The Samaritan Strategy

Now that we’ve managed to stumble into the Third Millennium, those of us who have a little tread left may pause to wonder what sort of world we (or our children or grandchildren) will inherit.

Will Western Culture continue to root out the last scintilla of Christian influence on its headlong rush to self-immolation? Or will we witness a renaissance of Christendom — a culture broadly based on Christian principles?

Part of the answer will depend on the quality, quantity, character, and commitment of the next generation of leaders. The fundamental question is: will Western Protestantism resolve to produce cultural leaders . . . or will we continue to fall back on an unappealing mix of TV evangelists and politicos as our designated hitters in the culture wars?

Developing Leaders for the Third Millennium
By Colonel V. Doner

[Side note: “Colonel” is his name, not his rank.]

Well, the old is gone. No TV evangelists, few politicos worth mentioning.

The world has changed from 2000.

But… are there any new leaders?

I think so. Mainly local types, I guess.

If my guess is correct, then we are actually ahead of where we were in 2000 – especially if you throw in the homeschooling movement.

Not bad. Some growth. Not culture-shaping, but it’s in the right direction.

To continue quoting from Developing leaders for the Third Millennium by Colonel V. Doner

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Assuming that at least some elements of Western Christianity summon the resolve to produce such a leadership cadre, we might ask what qualities do we need to look for (or instill) in would-be leaders?

Mission and Vision
A leader is a man with a mission: to build a bigger church or a better product; to make a better world (or to find a new one); to defeat a threatening enemy: war, disease, famine, ignorance; to help the poor, sick, handicapped, or orphaned (to see that justice is done); to steward God’s good creation (by stewarding a part of the creation: art, science, church, family, business, government, environment, etc).


The leader must not only present a vision, he must convincingly demonstrate it’s possible to realize and, generally, show how to get there, i.e., how we get from “A” (where we are now) to “Z” (where we want to be). To do this the leader must act as a “Pathfinder” or “Pioneer,” charting a course through virgin terrain. This entails a strong gift for strategic analysis: a realistic assessment that counts the costs, identifies and analyzes obstacles as well as resources. This knowledge must then be painstakingly developed into a clearly articulated strategy. Otherwise the vision remains a dream the old cliché addresses: “Good ideas are a dime a dozen.” How many men have had brilliant ideas for new products or causes, which failed to materialize? They lacked a strategic plan — or the ability to implement it.

Like the visionary, strategists must also think in new ways. 


All of this talk about defying dominant paradigms or stepping out of the box implies some strong, non-conformist tendencies (i.e., as in conforming to expectations and assumptions of “the people” or “current wisdom”). Most people are externally validated, that is to say, they are dependent on the opinion of others for confirmation of their direction. “Others” provide key approval for everything from one’s career, “you’re doing well,” to appearance, manner of speech, and acceptable topics or attitudes. Talking, thinking, and dressing like everyone else in one’s peer group in order to “fit in,” to avoid any criticism, is paramount.

In contrast, the healthy leader is internally validated. He knows within himself whether his work is excellent or mediocre. He knows what he’s a master at and what others are inferior at and weighs their opinions accordingly (just as important, he must also recognize the areas where he is weaker and seek out “masters” who can offer tactical assistance for his overall strategy). A misstep here — overestimating one’s own competence — can be, and often is, fatal. So too, relying on other’s supposed “expertise” can result in disaster. It’s a difficult balance and takes decades to master the distinctions and nuances involved.


A leader is only human (which he can often overlook) meaning he will be ignorant in many areas, some critical to his success (no one can be a visionary, teacher, scholar, people person, administrator, writer, speaker, cash flow manager, etc.). Most “leaders,” however, choose to remain blissfully ignorant of their ignorance (i.e., they don’t know what they don’t know). Because the leader is usually brilliant in a few areas, he is tempted to cover his lack of knowledge with arrogance. He assumes that since he’s a genius at theology or physics or medicine, he must be adequate, if not exceptional, in all areas of endeavors: from people skills to political strategies to investment analysis. In this case, the leader’s ignorance is only exceeded by his arrogance. Unfortunately this weakness is pandemic among leaders. How many Christian leaders do we know who have missed opportunities for true impact because of lousy “people skills” or “financial judgment,” missing links which they ignored or denied? How many political or Christian strategies have gone unfunded because erstwhile entrepreneurs think they’re also political or theological experts?

