Mt. Rushmore Matters: Leadership Ideals and Disciple-Making

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Why do we lead the way we do?  How does that impact disciple-making?

For Christian leaders to respond to the lack of discipleship/disciple-making in the Church (what Dallas Willard referred to as The Great Omission), we’ll need to think critically and carefully about our own leadership framework.  It may be helpful to consider the cultural symbols that shape our understanding of power and influence.  By pulling back the curtain on the symbols that shape us, we may be able to lead in a way that is more conducive to developing a culture of disciple-making (living out the Great Commission). 

Erwin McManus reminds us that, “Cultures sing their own songs, tell their own stories, and carry their own aromas.  A culture is a beautiful art piece that uses people as its canvas… In every culture you’ll find essential metaphors that define and shape its ethos.  Your symbols hold your secret stories.  The metaphor causes an eruption of images, ideas, dreams, beliefs, and convictions all at one time.  The story of an entire people can be contained in one symbol.  A culture often has two or three symbols that are fundamental to the identity of the people.” (An Unstoppable Force, 112-113)

When I think about cultural symbols that shape an American ideal of leadership, Mt. Rushmore looms large.  The faces of these ideal Presidents were carved in stone on the side of a mountain – a good indicator of how much we value and honor their example!  I’ve had a goal over the last few years of reading biographies about each of the Mt. Rushmore Presidents to help me better understand how they shape our image of ideal leadership.  While I’m certainly not a historian and have more reading to do, I’d like to share an admittedly half-baked hunch to see if unpacking this symbol can help us lead more effectively.  Reading about these four Presidents’ leadership styles, it seems that each of them hold a symbolic place in the American imagination as an ideal leader in a particular way: Washington has been idealized as having the proper heart; Lincoln is the soul of America; Jefferson’s intellect and his role as the architect of the Declaration of Independence are the standard for the mind of a President; while Roosevelt embodies something of the strength we value most in a leader.   The U.S.A. has carved her greatest leaders in stone, the ones who model for her people what leading out of heart, soul, mind and strength are all about.

Now… is my simplistic interpretation of how Mt. Rushmore matters for our cultural perceptions of leadership shaped by what Jesus has to say about the greatest commands in Mark 12:28-31? Certainly.  Could this viewing of that national symbol potentially aid us in choosing who to vote for in an upcoming Presidential election – helping us evaluate our candidates based on how well they lead out of heart, soul, mind and strength?  I hope so.  But, more important than that, is my conviction that churches should take their leadership cues from the one who lived out a life that best honored God with heart, soul, mind, and strength.  A King who knew that there would be no crown without the cross.  A King who made disciple-making the crux of his work.  A King whose leadership focused on empowering those he discipled, entrusting them to take his Kingdom project to the ends of the earth. By unpacking the influence of national symbols, like the stone images of Mt. Rushmore, on our conceptions of leadership, we may begin to see how Christ, the living stone (1 Peter 2), calls us to put disciple-making at the center of our leadership strategy.  If a symbol like Mt. Rushmore matters for the shaping our leadership ideals, how could we lift our eyes to our Savior, who offers an even better leadership framework, and let that guide our own identity and influence?

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