Christian Leadership is: Knowning the Dark Side

July 20, 2012 — Leave a comment

Today’s post is the fifth part of a six-part series exploring the question: What makes Christian leadership distinctly “Christian” and what makes Christian leadership distinctly “leadership?”. This week we will study this question and I hope to receive feedback from you in the comments section.

What makes Christian leadership 'Christian' and what makes christian leadership 'leadership'

KNOWING THE DARK SIDE

The fourth distinction of Christian leadership is acknowledgement of the dark side.

What is a dark side? “The dark side . . . is actually a natural result of human development. It is the inner urges, compulsions, and dysfunctions of our personality that often go unexamined or remain unknown to us until we experience an emotional explosion.”[1] Downfalls and pitfalls of a dark side can provide a stumbling block for any leader regardless of her faith. However, because much of Christian leadership rests on a leader’s moral character, the negative impact of the dark side of a Christian leader is greater. Christian leaders are not perfect (and they should not be expected to be), but the simple fact of acknowledging the dark side and working to combat it will help to prevent a leader from the potential downfall and failure a dark side might bring.

Because the dark side is a natural result of our human development (mostly during childhood when we had to navigate experiences we had no control over), Christian leaders must actively acknowledge the dark side and combat it. Knowing about the dark side is extremely important for biblical Christian leaders because much of their influence comes from strength of moral character. If they lose that moral character and the influence that comes with it, they lose all ability to lead. Part of acknowledging the dark side of Christian leadership is to know “the chief characteristic of a Christian leader must be submission to Christ, and only those who have learned that submission is the key to power can be effective Christian leaders.”[2] Submission to Christ and identity based on him help to shed the dark side because “when the leader learns to submit to Christ as the Leader, that is, when he learns to fly ‘the white flag of victory,’ that he becomes an authoritative Christian leader.”[3] Once a Christian leader has learned to submit to Christ, overcoming the dark side is easier.

Thankfully there are several things Christian leaders can do to actively combat their dark side in addition to submitting to Christ. Two practical steps taught by Ronald A. Heifetz and Marty Linsky are “Transitional Rituals” and “Rekindle the Sparks.”[4]

  1. Transitional rituals are practical things Christian leaders can do to separate themselves and their identity from the professional work they do. This goes back maintaining one’s identity in Christ. Christian leaders are able to keep their identity based on God and not wrapped into their job when they have a transitional ritual such as a drive from work to home, intentionally changing clothes when they arrive at home, or exercising after work. All of these are intentional “transitional rituals” that allow a Christian leader to transition from mission focused work to resting into the person she is.
  2. “Rekindle the Sparks” keeps the relationship at home with a spouse strong. The best way for a Christian leader to guard his heart is to keep it close to his wife. Too many times a Christian leader has led himself into destructive habits of adultery, pornography, or money laundering because he allowed his heart to drift way from his wife.

McIntosh and Sima also provide some great steps for Christian leaders to practice to “redeem their dark side.” Those steps are: acknowledge your dark side, examine the past, resist the poison of expectations, practice progressive self-knowledge, and understand your identity in Christ.[5] When Christian leaders know their dark side they are able to positively work on it. Even if they do not actively work to combat their dark side, the knowledge of it will help them prevent it from taking over their life and causing moral failure in the future.

Question: What is your dark side and how do you work against it?


                [1] Gary L. McIntosh and Samuel D. Rima, Overcoming the Dark Side of Leadership: How to Become an Effective Leader by Confronting Potential Failures (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Publishing Group, 2007), 28.

                [2] William D. Lawrence, “Distinctives of Christian Leadership,” Bibliotheca Sacra July—September (1987), 318.

                [3] Ibid., 318.

                [4] Ronald A. Heifetz and Marty Linsky, Leadership on the Line: Staying Alive through the Dangers of Leading (Boston, MA: Harvard Business Review, 2002), 184-186.

                [5] Gary L. McIntosh and Samuel D. Rima, Overcoming the Dark Side of Leadership: How to Become an Effective Leader by Confronting Potential Failures (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Publishing Group, 2007), 170-218.

Christopher L. Scott

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Christopher Scott is Small Groups Pastor at Rocky Hilly Community Church in Exeter, CA. He has more than ten years of experience leading volunteers, running nonprofit programs, and teaching the Bible in small group settings. He holds a bachelor's degree from Fresno Pacific University and master's degree from Dallas Theological Seminary.

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