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I Understand
Volume 4.1 / A Perspective on Christian Leadership Theory: Supporting More Voices from Europe, Africa, and Asia for a Change


A Perspective on Christian Leadership Theory: Supporting More Voices from Europe, Africa, and Asia for a Change

H. H. Drake Williams, III

Leadership is of great interest within the global Christian church. In the global south and east, the need for Christian leadership is great. In Operation World Mandryk states that one of the greatest needs in the world is for trained Christian leaders. For example, there are five out of six churches without a pastor in India.[1] In places in Africa, the church is recognized to be a mile wide but an inch deep. Shortages of Christian teachers in Bible schools in Africa and Asia are also common. With the epicenter for Christianity projected to be south of the equator by 2025, the needs will likely increase.[2]

In North America, there seems to be an abundance of discussion about leadership. Entering the word leadership on Amazon.com nets over 224,878 results.[3] A similar search on Christianbook.com found over 218,000 results.[4] Most of these results, of course, are North American in origin. Many North American seminaries and Christian colleges offer leadership programs. As one analyst of leadership trends in the global church has said, "Most currently popular management theories are made in the USA, and implicitly based on US ways of thinking."[5] Unfortunately, aside from Europe, North America is the area of the world where the church is growing least with only a .59% increase.[6]

While many of these books and programs from North America have merit, the purpose of this editorial is to encourage biblically and theologically informed voices from the global south and east to contribute to global leadership discussions. Furthermore, it also aims to encourage those from the global north and south to pay greater attention to those who are leading the church in other areas of the world. The following are three reasons for the church from the global south and east to speak more and for those of us from the global north and west to listen more attentively to those from this area of the world.

1. The Christian Church Began and was Led Well by Those From the Global South and East

The first and most obvious reason for paying attention to voices from the global south and east about leadership is that the Christian church and thus Christian leadership began in this area of the world. Jesus ministered in Galilee and Judea in the Middle East. The first place where Christians were so named took place in Antioch (Acts 11:26) which is in modern-day Turkey. Paul was first sent as a missionary from that city, and he traveled first in the eastern part of the Roman Empire. It was not until Paul received a vision from the man from Macedonia in Acts 16:9 that the Christian message came to Europe: to modern day Greece in eastern Europe.

Many of the churches that were essential to the development of early Christianity were founded in the global south and east including the church in Jerusalem, which many scholars believe was first led by James, the brother of Jesus. The church in Antioch was also a major contributor to early Christian leadership, sending Paul and Barnabas to the mission field (Acts 13:1-3). In addition, the Gospel of Matthew, the Didache, which is a book that describes worship practices, and the Apostolic Constitutions, the largest surviving collection of ecclesiastical law, were presumably written in Antioch. The School of Antioch also became a major source for theology and exegesis during late antiquity.

Another significant city in the ancient Christian church is Ephesus, which has been recognized as a major hub of Christian leadership. Significant figures such as John the son of Zebedee and Timothy were associated with the church. The Gospel of John is frequently connected with Ephesus. Some of the earliest letters on Christian leadership (i.e., 1 and 2 Timothy) were written to Timothy in Ephesus, assuming Pauline authorship.

Besides these churches, there are many church leaders from the early church who came from the global east. The Cappadocian Fathers—Basil, Gregory of Nyssa, and Gregory of Nanzianzus—who made major contributions to the discussion of the Trinity came from modern day Turkey. John Chrysostom from Constantinople continues to influence the worldwide body of Christ through his homilies.

While many of the examples given so far are from Asia Minor, Africa also had a substantial influence on early Christianity. Alexandria in modern-day Egypt is well-known for the significant leadership that emerged in the early centuries. Major leaders from Alexandria within the early church included Clement, Origen, Cyril, and Athanasius. The catechetical school of Alexandria was also a major center for Christian education in late antiquity. Further to the west in Africa were other great Christian centers. Carthage gave the Christian church the church fathers Tertullian and Cyprian.

The contribution of Africa to the thinking of the Christian church historically is significant.[7] As Thomas Oden has written, "African Christianity is foundational for classic teaching. . . . Early modern Christianity is often portrayed as an essentially European religion. This is regrettable because classic Christianity has its pre-European roots in cultures that are far distant from Europe and that preceded the development of early modern European identity, and some of its greatest minds have been African."[8]

Besides the influence of significant figures and cities, some of the most important matters for the Christian faith have been decided in the global south and east. The major leadership councils of the early church all took place in what is considered the global east. These councils took place at Nicaea, Constantinople, Ephesus, and Chalcedon which are all located in modern day Turkey. Some of the issues decided at these councils include the deity of Christ, original sin, Trinitarian issues, and the celebration of Easter.

