For several years now, I’ve expressed concern over one of the biggest challenges facing church leaders in a politically polarized environment: we grow accustomed to fighting off threats that come at the church from only one direction. It’s far too easy for Christians to lift up and reward voices that champion the virtues we already possess and decry the sins that don’t make up our biggest struggle. And so, we issue warnings against whatever the biggest perceived threat may be: “wokeness” or “racism,” “feminism” or “patriarchy,” “fundamentalism” or “postmodernism,” and the list goes on.
But what is true of our congregation? What is the biggest need facing our flock?
The need of the hour is discernment, and the wisdom that comes from above should develop in us a different kind of shepherding sensibility, an acknowledgement that dangers approach the flock of God from multiple sides of the field.
The Multi-Directional Leader
Last summer, Ivan Mesa—a friend who serves on The Gospel Coalition’s editorial team—asked if I’d consider writing a small book on multi-directional leadership. I introduced this concept with a five-part blog series two years ago, where I contrasted one-directional leadership (that specializes in fending off threats coming from one direction) with “multi-directional leadership” (a faithful versatility that is able to defend the flock from dangers coming from multiple directions).
In the months that followed, and now in my brief book on the subject, I’ve lifted up a few examples of multi-directional leadership, including John Stott. In his tribute to Stott on the occasion of his 100th birthday last month, Russell Moore wrote:
Stott… emphasized integrity—a holding together—both in doctrine and in mission. That’s why he refused to put a both/and where the Bible puts an either/or—it cannot be both Yahweh and Baal, both God and Mammon, both Jesus and Caesar worship. But he also refused to put an either/or where the Bible puts a both/and. We are to be about both grace and truth, both exposition and application, both evangelism and justice, both love of God and love of neighbor, both accountability and mercy, both conviction and kindness, both the intellect and the emotions, both denominationally rooted and globally connected.
Balance, Versatility, and Dexterity
Moore describes Stott’s multi-directional sensibility as “balance:”
He sought balance—not the balance that sees where the extremes of the moment are heading and tries to split the difference, but the balance that recognizes we are prone to wander, and there’s more than one direction off the sheep trail. The way back is not by heading in the opposite direction of the sheep one deems worse than oneself, but instead by listening to the Shepherd’s voice.
Russell Moore, John Stott, and Tim Keller often turn to the image of “balance,” but I prefer terms like “versatility” or Winston Churchill’s image of “dexterity” (sometimes leaning heavily to one side and at other times to another, depending on the circumstances, in order to maintain consistency of purpose) instead of “balance,” since the latter term could lead us to equate opposite dangers when the people we lead may be affected by just one. Still, it’s this desire to remain faithful to all that Scripture teaches that is the key to multi-directional leadership.
Multi-directional leadership is not moderation. It is not about finding a perfect balance of competing interests and beliefs. It is, instead, a manner of leadership grounded in the unshakable conviction that all the truth revealed in Scripture must be deployed for the good of God’s people. And, for truth to have its greatest influence, a leader must constantly be aware of the cultural context. (That’s what my book Eschatological Discipleship is all about.) It’s not about finding the middle between extremes, but about holding fiercely to both extremes, insofar as we see them in Scripture.
Challenge and Courage
The Multi-Directional Leader provides a word of challenge and encouragement to the weary church leader who is bold enough to invite criticism for failing to toe the party line, for appearing inconsistent, for being too radical in one direction for some and too passive in another direction for others. My goal is to better equip pastors and church leaders in applying God’s Word in our times for the good of God’s people.
Faithful versatility in protecting and shepherding the flock in a world of “many dangers, toils, and snares”—that is our ambition. I pray The Multi-Directional Leader will serve the church to that end. The book is now available at Amazon, and you can find discounted rates for purchasing multiple copies for your church leaders at The Gospel Coalition’s online store. Also of interest, Collin Hansen and I discussed this book’s theme and application on his GospelBound podcast. If you’ve already received or purchased this book, I’d be very grateful if you’d leave a brief review on Amazon, as that simple act will ensure that the book gets seen by more people who may benefit from its message. I hope this book serves you well.
If you would like my future articles sent to your email, please enter your address.