It seems that every time you look at the news these days, there is another story of a fallen Christian leader. Leaders suffer moral failure for different reasons, and sometimes there are specific cultural dimensions that have contributed to that failure. In a number of cultures around the world, false beliefs about gaining and retaining honor compromise Christian leaders. Those leaders may or may not ever experience a crisis-level failure of personal leadership in the way we see in the media, but the influence of worldly models of leadership is serious all the same, and requires biblical correction.
In their book, “Ministering in Honor-Shame Cultures: Biblical Foundations and Practical Essentials”, Jayson Georges and Mark Baker explain three ways in which a proper biblical understanding of honor and our identity in Christ serve as a corrective to worldly conceptions of honor. By properly understanding the honor we receive from God, and what is honorable in God’s sight, Georges and Baker say that Christian leads can grow in their ability to “accept criticism, overcome jealousy and empower teamwork.” Christian leadership in honor-shame contexts require a re-definition of what is honorable and what is shameful for leaders. They explain as follows:
“In hierarchical societies, correcting leaders is perceived as a challenge and even an insult. Leaders respond to critics by harshly shaming them to preserve face. When operating by the values of biblical humility, receiving criticism is honorable. Mature leaders accept correction graciously as an opportunity for growth (Heb 12:5-8).
Jealousy is another poison debilitating leaders. Envy of others’ status leads to conflict and competition, as status is often viewed as a zero-sum game—your gain means my loss. But Christians operate with a surplus of honor. When the reservoirs of our souls are at full capacity with God’s honor, we are free to bless others with honor; it overflows. A leader with Honor is not seduced by honor.
Last, humility allows leaders to empower teamwork. The purpose of a group must extend beyond making the leader appear prominent, to achieving the group’s highest interest. Then the assets of each person, regardless of rank or status, contribute to the overall good of the group. Legitimate teamwork needs a benevolent leader who prioritizes the group’s best. A leader who utilizes the giftings of each person brings flourishing to the entire group, not just fame to their own name.”
excerpted from Jayson Georges and Mark Baker, Ministering in Honor-Shame Cultures: Biblical Foundations and Practical Essentials (Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Academic, 2016), Kindle locations 3868-82.