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Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Applications for Leadership

Posted on February 16th, 2012

I recently finished Eric Metaxas’ Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy. It was, by far, the best biography on Bonhoeffer I have read. After pondering his life, the following were three key questions I asked myself:

1. Do I really have the courage to follow Jesus wherever He leads? Between his natural talents and upper-class, family connections, Bonhoeffer could have done anything with his life. Yet he became a pastor and theologian.

When Hitler came to power in Germany, passing legislation that German Jews without Aryan blood be removed from the German Christian church, Bonhoeffer immediately saw the contradiction. He was one of the first to speak out: “Only he who cries out Jews can sing Gregorian chant.”  We must “speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves” (Proverbs 31).   As a result, he lost his position, his security, his reputation, his opportunity to marry the woman he loved, and his life out of his deep convictions. Knowing the atrocities being committed in concentration camps, he became a double spy and participated in a conspiracy to assassinate Hitler (after much struggle I may add). In following what he believed was Jesus’ path for him, he was misunderstood by both non-Christian and Christians. When I think Scripture and the urban poor, racism, global poverty, sexism and the drive for comfort that surrounds me, I am challenged by Bonhoeffer’s courage and clarity. How is my “courage quotient today?”

2. What new kind of monasticism is really needed today to restore the church? Bonhoeffer became head of an underground seminary that engaged in lectio divina, praying the psalms, Offices, silence, etc. Why? He believed: “The restoration of the church must surely depend on a new kind of monasticism, which has nothing in common with the old but a life of uncompromising discipleship, following Christ according to the Sermon on the Mount. I believe the time has come to gather people to do this.” I believe something deeper within EHS and other movements around the world is emerging – if we have the courage to follow His voice. In his book on Ethics, he wrote about the way people worship success. The topic fascinated him. What might obedience to God’s will look like today over and against a focus on success as numbers of people in our ministries and budgets?

3. How foundational is theology to my leadership, or am I still too busy and focusing too much on ‘what works’ ? Bonhoeffer was a person of Scripture. He loved the Bible, spending a great deal of time on theological reflection. This drove his decisions. The churches he pastored the classes he taught were small. He lost his positions of “privilege.” His focus was on obedience to the Father in his context. Yet his impact was enormous both in Germany and around the world.  Am I taking the time needed to truly wrestle with the theological questions around leadership and the church in the midst of the demonic powers seeking to seduce and silence us in our day? Have I too been swept up by growth, hurry, cultural expectations? And do I have the courage to fully embrace where God’s truth leads, especially when He calls me to something costly where I too might be misunderstood?

There are many other lessons I could mention. What might you add?


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