Walking with my friend Mansour through the blazing midday sunshine, with the tiles of the courtyard flickering from the heat, I was about to enter the air-conditioned Byblos Bank foyer, when Abu stepped through the exit door. Abu is a Nigerian catalyst and friend of mine. His face beamed with a broad smile when he spotted me. “Sooooo good to see you!” he said as he walked toward us, his voice radiating warmth and excitement. “Hooooow are you?” His greeting didn’t sound like small talk. It sounded like he was expressing genuine interest to hear how I was doing. Then Abu’s radiant smile turned to Mansour: “I’m Abu. I’m so pleased to meet you. You must be Aman’s (my Arabic name) friend. Aman’s friends are my friends.” With that he held out his hand for a strong extended handshake, tapping his other hand on Mansour’s shoulder as an extra-warm greeting. We exchanged a few words, then Abu excused himself: “So sorry, I am running late for a meeting, I gotta go. But, Mansour, sooo good to meet you. God bless you!”
After Abu had disappeared in the crowd, my friend Mansour still stood there staring at me, his mouth open, wide-eyed, and stuttered: “Wow! This man certainly has got joy.” This opened the door to tell Mansour that the source of Abu’s joy was his connection with Jesus.
Catalysts like Abu have charisma – one of the qualities that all effective movement catalysts share in common. His charisma is outstanding, but contrary to wide-spread opinion, charisma is not an innate quality that some people have and most of us don’t. Some naturally have more charisma than others, but all of us can develop this desirable trait. In this article I will describe what charisma looks like in the lives of effective movement catalysts, and how you can develop it too.
What do we mean by charisma?
First, let’s clarify what we’re talking about. This is my definition of charisma, which I also refer to as “Inspiring Personality” in my research of effective catalysts:
Catalysts display a sense of authority and confidence, act selflessly in ways that build other people’s respect for them, and they instill a sense of honor in others for being associated with them and other Jesus followers.
We can present this in a simple equation:
Natural authority + confidence + selfless acts => respect + sense of honor of association
A charismatic person has natural authority and confidence, the outflow of which is acting selflessly, which leads to their impact on others: they respect him and sense an honor to be associated with him.
Charisma in leadership
When studying the field of leadership for my doctorate in Intercultural Leadership, I found that charisma is central to leadership. For millennia, the universal notion of leadership was that a leader was a person with innate charisma and some capabilities, and such a person would simply emerge and rise to leadership, as cream rises to the top.
Today an entire school of thought is devoted to what Robert House (1977) called “charismatic leadership.” House used the term “charismatic” in the sociological sense, as defined by sociologist Max Weber (1922), rather than the way Christians often use it to refer to the use of spiritual gifts. House describes a charismatic leader as a person who exhibits dominance, self-confidence, desire to influence, and strong moral values. House identifies the main behaviors of charismatic leadership as
establishing a strong role model
communicating high expectations
expressing confidence, and
arousing motives (House 1977).
Bernhard Bass (1985), the leadership thought leader of the 20th century, took the next significant step by demonstrating empirically that transformational and transactional leadership, while fundamentally different, were positively correlated. Transactional leadership is a quid quo pro kind of transaction, where the leader rewards or sanctions the follower for meeting or not meeting agreements. Colloquially, it’s often described as a “carrot or stick” approach.
In today’s foremost school of leadership, “Transformational Leadership,” developed foremost by Bernhard Bass (1985), charisma has been empirically identified as one of only four qualities of transformational leaders globally (later renamed more technically “Attributed Idealized Influence” (Bass & Riggio, 2005). Charisma is exerted by transformational leaders because:
they have very high standards of moral and ethical conduct and therefore act as a strong role model for followers,
which makes followers respect them and trust them,
and identify with them so strongly they want to emulate them and join in their vision.
Charisma in apostolic leadership
We should not be surprised that effective catalysts, as transformational leaders, exhibit charisma. However, surprisingly, charisma barely appears in movement and apostolic leadership literature. I know of only two indirect references in all publications. Daniel Sinclair in A Vision of the Possible reports as one of the qualities of apostolic leaders:
“People readily catch their vision and feel led to join in” (Sinclair, 2005:6)
The Fruitful Practices research reports a compilation of traits and competencies of fruitful church planters among Muslims. Among the eleven, those that feed into charisma are:
“vision, […] praiseworthy character, experience, passion, […] servanthood, love of people, availability” (Chard & Chard, 2008:175).
Charisma in Jesus
Charisma does feature in the Gospels. Jesus certainly exhibited strong charisma. Consider these three examples.
“When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, not as their teachers of the law” (Matt. 7:28-29, italics added).
Jesus had natural authority – not like the teachers of the law at the time, based on titles and accolades. Based rather on the integrity of his teaching backed up by his lifestyle. And based on his speaking with credibility. In response, “The crowds were amazed.” The Greek ekplēssō denotes that people were astonished; struck with amazement. Similarly probably to my friend Mansour when he experienced Abu’s vivacious charisma.
“Coming to his hometown, he began teaching the people in their synagogue, and they were amazed. “Where did this man get this wisdom and these miraculous powers?” they asked. “Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother’s name Mary, and aren’t his brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas? Aren’t all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?” (Matt. 13:54-55, italics added).
Again, people are amazed and astonished. Jesus is ordinary and “one of us”; just a carpenter, and we know his average lower middle-class family, but then he has this charisma. What impressed people was Jesus’ wisdom, along with his miraculous powers.
