Facing Leviathan: Leadership, Influence, and Creating in a Cultural Storm is the follow-up to Mark Sayers’s previous works that focused on hyper-reality and the unwitting negative effect of bohemian values on contemporary spirituality. Those who have read Sayers will find Facing Leviathan a brilliant and logical continuation of his work. Those who haven’t read Sayers . . . should. Those expecting what normally constitutes a book on leadership will be relieved (or startled) to find something quite different—and quite helpful. In place of contrived anecdotes and overworked formulas, Sayers—a cultural commentator, writer, and speaker—deftly weaves cultural and intellectual history and biblical theology together with highly personal elements of his own story.
Facing Leviathan juxtaposes two opposing approaches to leadership. Mechanical leadership prizes positional, top-down hierarchy and proceeds from a commitment to linear, formal, and procedural efficiency. Organic leadership, on the other hand, rejects any vestiges of tradition and authority, prizing fluidity, creativity, intuition, and authenticity. This is essentially the artist vs. the bureaucrat—TED versus FOX News. Against contemporary consensus, which suggests that hope is attained through shifting from the mechanical paradigm to the organic, Sayers contends that hope for the church is rooted in an entirely different leadership paradigm—one rooted in the death of Jesus.
The overall structure and narrative style of the book eschews tidy examination and may be frustrating to some (I found it enthralling). However, all who engage Facing Leviathan will be invited into a paradigm of leadership that cannot be manufactured through practicing skills or implementing methodologies, but instead finds identity in core communion with God.
Two significant strengths of this book stand out. First, in fresh contrast to leader as hero or antihero, Sayers proposes a different definition of leadership formed by God rather than projected by us. Our problem as humans is not superficiality; it’s the lack of a core identity, a pervasive hollowness that can’t be masked by an exterior veneer—whether that be real things like money, career success, family; hyper-real things like social media stardom; or Christian ministry things like conference platforms, books, and blogs. Contra this common perception, the leader’s task is not to project an image, build a platform, or create a brand, but to allow himself to be transformed by the Word of God. Sayers writes, “Through Christ’s death upon the cross, we not only won freedom from ourselves, we also received something—our true selves back” (209).
Leadership is neither defined through ascendency into the hierarchy of the mechanical alpha male nor through the pseudo-prophetic critique of bohemian detachment. The leader’s task is to encounter the Word of God, to find himself within its coherent narrative, and to allow himself to be transformed that Word.
Second, building on his alternate definition of leadership, Sayers proposes an alternate practice for the ministry of a leader. That is, he calls people away from leadership as spectacle and invites them into leadership as communion with God. Here is an invitation to leadership that flows not out of gifting or personality but is forged in the personal battles of our surrender to God. “In our world of platform and social networking, we all too easily fall into the danger of being more concerned with our audience than our inner world,” Sayers observes (127). Between the mechanical model’s practice of leadership as self-promotion and self-protection and the organic model’s practice of leadership as critique and detachment, Sayers presents a third way—retreat. “Leadership power,” he notes poignantly, “comes not from what I am doing but what he is doing inside me” (137).
Facing the Storm
So what is Leviathan? Leviathan is the cosmic chaos monster, a personification of sin and all its effects in our world—personally, structurally, socially. And how does one face Leviathan? By embracing the fundamental truth that no human can defeat a storm: “Heroes can battle armies, they can defeat giants. They can climb mountains and cross raging rivers. Yet no human can defeat a storm. A storm shifts. It is fluid, unpredictable. The strongest champions and the greatest armies of the world cannot defeat the wind” (122).
In place of the storm-conquering hero or the detached critic, Sayers invites readers to embrace the model of biblical leadership born out of Christ’s invitation to take up one’s cross and die. “At its heart, biblical faith is a creed of true antihero. It is the story of men and women who come to the end of themselves and must discover God” (122).
Facing Leviathan: Leadership, Influence, and Creating in a Cultural Storm