a down-looker. Very cool to be mentored in that sort of environment. And on a personal note- I miss Baileys! That was a great coffee shop! I spent many mornings in there reading and meeting up with people. Glad you’re working there!

  6. Hear hear!
    I started my summer job this week at “Bailey’s”, a cafe in Qualicum. It’s great to work there. One of the reasons is is great is that my boss will not do anything that I won’t do. He will come right beside me and scrub away at the dishes. This leadership is one of the reasons that he has a very small turnover of employees. I think there are people who really value servant leadership because they can see that it works better.

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