Thomas G. Bandy
Abingdon Press, 200 pages
Thomas Bandy notes, “Certain kinds of people gravitate toward certain kinds of leaders.” He then presents a model for leadership that is attuned to “lifestyle segments” as described by demographic researchers to determine what seekers are seeking. He theorizes that certain anxieties are characteristic of these lifestyle segments. The pastoral leader’s role then is defined by incarnational interactions matched to these anxieties.
Bandy constructs various “straw men” into which he easily pokes holes. “Christians require leadership, ”but not so Muslims or Buddhists.” He also bashes institutional denominations that, according to him, assume a false homogeneity across congregations that then assign interchangeable pastoral leaders to serve them. This has never been an operative assumption in my own Presbyterian denomination. His model, however, is a 180-degree contrast to the “Christendom model” he disparages.
Bandy’s analysis has a veneer of theological grounding with a smattering of “Holy Spirit” language, a strained reference to the four horseman of the apocalypse as a frame to grasp collections of these lifestyle anxieties, plus a little Lukan “deny yourself” in the final chapter. “Effectiveness” displaces “certification.” “Spiritual leadership is fundamentally about courage” with a slice of “authenticity, transparency, trustworthiness, and gravitas.” Frankly, I have not seen previous forms of pastoral leadership short in those areas as Bandy imagines. Per Bandy, ministers of “Christendom past” found credibility in “sound doctrine and continuity with a religious heritage.” Today’s pastors “are shaped by the tension between incarnations and missions, on the one hand, and the tension between existential anxieties and eternal hope, on the other hand.” Bandy’s model seems susceptible to unrestrained spiritual abuse to this Calvinist.
A leader may find a tool in reflecting on the lifestyle segments and their associated theoretical “anxieties” as one way to engage a conversation with a seeker, but this is no model for spiritual leadership. What, pray tell, is the spiritual leader leading the follower toward? In the context of this model the goal of the spiritual leader is to allay the anxiety of the follower. Is this not essentially satisfying the “seeker” as religious consumer? While such need-centered evangelism might be appropriate for the beginning of a pastoral relationship, it is not an end unto itself. The religious experience is not an end unto itself as Bandy claims. We “spiritual” leader and pastors cannot forsake our role to invite consumers seeking the religious experience into discipleship; to lead disciples to become apostles sent in to the world to bear another’s cross of suffering by choice; to be agents of reconciliation; to confront injustices perpetrated upon the marginalized; to welcome the stranger; to live into an ethic of love, compassion and service to a people not like us; and to tend to the other’s wholeness/shalom.
The “Christendom leadership” model he imagines in contrast with his own is not an accurate description of what church leadership has been. His belittling of institutions does them a disservice. Institutions are how values are conveyed across generations. At their best they provide mission focus and mutual accountability. There is still a place for doctrinal boundaries. This book’s value would be limited to how lifestyle segments might be a tool to reach seekers.
Wilson Gunn is executive general presbyter of National Capital Presbytery.