Bonhoeffer on Leadership

Not too long ago I began reading a biography on Dietrich Bonhoeffer who was a german theologian during the rise of Hitler and the Nazi Regime. The book is named Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy It is a truly intriguing book and I am really enjoying it!

One of the things that I have just read is an excerpt from some of Bonheoffer’s writings on the topic of leadership. I found it truly insightful and provocative and thought that I would share it here.

If he (the leader) understands his function in any other way than as it is rooted in fact, if he does not continually tell his followers quite clearly of the limited nature of his task and of their own responsibility, if he allows himself to surrender to the wishes of his followers, who would always make him their idol—then the image of the leader will pass over into the image of the mis-leader, and he will be acting in a criminal way not only toward those he leads, but also towards himself. The true leader must always be able to disillusion. It is just this that is his responsibility and his real object. He must lead his following away from the authority of his person to the recognition of the real authority of orders and offices…He must radically refuse to become the appeal, the idol, i.e. the ultimate authority of those whom he leads…He serves the order of the state, of the community, and his service can be of incomparable value. But only so long as he keeps strictly in his place…Now a feature of man’s maturity is responsibility towards other people, towards existing orders. He must let himself be controlled, ordered, restricted.

The part of this passage that I find most intriguing is the part where Bonhoeffer says,

if [the leader] allows himself to surrender to the wishes of his followers, who would always make him their idol—then the image of the leader will pass over into the image of the mis-leader, and he will be acting in a criminal way not only toward those he leads, but also towards himself.

Is this not devastatingly true? look at the state of politics in our nation. The presidential campaigns of the past two presidential elections have been nothing short of massive popularity contests. The leaders in our nation have surrendered to the wishes of their followers and become their idols. There is truly no other word that amply describes our political system of the past few elections other than idolatry. We have turned our leaders away from those who simply manage the state of the nation into those who reach far beyond the intended bounds of their offices because those who idolize them wish them to do so.

We have clearly created a paternalistic state. A state that is ignoring any sort of responsibility for the people and loves to hear the voice of the people idolize them for doing the things the people should be responsible for.

The thing that is most worrying is that in Bonhoeffer’s time the leviathan of the state took this power and with it committed genocide. Considering that our own government has already commit infanticide (millions of gov’t funded abortions) and consequently gendercide (A staggering percent of those abortions being of girls) it is scary to see what is on the horizon if we do not repent for our political idolatry and take responsibility for our own lives.

Until next time,

Michael

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