So, what’s the remedy? While valuing one’s intuitive sense, the leader must be on guard against his most common enemy — hubris. A good place to start is recognizing one’s sinfulness and imperfection. Anglican scholar John Stott interprets Christ’s maxim, “Blessed are the meek,” to entail a “true estimate of one’s sinful nature and motives.” If one has difficulty conducting a realistic self-assessment, consult your mate! Secondly, listen carefully for “feedback” from how you affect others. 


This brings the question of motivation to the fore. Why do we want to be a leader? Power, glory, compensating for some internal insecurity? Or simply to get the job done and serve? Here’s one test: if you’re not as sure as you possibly can be (given that none of us can be totally objective in assessing our own motives) that a given course (political, theological, etc.) is in the best interests of the people you would lead, are you still compelled to lead?

A leader must mobilize people to overcome numerous obstacles to realize his vision. He must energize them through his passion which in turn is rooted in conviction. Today we seem largely to have many passionate leaders without convictions and a few dispassionate men of great conviction. Neither will do. Passion for new possibilities is contagious. Likewise is a lack of enthusiasm. If you’re not excited about the difference you can make, why should your audience be (a simple and clear definition of “enthusiasm” is “God” [theos] “en” [within]). People will be inspired by the godly vision or inspiration within the leader.

Yet a new vision of the future, no matter how passionately expressed, falls flat unless it connects with its intended audience. Consequently, the leader must not only have a profound knowledge of the hopes and desires, but also of the frustrations and bedevilments of those he would enroll. He must, in fact, share a deep empathy with them.

Empathy is not sympathy or even compassion. Empathy entails a “connection” which allows one not only to see through another’s eyes, but to “feel” what he feels. When we identify with people on a visceral level they intuitively “get it.” An astute audience can tell whether your identification with them is authentic or opportunistic. If the leader is authentically empathetic, his words resonate within the hearer: “Yes, he’s right. This is the answer.” The leader must also value those he would lead. A leader like George Patton or Robert E. Lee could demand (and receive) superhuman effort from their men because at a gut level those men knew they were not viewed as just cannon fodder (even though it may turn out that way). Conversely, when the flock figures out the shepherd really doesn’t care all that much about their personal welfare, they scatter. The old adage “people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care (about them)” would have saved more than a few pastors the loss of their parish.

A leader must be ever vigilant for any opportunity which allows him to advance or strengthen his cause, mobilize new resources, or exploit a new opening to circumvent troublesome obstacles. Carpe Diem (seize the day) — let no day or opportunity slip by — should be his morning mantra. Consequently he must constantly be willing to take risks, which alone may qualify one as a leader, in that as the vast majority of men are “risk averse” to the extreme. To be successful, however, the leader must learn how to carefully weigh each risk, to have a “contingency plan,” to take a prudent risk, if you will. The wisdom required (and the humility to obtain wise counsel) will once again set the successful leader apart from many who would lead but will fail because they never learned to calculate risk or pack an extra parachute.

Large Spirit
A leader needs to be generous in overlooking human frailty and in rewarding and acknowledging others’ contributions. In other words, he needs to be magnanimous. No one wants to follow a small-minded, mean-spirited, glory-hogging cheapskate. “And God gave Solomon wisdom and exceedingly great understanding, and largeness of heart like the sand on the seashore” (1 Kn. 4:29).

