Facing Leviathan, Leadership, Influence, and Creating in a Cultural Storm by Mark Sayers

Mark Sayers is a pastor, author, and “cultural commentator” living in Melbourne, Australia.   In the earlier days of his ministry he was well-known as a leader in the counter-cultural, organic, “hipster” style of Christianity until he began to realize that such ministries have little longevity due to lack of structure (pp 19-24).   As a matter of fact, churches of the type he was planting last on average of only three years (p 23).  Facing a personal crisis of faith along with growing chaos in his ministry, Sayers began to analyze competing models of church leadership.  As the church at large attempted to minister to the rapidly changing culture he identified two general responses: to let the culture determine the church and skepticism (pp 7-9).   Facing Leviathan offers a third approach in which the task of leadership is taken “out of the hands of the alpha male and the creative genius, and rightly restores it to the crucified hands of the risen Lord” (p 9).

Sayers calls the first approach mentioned above “mechanical leadership” (p 17).  He sees mechanical leadership as rooted in the Enlightenment (p 27), as pragmatic, adopting the business CEO paradigm, prone to celebritism and the dominate approach for over 40 years, yet not producing disciples (pp 7-8).   The second approach is termed “organic” and is represented by the hipster, creative, artistic genius, stemming from Romanticism and reacting to postmodernism (p 17).  Having been fully convinced of this latter approach for years, Sayers now admits his was wrong.  Neither the mechanical nor the organic leader is right because both are being shaped by their culture.  What the Christian leader needs to recognize is that the real battle is between pagan and Christian worldviews (p 29).  He writes, “Will we simply join in with the herd and run from the storm?  Will we offer them distractions, new idols, encased in the language of faith?  Or will we bring them the Word?” (p 77).

Less a biblical exegete and more of a philosopher and historian, Sayers creatively weaves history (primarily regarding Paris, Germany under Hitler and the life of Henry Stanley) with biblical accounts (primarily Jonah), with philosophy (primarily Enlightenment, Romanticism – pp 25-28, and Jean-Jacqis Rousseau – pp 157-164), with insightful novels (primarily 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and The Heart of Darkness), with cultural insight (both past, such as the rise of Parisian Bohemians, German “wandering birds”, the Renaissance, and the present adaptations of these concepts such as sexual liberation (pp 172-175).  The result is an enjoyable, educational insight into many of the cultural waves that are tossing our world and the church in unsettling directions.

Sayers’ thesis is that neither the modernistic, seeker-sensitive approach of church leadership, nor the postmodern, organic, counter-cultural approach is correct for in the end both are shaped by culture, and both approaches are forms of paganism.  What is needed is cutting through the cultural pressures and returning to the Word to hear the Lord (pp 214-218).

I believe the previous paragraph captures the essence of Sayers’ message.  A message I would wholeheartedly embrace.  However, on the negative side, Facing Leviathan says precious little about what this approach looks like or how to do it.   So little in fact that I am somewhat hesitant to dogmatically claim that I am correct in my understanding of his thesis.   Nor did I appreciate his references to Henri Nouwen (p 130), and Richard John Neuhaus (p 163), and several pages in which he claimed the Lord directly spoke to him (pp 138-140).  This makes me suspicious of what he really means by returning to the Word.  I did, however, enjoy Sayers’ cultural analysis, insights from the past and their effect upon the church today.   I think his solution to Christian leadership is the correct one, but I would have desired more substance in implications.

Facing Leviathan, Leadership, Influence, and Creating in a Cultural Storm by Mark Sayers (Chicago: Moody, 2014) 239 pp., paper $14.99

Reviewed by Gary E. Gilley, Southern View Chapel

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