Training Lay Leaders - Lesson 3

Cultural Contexts of Leadership

By taking this lesson, you will gain insight into the cultural contexts of leadership in the Bible. The lesson will cover topics such as the role of leadership in the Ancient Near East, the cultural context of leadership in the Old and New Testaments, and the cultural expectations for leaders in biblical times. You will also learn about the cultural challenges that leaders in the Bible faced, and how they responded to these challenges in their leadership.

John  Johnson
Training Lay Leaders
Lesson 3
Watching Now
Cultural Contexts of Leadership

I. Overview of the Role of Leadership in the Ancient Near East

A. Historical Context of Leadership in the Ancient Near East

B. Cultural Expectations for Leaders in the Ancient Near East

II. Cultural Context of Leadership in the Old and New Testaments

A. Cultural Expectations for Leaders in the Old Testament

B. Cultural Expectations for Leaders in the New Testament

III. Cultural Challenges Faced by Leaders in the Bible

A. Overview of Cultural Challenges in the Bible

B. Responses to Cultural Challenges by Leaders in the Bible

  • Leadership is difficult to define because it is both a science and an art. Effective leaders often display styles that are markedly different because of their personalities, varying contexts and the expectations of those around them.
  • This lesson teaches about the common elements of leadership and how to develop them in oneself and others.
  • This lesson will provide knowledge of cultural contexts of leadership in the Bible, including the role of leadership in the Ancient Near East, cultural expectations for leaders in biblical times, and challenges faced by leaders in the Bible.
  • This lesson provides an in-depth exploration of the social contexts of leadership and its impact on leadership practices.
  • This lesson teaches the key principles and strategies for creating great teams in a ministry context, including enthusiasm, camaraderie, common vision, mutual support and communication.
  • This lesson teaches more about the seven rules for creating good teams, including paying attention to follower readiness, treating people with dignity and respect, stewarding resources with wisdom, keeping everyone focused on the mission, and communicating with your team.
  • Character makes you a leader worth following. Some people have been great leaders without exhibiting moral values, but it is more difficult and often comes at great personal cost. Justice, integrity, loyalty, diligence, humility, compassion and courage are important core values.

  • Mission is the broad philosophical statement of why your organization exists. It states the purpose of your organization and defines your objectives. A vision is the ability to see into the future and articulate a mental picture of what you want your organization to do. The mission gives you the framework. The vision is changeable but always within the framework of the mission.
  • Strategies are systematic choices about how to carry out the mission and vision, how to deploy resources, achieve goals, maximize strengths and reach the desired outcome.As you choose strategies to implement your vision, it's critical to submit them to the leading of the Spirit.
  • Objectives tell us who is responsible for completing the strategy and when it will happen. While strategic planning is broad based, future oriented, giving direction, objectives are the tactical side of leadership. Objectives are the measurable statements that translate the strategy into operational terms. They get down to the day-to-day functioning of the organization, the daily details. They are the operational plan, and hence are more concrete.
  • Leadership is transformational by nature. Leadership and change are like joint travelers on the same road. Fundamentally, people by nature do not like change. Moving from the known to the unknown may affect people’s competencies, worth, and coping abilities. Organizations get heavily invested in the status quo. It's important for us to value change and help people work through the process.
  • Some attributes that you can develop to help you become an effective change agent includes creating a clear vision, invoking passion, making clear decisions, inspiring people and becoming a person of character.

Dr. John Johnson describes leadership as being both a science and an art. In creating and managing teams, it's important to take into account social and cultural contexts. Your values determine mission and vision so you can identify objectives and create strategies to accomplish them. Since leadership is transformational by nature, it's important to know how to initiate and manage change when it happens.

Dr. John Johnson
Training Lay Leaders
Cultural Contexts of Leadership
Lesson Transcript


Cultural contexts determine what we expect from leaders. You expect authoritative leaders to have all the answers and rule with a top-down mentality. In a hierarchical context, members expect leaders to participate with them and have shared responsibility. In an egalitarian context, the group as a whole leads and everyone have equal access. An individualistic context emphasizes self-interest.

A. Tina – an Industrial Phycologist:

I want to first introduce someone and ask a couple of questions. So, this is Tina, she is one of the newer villagers. In first meeting her, she actually asked how she could pray for me. In Tina’s other life, she was an industrial phycologist. Tina, tell us something in terms of leadership that you had to understand in that role. ‘Tina: An industrial phycologist has cooperation’s or organizations as clients. Some companies, like the Navy for example before putting women on a carrier, they knew that this would be a major cultural shift; putting women in an environment where there had always been men. The Navy has a few phycologists of their own but they brought more in to see what hurdles they were going to encounter in doing this. The bottom line for this was organizational health. In another situation, one such hospital had a high level of turnover for nurses; was this a healthy level of turnover or was it too much and so why was it happening? In terms of leadership at the hospital, I felt that we had encountered a lot of resistance from leaders. Some leaders, we found, could really dig their heels in, even though that level of administration was the ones had the hiring power and would actually bring in the industrial phycologists. Many didn’t want to hear what we had to say even though they had hired us. The idea of an inflow as mentioned earlier with a leader that is a positive dynamic person who is all about the health of your organization with a common goal. And you have some leaders who still have that flow and they sweep some people up in the process, which can be somewhat negative.’

Good! I hope you picked up on something she said. Leaders face a certain resistance because by nature they lead people somewhere and when this happens, it means change. And with change, there is always resistance. When change is happenings it often seems personal for people as it affects their comfort zone. So, in reviewing; we said that leadership is about three things: leaders have followers, leaders have influence and leaders are directional. If people sense you are going somewhere, they are encouraged to follow.

