How to Avoid Leadership Malpractice

Why do Christian leaders often find themselves bullying, manipulating or exhibiting other forms of leadership malpractice? Bishop Todd Hunter explores the root of the problem and how we can help prevent it in our own lives.

What is at the root of leadership malpractice?

Failure to ground ourselves in the reality that the Kingdom of God is never at risk. The Kingdom of God is simply the expression of God’s being: the places and spaces in which what God wants done is done. That’s why Jesus said, “When you pray, say: Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is 24/7 in your sphere, in your realm, in heaven.” It’s the place where what God wants is unalterably done. That Kingdom is never at risk, no matter what might be happening in the cosmos.

As leaders, we can ground and secure ourselves in that. It’s not merely a doctrine; it’s a reality that is always there. If we ground ourselves in the reality that the Kingdom of God is never at risk, our emotional, psychological, spiritual responses to our newsfeed, to the things of earth, are what they are, but they become the grounds for our formation in Christ. The only other option available to us is various forms of power—political power, emotional bullying, manipulating, financial power. The Proverbs call this way of being in the world “loud folly.” We become susceptible to the kind of anxiety that rationalizes the misuse of power and all forms of leadership malpractice. Leadership malpractice is always rationalized, normally from “I feel unsafe.”

Think of Jesus’s arrest in the garden. He says essentially to Peter, “Peter, I’m not insecure here. I’m not afraid.” He explicitly says that man has no power over him unless it has been given to him. How does anybody stand in that kind of peace? That’s completely abnormal—unless you are living in the settled knowledge that the Kingdom of God is never at risk.

How can we as leaders and ministers follow Jesus’ example?

As ministers, we need to work from an essential rest—not do our work from an anxiety of what might happen or a fear of this or that. That taints everything and becomes the justification for working in these other forms of power. If we can realize that the Kingdom of God is never at risk, then we have an essential basis for being the kinds of people who derive our lives from and live them in the Kingdom of God. Our work as ministers is not unimportant, and our work is sometimes difficult. But we can enter into these difficult times from the rest that comes from the knowledge that the Kingdom of God is never at risk.

When we ground ourselves in that knowledge as leaders, we become faithful, peaceful, gentle, present people who are living out of the essential rest that the Kingdom of God is never at risk. We either live in that story, or we live out of the loud folly that is the rationale for all manner of leadership malpractice. That is always the rationale for bullying, manipulating, fudging the truth. If one were to simply ask, “From where does evil come?” the answer is that evil comes from “I must obtain my aims and I must do whatever it takes to get there.” Human evil is almost always about necessity—“I wouldn’t hurt others except that it’s necessary to secure my aims, which I of course must bring about.”

If, by contrast, we can come to rely upon God for the achievement of our aims, then we can stop doing what we know to be wrong. Once we have given our aims over to someone else, we can stop all the rationale for leadership malpractice. Then we can stand against evil in our world unconcerned about what may happen to us.

Bishop Todd delves deeper into healthy leadership in his upcoming book, Transformation at Work, available later this fall.

Transformation At WorkMany leaders need to win (and thus humiliate others), need to get their way (and thus threaten others), need to be seen in a positive light (and thus blame others), need to give good news to those they report to (and thus intimidate others into fudging reports when necessary), and need to be seen as powerful in every setting (and thus speak condescendingly to others).

Transformation at Work demonstrates that leadership is more effective and ethical when done in servant-led ways.

How do I become a servant leader? It begins with your heart…

Put everything you have into the care of your heart—the hidden, causative, motivational you—for everything you do flows from it. It is the real source of your outward life. It determines what your life amounts to.

Transformation at Work leads you on a personal journey, guiding you to an interior renovation of heart and soul that produces genuine and consistent servant leaders.

Systemic Injustice

Micah is a book about systemic injustice. How do we, as Christians, address this injustice? Serve faithfully in our relationships, tasks and spheres of social influence.

Sunday, August 30th

The Book of Micah: “Metaphors that Awaken”
Readings: Micah 4:1-5; 6:6-8; 7:18-20 and Mark 5:21-34

Reflection Questions

  1. In our Micah readings, chapters 4-7, we find a shift in tone, from oracles of judgment and lament to hope for a ​a new way of experience true life in companionship with God. Consider reading the chapters in their entirety. Where do you find encouragement, hope-filled instruction, or help for your soul? Think on these things. Situate your heart in the light offered to you in ​ these ancient words.
  2. How might Micah’s instruction in 6:6-8 be integrated into your everyday, ordinary life? Listen to the instruction from ​The Message version:

But he’s [God has] already made it plain how to live, what to do,
what God is looking for in men and women.
It’s quite simple: Do what is fair and just to your neighbor,
be compassionate and loyal in your love,
And don’t take yourself too seriously –
take God seriously.

Construct habits of good that could practically be lived out. Lay out for yourself simple practices that might help you engage your neighbor with real mercy and loyal love.

  1. Read Mark 5:21-34 and observe Jesus living out what we hear in Micah 6:6-8. What do you notice? How does his life, his work, his manner of being in the world give you a pattern to follow? What are your needs today? Might you come to Jesus asking, imploring, kneeling with your requests? Do so now in prayer. Talk with Jesus who welcomes you, extends mercy and healing, and offers new ways of living in power and Spirit.

Sunday, August 23rd

The Book of Micah: “Metaphors that Awaken”
Readings: Micah 1:2-9; 3:1-7, 9-12 and Mark 5:1-20

Reflection Questions

  1. The prophet Micah is a master of language utilizing a full range of metaphor, lament, prophetic oracle, simile etc., to help the people of God connect with the reality of their human condition and sin-maladies. Read Micah 1- 3 in different translations or in The Message. What does the prophet awaken in you? What do you hear? What resonates with you?
  2. The prophet expressed his grief over injustice, abusive treatment of the poor and the corruption in both the civic and religious arenas through lament (Micah 1:8-9). Lament says, “I’m pained” over something. A lamentation is not the same thing as despair, although it can include some despair. Rather, a lamentation, especially when heard from the biblical witness, is an active expectancy or even demand for advocacy. The Scripture records several different individuals and communities of God’s people, at different times, lamenting over social injustice and/or sin. What pains you? What human conditions or systemic corruptions stir-up a cry in you for God’s advocacy? Spend some moments lamenting before God: confess sin, pray for those oppressed by socially unjust conditions, and pray on behalf of those who need deliverance.
  3. Our Gospel reading in Mark 5:1-20 depicts a man who was enslaved to demons. Read the story imaginatively. Picture yourself as a bystander: watch the drama, listen to Jesus and to the cries of the desperate man. What are your thoughts? What do you see, hear, feel? Read it a second time. This time through observe who you most identify with. Is there something you feel impinges or prohibits your freedom? Are you tormented about anything or someone? What prevents your peaceful well-being or right-mindness? Talk to Jesus about these things. Receive whatever he might want to give.