A Review of The Multi-Directional Leader, by Trevin Wax
The Multi-Directional Leader" Trevin Wax demonstrates that this is precisely why the church needs leaders who are willing and able to lead on multiple fronts at the same time. Wax argues that pastors and church leaders shouldn't only guard from the right or the left side of the spectrum, but be on the constant lookout for any belief that takes us away from the Gospel. These threats can come from within the church just as well as outside the church, so we need leadership that consistently stands for the truth, no matter which side it offends.
Simply put, Wax defines multi-directional leadership as "the ability to recognize and oppose threats from multiple directions." Each of those words in that definition are key to his understanding of the task before church leaders and Christians. This is not ability that comes naturally to us, but is rather a way of viewing the world that is honed through careful study of God's word and attention to how the world tries to pull us away from it.
The opposite of multi-directional leader is what Wax calls a "one-directional pastor" who "diagnoses a narrow set of spiritual sicknesses, mixes a narrow set of prescriptions, and stays alert to a narrow set of potential dangers." But the the truth that is "different problems require different remedies." As an example he describes a church that focuses on the Christians responsibility to be salt and light in the world, but puts little emphasis on calling people to faith in Jesus. Wax contrasts that with a church that regularly urges their people to pursue personal holiness, but pay little to zero attention to the Christians social responsibility to the poor or oppressed.
Wax helpfully reminds us in chapter two that most of us are naturally drawn to one end of the political or social spectrum or another. But we must learn to pay careful attention to anything that takes us away from the gospel and towards relying on ourselves. "Leaders on the right are more attuned to the problems of progressivism and liberalism, while leaders on the left are more alert to the dangers of fundamentalism and isolationism." Learning to guard our hearts against our natural impulses is of the main duties of a multi-directional leader. Chapter three also demonstrates how to develop this ability, which to me implies it is not a skill that comes naturally. By learning to rely on scripture, be aware of our tendencies, and embracing scripture that challenges our assumptions we can hone the skills of a multi-directional leader.
Throughout the book Wax gives several examples of those who employ this type of leadership. One such example is John Stott, who both stood up liberalism in the Church of England but also warned them against falling back into fundamentalism and neglecting social ministry. In perhaps the most helpful chapters, Wax gives a demonstration of these principles in practice. Wax is not afraid to tackle hard topics as he explores how the multi-directional leader could address race, social justice, gender roles, and Biblical authority. He demonstrates a careful and nuanced approach as shows that both sides of those debates have beliefs that need to be challenged by scripture, even (especially?) those who call themselves Bible believing Christians.
He also explores some of the obstacles to multi-directional leadership. I think the main obstacle could be summed up by simply saying "it's hard and not easy." It takes discernment to lead on multiple fronts, and it would be much easier to pick a side and just blast those opposite you. Nuance is a difficult work, and can cause you to lose credibility amongst your own tribe. Still, Wax shows that being multi-directional is a biblical work and especially needed in todays world.
As a single staff pastor in a small rural community, I'll admit to being skeptical about another leadership book. It feels to me like I am already pulled in enough directions, so the need to "multi-directional" feels like another added burden. The good news is that Wax does not write with a heavy hand but a pastoral heart, demonstrating that being this kind of leader is simply part of being a biblically faithful Christian. Becoming a multi-directional leader is less of a thing to do more than a person to be.
I noticed several phrases that pop up regularly that could be seen as the tell-tale signs of someone who is thinking like a multi-directional leader. Terms like "on the other hand", "but", and even simply "first of all" implies that a leader like this needs to be to look at something from all sides.
In many ways as a local church pastor, this feels like a relief. No longer do I have worry if I am toeing the right line on the provocative issue of the day. I know that I will always step too far for some in my church, and not far enough for others. As a multi-directional leader I have the freedom to walk between the two extremes and stand for the truth of the Bible as God has stated it. More than that, I have a responsibility to my flock to make sure that they have the tools to defend themselves from all attacks. A multi-directional leader no longer sees the people with different views as the enemy. As Wax states, truth can come from one directional leaders, because we now understand the truth is not only found on one side or the other. As we find the truth that lines up with God's Word we can apply it to our lives and be the leaders that God has called us to be.
Wax's focus was on responding to challenges in the church, but I think there is an applicable lesson for other types of leadership challenges as well. A pastor who leads a church in evangelism but not discipleship is not taking the multi-directional approach as mandated to us in the Great Commission. The same principle applies when leading a church to grow in spiritual disciplines, evangelism, or addressing needs in the community. Multi-directional leadership is not about picking sides but about staying close to God's word and making sure you stay close as the church grows and carries on God's work.
I would recommend "The Multi-Directional Leader" to any Christian who is a leader in any position. It has a particular relevance for pastors, but it's core message is applicable to leaders from all walks of life. Anyone who desires to be faithful and biblical would benefit from this book.