Some of the finest leadership throughout Christian history has emerged from the global south and east. While modern situations need to be addressed at least in part by current thinking, the heritage of Christian leadership in the global south and east is great and their decisions still define the way that Christianity is perceived today.

2. Some of the Most Significant Global Problems can be Uniquely Addressed by Christian Leaders from the Global South and East

Complex issues in our modern world deserve a voice from Christian leaders in the global south and east. Many from the West know these problems, but they do not have the same close contact with these issues. For example, poverty is affecting the world globally. Approximately 767 million people live below the poverty line of $1.90 per day. Just fewer than ten percent of the world's workers live with their families on $1.90 per day. The overwhelming majority of those who experience poverty live in either sub-Saharan Africa or in southern Asia.[9]

A second large problem in our world is HIV-AIDS. In 2016, approximately 36.7 million people globally were living with HIV. In the same year, it was estimated that 1.8 million people became newly infected with HIV. Also that same year, approximately 1 million people died from AIDS-related illnesses. This brought totals of deaths from HIV-AIDS to approximately 35 million people and 76.1 million since the start of the epidemic in 1981.[10] The largest number of cases of HIV-AIDS is found in sub-Saharan Africa.

The global church is also experiencing persecution. Each month on average 322 Christians are killed for their faith. Open Doors also reports 214 churches or Christian properties are destroyed per month. Violence is also committed against Christians. On average there are 722 cases of violent acts committed against Christians, which include beatings, abductions, rapes, arrests, and forced marriages.[11] Nearly all of the countries on the worldwide persecution list are countries in the global south and east. While leaders in the west may know of persecution, those from the global south and east have much closer contact with it.

  Other issues can also be uniquely addressed by Christian leaders in the global south and east. While the West deals with atheism and secularism, those from the global south and east are confronted with large numbers who are following some of the great religions of the world. For example, Hinduism is known for being the largest religion in India with over 827 million people adhering to it (over 80% of the nation).[12] Besides being a religion in India, it is also a complex faith that has spread worldwide. Hindus live in urban and rural conditions. Some have Hindu ideas that are mixed with secular practice. New understanding is needed for Hindus who are following new forms that emerge from old Hindu practices such as yoga and guruism.[13] Hinduism is on the rise globally (+1.34%) with over 822 million people following this religion.[14] Certainly, Islam and Buddhism, but also cults and prosperity theology are present in countries in the global south and east in number. Those in the global south and east have encountered these religious expressions more frequently.

As the church confronts these issues globally, voices from the global south and east provide a unique perspective. Those from these areas of the world are experiencing and leading the church through these difficulties. Their voices deserve to be heard on a grander scale.

3. There Are Voices About Christian Leadership That Are Coming From Other Parts of the World

With much attention focusing on North American leadership books and programs, it would help if more attention could be placed on leadership ideas that are not emanating from North America. This is not to push aside North American contributions but to provide needed balance.

Several institutions are thoughtfully addressing leadership concerns worldwide in the body of Christ. From an academic perspective, the Institute of Leadership and Social Ethics based at Evangelische Theologische Faculteit in Leuven, Belgium, is aiming to become a significant resource for Christian leaders worldwide.[15] The institute has reached out to scholars, professionals, and students at a variety of levels. It is also providing high quality, peer-reviewed research volumes on leadership and social ethics of the day in the series Christian Perspectives on Leadership and Social Ethics published through Peeters Press. Topics have included the place in current leadership for morality, spirituality, and authority.[16]

One of their recent volumes was entitled Christian Leadership in a Changing World: Perspectives from Africa and Europe. This compilation of essays specifically focuses on the need for Christian leadership perspectives from diverse points in the world,[17] addressing leadership topics such as liminal leadership, crisis leadership, blind spots in ethical leadership, missional leadership, transformational leadership, female leadership, political leadership, leadership in higher education and in mission agencies. Contributors come from Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Switzerland, Uganda, and South Africa, Other partner organizations such as the University of South Africa[18] and the Gesellschaft für Bildung und Forschung in Europa, which is based in Germany, contributed to this effort on leadership.[19]

Several institutions in the global south and east are now seeing the need for more leadership theory in their part of the world and are offering programs specifically focused on leadership. For example, Africa International University in Nairobi, Kenya, and the University of South Africa are both offering accredited master degrees in education and organizational leadership.[20] South Asia Institute of Advanced Christian Studies in Bangalore, India also has a branch of the school specifically devoted to leadership.[21] Asian Theological Seminary in Manila, Philippines offers an MA in Transformational Urban Leadership.[22] These and other universities in the global south and east are addressing leadership concerns in their area of the world. They can also provide a significant vehicle for providing ideas for Christian leadership from a global south and east perspective.

