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The Case for Anonymous Leadership


How should we lead the church?
In this Pneuma Review conversation, Dr. Woodrow Walton reveals the humility and anonymity of true servant leadership.

Picture if you would a regatta where there are several vessels slicing across a river. Where is the leader of any one of those streamlined vessels? Is it the rower up front? Or, is it the man in the middle? Maybe, it is the man between the man in the middle and the man in front? You simply cannot tell yet it is progressing toward its destination: winning the race. There is no way to observe where the leadership is. There is anonymity.

Another illustration of anonymous leadership is that of moving a herd of cattle along the old cattle trails of the plains. There is a modern modification but more often chutes and trucks are used. A point man, swing men, and one or two behind the cattle are all important. The point man ahead of the cattle, all he does is give some guise of direction but there is a problem. Each cow, bull, heifer, steer, and calf would go off in every direction and not follow. This is where the right swing men and the left swing men are important. They are on either side of the herd and the herd, supposedly, moves together. You will also have stragglers made up of older head and young calves and this is where the men in the back work. Who is the leader? Actually, all are, as each have a designated function. There is an anonymous leadership.

In both cases there is leadership but there is no apparent leadership. You know there is leadership of some kind because there is obvious progression toward a desired goal. There is anonymous leadership as you cannot single out any particular person as leader. Who would think of the back rower in a canoe to be the person who steers it.

There is a principle here that is not often recognized. Leaders cannot be singled out from the community, or to use the words of Stanley Hauerwas, “Leadership cannot be abstracted from communities that make leadership possible.”1

We may justly observe that Moses led the Israelites out of bondage; however, the writer of the letter to the Hebrews made a very interesting comment about Moses. “Now Moses was faithful in all God’s house as a servant …” (Heb. 3:5, ESV). The preposition “in” makes a critical point. Moses was not separated, or taken, out from among the people or community of Israel. The phrase “as a servant” is also critical. Moses is not over the people as in a superior position. God is over the people. The leader is the cloud or the fire by night. Those within the camp who criticized Moses for leading them into the wilderness were not upset with his leadership; they were upset because they wanted to be in the driver’s seat. As a consequence the earth opened on them.

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Category: Ministry, Spring 2011

About the Author: Woodrow E. Walton, D.Min. (Oral Roberts University School of Theology and Missions), B.A. (Texas Christian University), B.D. [M.Div.] (Duke Divinity School), M.A. (University of Oklahoma), is a retired Seminary Dean and Professor of biblical, theological and historical studies. An ordained Assemblies of God minister, he and his wife live in Fort Worth, Texas. Walton retains membership with the Evangelical Theological Society, American Association of Christian Counselors, American Society of Church History, American Academy of Political Science, and The International Society of Frontier Missiology.

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