“All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips” (Luke 4:22, italics added). People perceived the way Jesus talked to them as so extraordinarily gracious, that they were astounded.
These three illustrate the point, but if we go through the Gospels, we find 27 different accounts where people were amazed in reaction to the person and actions of Jesus. He clearly inspired people, who responded to his personality and his deeds flowing from it. Jesus certainly had charisma!
Charisma in Effective Catalysts
My research into a large sample of effective movement catalysts across the six mega-cultures of the world has established that they have strong charisma. Charisma is a quality that all effective catalysts have in common. In fact, among 22 traits and competencies that characterize effective catalysts, only two differentiate catalysts from non-catalysts more strongly than charisma. This table presents the difference:
Table: Charisma Rating for Catalysts and Non-Catalysts
Average of all 22 qualities
Charisma differentiates catalysts from non-catalysts.
These are practices gleaned from effective catalysts. They reported on surveys that they have incorporated these best practices into their lives, and assess them to have contributed to their movement catalyzing:
Best Practice 1 – Confidence rooted in commissioning: The sense of authority and confidence that catalysts radiate is rooted in their deep conviction that they are commissioned by God. One catalyst explains his sense of natural authority and confidence: “because God has spoken, and I am doing what God has said.” This leads to a strong sense of destiny and direction, and thus confidence. Because catalysts have such confidence, they speak and exert influence with confidence.
Best Practice 2 – Exemplary lifestyle: Catalysts model life in Christ and ministry in ways that command the respect of others. They model their dependence on Christ as well as doing ministry for Christ, sharing the gospel with anyone they meet. In doing so, they model making sacrifices, which gains the allegiance and respect of those who see it.
Best Practice 3 – Tangible love: Acting in selfless ways that build other people’s respect for catalysts, begins with the attitude of love and adding value to others and wanting them to succeed. Best Practice is to express love in practical and tangible ways, often in times of need, without fanfare. (See my blog “Tangible Love in the Life of Movement Catalysts” for more insights.)
Best Practice 4 – Sleeping on their floor: Another Best Practice that wins people’s respect for catalysts is sharing in the lives and lifestyle of local disciples and ministry partners. A catalyst in Southeast Asia describes this vividly:
“I don’t do just ministry with them in their fields, I get to know their families well, praying for them, sleeping in their homes (no hotels for me), living as they live. I’ve had many brothers tell me and others that they respect me because I’ve slept on their floor.”
Best Practice for Honor Cultures – Public praise to increase social capital: In honor/shame cultures of especially Asia and the Arab world, the prevalent system includes honoring protégés by speaking positively about them in public and in ways that boost their social legitimacy. The protégés also, in turn, speak positively about their mentor, and thus each party increases the social capital of the other. To work within this system and excel in it is a Best Practice for ministry in honor cultures.
A Growth Path to Charisma
Here are specific steps you can take to grow in charisma, gleaned from the lives of effective movement catalysts and my own experience:
You too can develop Charisma!
Meditate regularly on what God has spoken to you about your commissioning. Personally, I have this recorded on my phone and listen to it every morning.
Especially in situations where you need confidence, remind yourself of what God has spoken and let it inform your actions.
Explore the cultural values of your host society that command respect for those who exemplify them. For example, in my ministry in an Arab Muslim society, hospitality and generosity commanded respect.
In every encounter, or better even before the encounter, reflect and ask God how you can express love in tangible ways to the person(s) you are about to meet, and what acting in selfless ways would look like.
Intentionally share more fully in the life and lifestyle of those you minister with and minister to.
You can use these questions for prayerful personal reflection, or with your team.
What has God spoken about calling and commissioning – to me personally and to our team?
How can this build my confidence more strongly?
What cultural values command the respect of those we are serving? How can I more fully live a lifestyle that commands respect?
What acts will communicate unmistakably that I serve others selflessly?
How can I express love in tangible ways to those we serve?
If you serve in an honor culture: How can I honor my protégés by talking positively about them in public and in ways that boost their social legitimacy?
What Are Your Thoughts?
I would love to hear from you. Leave a comment below! If you prefer to private message me, you can use the contact form. Learn more about the other Catalytic Qualities besides Charisma in my book Movement Catalysts. You can order your copy here!
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Emanuel Prinz – Father’s Beloved & Movement Activist
Bass, Bernhard M. 1985. Leadership and Performance beyond Expectations. New York: Free Press.
Bass, Bernhard M. & Ronald E. Riggio. 2005. Transformational Leadership. (2nd Ed.). New York and Hove: Psychology Press.
Chard, Andrew & Chard, Rachel. 2008. The Gathering of Teams of Laborers, in Woodberry, John D. From Seed to Fruit: Global Trends, Fruitful Practices, and Emerging Issues among Muslims, 173-192.
House, Robert J. 1977. A 1976 Theory of Charismatic Leadership, in Hunt, James G. & Larson, Lars L. (eds.) Leadership: The Cutting Edge. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press.
Sinclair, Daniel 2005. A Vision of the Possible: Pioneer Church Planting in Teams. Pasadena: Authentic Media.
Weber, Maximilian. Theory of Social and Economic Organization, in "The Nature of Charismatic Authority and its Routinization" translated by A. R. Anderson and Talcott Parsons, 1947. Originally published in 1922 in German under the title Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft, chapter III, § 10.