4. Conclusion

Christian leaders are greatly needed in our world. While the church in North America has much to contribute in the way of leadership theory, it has a disproportionate voice globally. Although ideas from North America can be helpful, they are frequently out of touch with problems that the church in the global south and east experiences such as poverty, HIV-AIDS, and persecution. In contrast, the church in the global south and east is exposed to these issues regularly. It is also blossoming and will likely continue to grow for years to come. Although leaders from the global south and east have had a significant voice in the past, they are not being heard enough proportionally now.

There are implications, too, for the training of global Christian leaders. Because the church is growing the fastest in the global south and east and demands contextual leadership training, those who wish to train leaders for and from the global south and east must listen to these regions of the world. Furthermore, the global biblical training community should respect and resource indigenous global south and east training ministries.[23]

Lamin Sanneh in his volume Disciples of All Nations: Pillars of World Christianity has rightly stated, "Christianity is the most diverse religion in the world. More people pray and worship in more languages and with more differences in styles of worship in Christianity than in any other religion. Well over three thousand of the world's languages are represented through Bible translation, prayer, liturgy, hymns and literature."[24] With such diversity, it will assist us all to listen more attentively to leading voices from the global south and east, provided that these perspectives emerge from a sound biblical and theological framework.

[1] J . Mandryk, Operation World, 7th ed. (Colorado Springs: Biblica, 2010), 17, 405-15.

[2] P. Jenkins, The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity, 3rd ed. (New York: Oxford, 2011), 21-50.

[3] https://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_2?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=leadership (accessed December 19, 2017).

[4] https://www.christianbook.com/page/personal-growth/leadership?search=leadership (accessed December 19, 2017).

[5] G. Hofstede, “The Applicability of McGregor’s Theories in South East Asia,” Journal of Management Development 6, no. 3 (1987): 13.

[6] Center for the Study of Global Christianity at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, “Status of Global Christianity, 2017, in the Context of 1900-2050,” accessed December 19, 2017, http://www.gordonconwell.edu/ockenga/research/documents/StatusofGlobalChristianity2017.pdf.

[7] See further T. C. Oden, How Africa Shaped the Christian Mind (Downers Grove: IVP, 2010).

[8] T. C. Oden, Classic Christianity: A Systematic Theology (San Francisco: HarperOne, 2009), xvii. 

[9] United Nations, “Sustainable Development Goals; 17 Goals to Transform our World,” accessed December 19, 2017, http://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/poverty/.

[10] United Nations, “Fact Sheet - Latest Statistics on the Status of the AIDS Epidemic,” accessed December 19, 2017, http://www.unaids.org/en/resources/fact-sheet.

[11] Open Doors, “Christian Persecution,” accessed December 19, 2017, https://www.opendoorsusa.org/christian-persecution/.

[12] Office of the Registrar General and Census Commissioner, India. “Religion,” accessed January 9, 2018, http://censusindia.gov.in/Census_And_You/religion.aspx.

[13] See the forum on Hinduism on the Lausanne website: https://www.lausanne.org/networks/issues/hinduism.

[14] Center for the Study of Global Christianity, “Status of Global Christianity.” 

[15] See https://www.etf-ilse.org/.

[16] P. Nullens and J. Barensten, Leadership, Innovation, and Spirituality, Christian Perspectives on Leadership and Social Ethics 1 (Leuven: Peeters, 2014); P. Nullens and S. van den Heuvel, Challenges in Moral Leadership, Christian Perspectives on Leadership and Social Ethics 2 (Leuven: Peeters, 2015); J. Barentsen, S. van den Heuvel, and P. Lin, The End of Leadership? Christian Perspectives on Leadership and Social Ethics 4 (Leuven: Peeters, 2017).

[17] J. Barentsen, V. Kessler, and E. Meier, eds. Christian Leadership in a Changing World: Perspectives from Africa and Europe, Christian Perspectives on Leadership and Social Ethics 3 (Leuven: Peeters, 2016).

[18] See www.unisa.ac.za.

[19] See www.gbfe.org.

[20] https://www.aiu.ac.ke/

[21] http://www.saiacs.org/

[22] http://www.ats.ph/

[23] I am thankful for David Deuel for this point.

[24] L. Sanneh, Disciples of All Nations: Pillars of World Christianity (Oxford: OUP, 2007), xx.