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The dangers of dominating leadership: Four critical factors for healthy, generous and effective leadership

Photo of Stephen Mathews Stephen Mathews
5 min

God in his very nature is loving, kind and generous. Generosity is an attribute and an action that is central to doing ‘God’s work’ in the world – especially amongst leaders. 

Sadly, over the last few years there have been a number of high profile but dominant and abusive leaders in Christian ministries. This can create doubt and cynicism over the value of supporting such ministries, which can both diminish and undermine important and valuable work. 

Leadership plays a pivotal role in the success and longevity of any organisation. However, the style of leadership can significantly impact the overall health and sustainability of an institution. In this blog, we will explore the dangers associated with dominating leadership and outline four critical issues to avoid the traps of dominating personalities and to pave the way for healthy and effective leadership.

1. Leadership is vital but so is governance. 

'Leadership' and 'governance' are often used interchangeably, but they represent distinct aspects. We see throughout the Bible, and the history of the church, that God uses talented men and women to dynamically inspire and lead others. However, good and effective churches and charities need good and effective trustees and governance as an essential part of a broad and diverse leadership team. The Bible shows that we are far from perfect as human beings, and governance is  that element of leadership that keeps an organisation healthy and on track. 

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The wisdom of God here comes through men and women called to play that role alongside a dynamic executive team. The New Testament is full of examples of leaders being held accountable by others: for example, the multiple elders Paul calls Titus to appoint in each church in Crete, Paul calling Peter to account (Gal 2) and a greater meeting making decisions on a contentious issue (Acts 15) rather than allowing one or two people to decide alone.

2. Biblical leadership is serving and rooted in 'team'. 

Jesus spoke about and demonstrated servant leadership. We also know the Bible talks of ‘the body’ needing many parts to work well. In the short term, an individual can create dynamic growth and impact quickly, but it can carry real dangers such as lack of accountability and transparency. Organisational leaders who prioritise serving their team members and recognise their value create a foundation for sustainable success.

3. Teachability is a critical characteristic of leadership.

Having the gift of leadership and the position it brings about can lead to pride. To get the best from their teams, leaders need to be humble. Humility is also critical in public settings to demonstrate accountability (being transparent in actions and motives). That is not just a set of actions but a characteristic of heart and mind that is vital for long-term effective leadership. Being humble and accountable can be summed up in the word ‘teachable’. In nearly all the failures of leadership and governance there has been an absence of openness to others; i.e. a lack of 'teachability'. Even if a leader possesses great talent, if they are not teachable, then they are ultimately a liability rather than an asset.  As many have said before, character is more important than talent, especially in leaders.

4. Ministries don’t work well within a 'command-and-control culture'.

Good governance is to do with maintaining the health of an organisation and its culture more than exerting detailed control.  The goal is not to replace a dominant executive with committee management; rather, the aim is to intentionally create a culture where executive decisions are made well within the context of accountability and team. It allows for diversity of thought and ideas that are open to internal and external input and challenge. The objective is for healthy decision-making processes which are maintained and refreshed over time. We will do well do remember that even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve.

For an organisation to flourish in the long term, having good governance is critical. It supports, not opposes, good leadership. It provides the framework within which leaders operate and the culture that shows the heart behind the actions. It questions and challenges – that is part of the role – but it does not constrain. 

This is important when it is rooted in Christian ministry with external supporters, doubly so when within a charity legal structure. 

Attitude, accountability and administration

At Stewardship we have written a lot on the subject of ‘AAA rating’ for churches and charities. The three 'A's stand for attitude, accountability and administration, three aspects that, when good, mean the organisation will be good with money but, when weak, will lead to failures that will undermine it in the long run. 

Those three ‘A’s are good attitude, good accountability and good administration.   

A plea for prayerful action

To those that support ministry financially: pray for the ministry, its leaders and those that are involved in governance (primarily key staff and trustees). Pray that, in the aspects outlined above, the ministry has wisdom, the right people and the resources to ‘do the governance’ well – governance that ensures a healthy, servant-hearted, team-based culture with teachable and talented leaders.

To those involved in leadership and governance: pray – and then assess (individually and together) whether the ministry has the right governance framework and culture that ensures leadership is supported and challenged but not constrained. 

Then continue to pray! 


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Written by

Stephen Mathews

Stephen has been at Stewardship for 15 years, advising churches and Christian charities on a breadth of issues around money, culture and governance. Previous to that, he gained valuable experience working for 20 years in the accountancy profession, alongside church leadership in his spare time.

Stephen is passionate about Local Church, UK Poverty & Debt, and International Aid, with a particular focus on educational development in Africa and in youth violence and racial inequality.