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Its not so much about leadership
on January 17, 2001
This book is purportedly about leadership but there is a strong underlying concern with epistemology. How do we know that we know? This entire work appears to have its roots in a very personal and traumatic event in Clinton's own experience in leadership. Clinton categorizes that experience as a maturity process item with sub-categories of conflict and isolation process items. In normal terminology he was dumped from a leadership position because he was tactless, inflexible, and not submissive to the authority of the group. The group had made a previous decision that was clearly (at least to Clinton) in the will of God. Later that decision was reversed. That reversal set up not only a leadership crisis for Clinton but an epistemological crisis as well. Clinton states: "If we vacillated on this, then I didn't see how we could be certain on any future decision." His answer to that concern is this book. The shape of the answer is formed by his foundationalist philosophical viewpoint and also by the systematic thought processes of this former electrical engineer and current academician.
Clinton's research is on leadership emergence patterns. He begins with a view of Providence that assumes a particular and exhaustive view of God's sovereignty. All experiences from birth, both good and bad, are woven by God into the fabric of the future leader's character. Through the time line analysis of hundreds of leader's lives Clinton purports that he has been able to identify, label, and define a series of processes that are transferable to other leader's lives. Universal experiences in leadership development provide for the epistemological certainty of Clinton's foundationalism. He does appeal to the biblical narrative for support of his theory of leadership development, but the substance of his thesis rests on his synthesis of the lives of spiritual leaders.
Clinton has created an extensive jargon to give definition to what may have been fuzzier intuitions among many of God's people. Giftedness drift is a fine term for expressing the intuitive tendency of saints to respond to needs that fit their particular spiritual gifts. Double confirmation is a term that suits well the significant impact of receiving independent yet concordant directives in life. What Clinton does is then order these various process items into a system for attaining epistemological certainty. The result in my estimation is rational mysticism. While that is an oxymoron the issue for Clinton knowing the will of God with certainty. His foundationalism drives him toward rationalism. But basing his foundation on universal experience eventually takes him to mysticism. This is well illustrated in his own crisis which I first mentioned above. They had prayed about their original decision, agreed about it, and it felt good. The epistemological process items were all lined up; therefore, they knew the mind of God. Perhaps they did. So how could they possible come to a different conclusion later? One answer that Clinton does not seem to consider is that perhaps God changed His mind. If we take the Bible narrative seriously we do see God changing direction in the course of human history. Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever; but that does not mean that God is static. But more to the issue, Clinton's process items simply do not confer the epistemological certainty that he is searching for. I would suggest that the best tools that we have to discern God's will are the Bible, the Christian community, and conscience working together. Prayer is to the end that the Spirit would help us to understand the word of God, invigorate the Church, and sensitize the conscience. We do the best we can with God's help.
There is another shortfall in this book. Just as Clinton has taken a general description of Christian growth and limited it to a theory of leadership development, so too he limits his concept of leadership in the church. He essentially equates leadership with ministry in the sense of the clergy or missions. Therefore when Clinton was stripped of his formal leadership position for a year, it was equivalent to being set aside from ministry. It is a sad concept to equate power with the ability to serve the church. There are many leaders in the church without formal power engaged in dynamic ministry. The biblical doctrine of the image of God in man teaches us that dominion is one of the defining expressions of that image. As such any concept of Christian leadership must be broadly applicable to all of the members of the church. Using the analogy of the body: the brain does have some things to tell the kidney, but for the most part the brain is dependent upon the kidney's exercise of leadership with respect to its own particular giftedness.
In summary, Clinton's work fails in its effort to establish a foundational epistemology for leadership. Furthermore his concept of leadership is too limited to be applied to the body as a whole. While he does provide us with some useful vocabulary much of his glossary is jargon and is not useful for general communication. Clinton does, however, provide some observations based upon his extensive study of Christian leaders which are worth noting. They are summarized in the appendix.