B. The Super Bowl – A Bazar Play:

In the Super Bowl yesterday, there was an amazing moment, a bazar play out of any super bowl took place near the end of the game with a Running Back whose name was Ahmad Bradshaw. They were the Giants who were on the six yard line and there wasn’t a lot of time left in the game. Most people were thinking that if the opposing team was really smart, they would let the Giants go ahead and score because then the Patriots Quarter Back, Brady will have a full minute to work with which would give the team a chance. But if they just let the time go, they will not get that chance. So, the Giant’s Quarterback gets the ball and hands it to Bradshaw. At this point everybody was expecting others to pile on top of him because he has the ball. But, instead, everybody froze and there was a clear path. It was a bazar moment of which I had never seen in football; everybody gets out of the way to let him score. So, Bradshaw runs and then realizes what is happening and he is trying to stop. If he can stop before he crosses the line, then the clock keeps going and the game finishes. But he was going so fast and then he realized what was happening and in trying to stop, he ends up sitting on the line. So, what am I illustrating? In one sense, Bradshaw perhaps didn’t realize the context around him. He hadn’t realized what was happening; if I get the ball and if they don’t stop me, then what should I do. He got so caught up in the moment, he missed the bigger picture and it made for an awkward moment. Now, sometimes, that happens with leaders. You are out there leading and getting people to follow you, influencing them and taking charge and aiming for a direction, but you are missing the bigger picture, a context. And if you don’t see the bigger picture, you can make a lot of mistakes. So, I want to talk about context.

You can think of it like having reading glasses. Ever since having laser surgery, I can’t see things up close any longer. So, I have to use my reading glasses to see things up close. In regards to context, you have to put on a different pair of glasses for different contexts. There are things that you have to see; the context and the people, both the big picture and the small picture. What do we mean by the big picture? You would have to see the health of the organization. What would be a classic dysfunction in an organization? It’s culture or its personality. So, leaders have to see the culture and the personality and the people. They also have to see the things that get in the way, obstacles. You also have to see the core beliefs. There are also unseen individualistic and cooperative agendas that one needs to understand. A leader has to be able to see the moral of an organization. Other broad things may include follower readiness; how ready are people to follow; what style of leadership will be required.

Are people waiting for a more authoritarian voice or on the other hand say, that is the last thing we need right now. We need someone to come facilitate and help us with collaboration of things together.

C. Cultural Context:

Of the different contexts we face; one such is a cultural context. For example here at Village church; if you are going to be a leader at Village Church, you have to see the cultures of the church and each of these cultures think differently; they see the world differently. If you think in a mono-cultural way, as a leader, you will not go very far in this church. Some cultures are more authoritarian, meaning that they are more top down. This is the style under which they operate. In one such Nigerian home, when I went to visit them, the whole family would come and sit on the couch. They made you feel very important; this was their culture. Whereas if I went to an East European home, they might say, can you come back later? For perhaps the Latin culture or Asian cultures, they tend to be more authoritarian. This is cultural context. In such a context, what would they expect of a leader? Perhaps a leader who knows what he is doing or at least seems to know what he is doing; a leader who knows what to do. For many within the Indian culture, they grew with the carryover from the old British system. Students are taught to come in and be quiet and let the teacher do all the talking. I told them that I understood culturally how it worked in India but I encouraged them to disagree with me, to stop me and ask questions or state comments. But that never happened. I taught a course on leadership and I thought they would really understanding it until I ask them to come up and share something, but they couldn’t. They just didn’t know what to do. So, there are different expectations with some cultures being more hierarchical. One such culture includes being more participative, working more together. It is more of a shared responsibility in which we do some form of leading together. It could look something like at the Village here; we come in with staff and elders with a different hierarchical structure to put together a ministry plan where the board holds us accountable to them. The board is answerable to the congregation but in one sense we all are. It is a leadership flow that goes both ways.

Another culture is egalitarian which includes a flat culture; we are all in this together. In some cases there are no designated leaders. We lead by group; we are all doing this together. Leadership has limited power and there is equal access. The other extreme is individualistic and that speaks for itself. Even though we come together, it is individualized and there is little form of organization and more characterized by self-interest and everybody is sort of on their own. This is part of what a leader has to see; you have to know the culture you are in. And you need to conform to that culture with your leadership style. If you don’t read it well in regards to context and don’t understand what is going on, you will not succeed. Within European, they had the European Baptist Convention; these churches were originally planted next to military bases by the Southern Baptist. Their primary mission was to minister to the American military that were Southern Baptist and wanted to have a church. Within that culture, what did the pastor have to know in coming to that church? Well, the soldiers were use to an authoritarian culture and I used to think of those pastors as little generals. People accepted that stand, but now upon returning to the states, they have to adapt to a new church culture. This becomes difficult in a place where there is more than one culture in regards to both ethnicity and generational. You end up with difficult groups with different expectations. For example, when it comes to volunteering, Africans need to be specifically asked, not openly and collectively, whereas other nationalities would raise their hands to volunteer for a project. The Africans would be frustrated because the Americans would always jump in and not give the Africans a chance to participate.

John: Within Indian churches, the pastors do everything; even to train others personally, isn’t within their culture. But this is Scriptural, so is there a kingdom culture? So should we explain that this is a kingdom culture of what God says? Lecturer: I had a similar experience in a Middle Eastern culture in teaching Ephesians 4 about God giving gifted leaders to equip the saints to do the work of ministry. But the idea was that the pastor pretty well does everything. Some people had never heard anything like this. So, where do tradition and ethnicity and theology play in regards to understanding the Bible for us all? In some ways these are blind spots and we have our blind spots here. It may be more of a challenge for people that is used to a leader doing it all. Cultures are also in the process of changing within a given environment. That is correct; our multi-cultural ethos will continually be changing also at Village church.

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