Another cliche, time worn but true: there’s simply no substitute for reading deeply and widely to understand your strategic situation. How did your business, product, church, cause, etc. arrive at its current status? What historical, political, economic, sociological, or environmental factors play a role? What do your critics say, and why? What about opposing strategies? What sort of ideas are shaping those whom you want to influence? What insights can authors offer you about your general context, your own presuppositions, your opponent’s worldview, etc? History does repeat itself — every several generations. If we read widely (meaning not just the guys you agree with) we save ourselves a lot of wasted time, effort, and embarrassing miscalculations. Plus, we’d have the additional benefit of being well educated and well rounded. Ideas have consequences.

As I wrote in my book The Samaritan Strategy, many Christians, particularly those with a strong theological or political orientation, are anxious to lead but unwilling to earn the right through service. They want a big following or to be elected to Congress because of their superior ideas. Unfortunately, most people are slow to recognize such “brilliance.” What they do notice is that you have your own agenda and don’t seem particularly concerned about helping them formulate or advance their own. Leadership is earned through service. When we serve, we volunteer to take responsibility for whatever it is we’ve volunteered for. When we serve well with responsibility (ability to respond) to our tasks, we are awarded authority concomitant with our responsibility. Thus, the more responsibility we take and discharge well, the more authority we’re granted. Sooner than we think, we work our way up from bus boy to manager, from club secretary to club president, from lowly volunteer to press secretary, from volunteering on city committees to being elected to the city council, from altar boy to pope (well, okay, there are some exceptions!).

Who Is God?
Many leaders, in seeking to serve God, eventually tend to confuse their will with the Almighty’s. A common joke among all too many Christian staffers goes something like this, “What’s the difference between God and (name of leader)? God doesn’t think He’s (name of leader).”


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Colonel Doner’s book The Samaritan Strategy can be bought here.

The book blurb:

Colonel V. Doner became a Christian activist at age fourteen. Over the next twenty-five years he served in numerous political roles culminating in his selection as chairman of the Christian Voter Mobilization Program for Ronald Reagan in 1984. The result was one of the most astonishing presidential landslides in America.

Millions of American Christians went to the polls believing that their vote would bring about the restoration of a Christian agenda in Washington. The actual result, however, has been failure. Lots of words. No change.

After a period of intense soul searching and prayer, Colonel Doner resigned from numerous organizations he helped to create. He began to carefully study why the Christian Right had failed in its atempt to restore America. His quest led him to examine the larger issues of why movements succeed or fail. What kind of leadership American Christians were looking for. And, most of all, what the Bible says about Christian activism.

The result of that search is this book, The Samaritan Strategy, and it could be the most important book you ever read concerning the authentic application of your faith.

You’re a Christian. You’re active in your church. You know that as a Christian you should be reading your Bible, praying, spending time in fellowship with believers, and telling others about your faith. No desagreement so far.

Now for some tough questions: As a Christian, should your activity reach outside the walls of your church or your home into your society? Should your “faith” involve more than simply being “right with God?” Should our “witness” include taking a stand on social issues?

In the late 1970’s, a group of Christian leaders decided that the church needed a unified social agenda. They banded together with conservative politicians, then tried to mobilize American Christians. Millions jumped on board. Millions more said “No, thank you” and stood aside. The alliance, intended to unify Christians, began instead, to build walls between pastors, congregations, and individuals.

Now that more than a decade has passed, Colonel V. Doner, one of those early coalition organizers, looks back on the movement. He says, “Floundering without strong spiritual leadership or a primary commitment to people’s real needs first, the Christian Right was certain to fail.”

The Samaritan Strategy assesses the failure of the past, then turns to the future.

Does God have a plan for America? If He does, what is it? What part does God expect Christians to play? Where do we start? How are we to balance faith with works? Evangelism wtih social action? Leadership with servanthood?

The Samaritan Strategy is a book of hope. Colonel Doner believes that “out of the failure of the Christian Right – a new, more powerful, compassionate and comprehensive Christian activism is emerging.”

For many Christians – Christians like you – this book is just in time.


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