Great News: Book Announcement!

“This book is amazing!” These are the words of Karen Winslow, Professor and chair of the Department of Biblical Studies, Azusa Pacific University.

Announcing the release of Uncontrolling Love, a book of essays that explores implications of the idea that God’s love is inherently uncontrolling. More than eighty authors contributed to this collection, which will be released on August 15th.UL Cover Photo

What people are saying:

“This book is amazing! Each essay contains precisely worded insights and thoughtful, practical responses to Oord’s book, The Uncontrolling Love of God. Essayists cite their own reasons for recognizing, claiming, and articulating what Oord calls “essential kenosis theology.” In an array of accessible vignettes, essayists illustrate Oord’s relational thesis: God’s love is necessarily self-giving and others-empowering.”
–Karen Winslow; Professor and Chair of the Department of Biblical Studies, Azusa Pacific University

“Jesus proclaimed God as a loving parent, and this basic approach dominates in the New Testament. But many people revere controlling power more than love. Thomas Jay Oord has reclaimed the good news of the uncontrolling love of God. Many rejoice and respond with uncontrolling love for one another and all God’s creatures. This book embodies the response of the church, lay people and pastors, students and teachers, liberals and conservatives. Readers can join in this work of theology by witnessing to what a loving God is doing in the world.”
–John B. Cobb, Jr., Professor Emeritus, Claremont School of Theology and Claremont Graduate University

The Uncontrolling Love Tour:

In conjunction with the essay collection, we will be hosting a number of parties with Thomas Jay Oord and essay contributers. These parties will primarily feature discussion of the implications of the uncontrolling love of God. Below is the current schedule. Come back to this page in the future to stay up to date with the schedule.

Sept. 29-30 Redondo Beach, California
Oct. 7-8 Junction City, Kansas
Oct. 14-15 Nashville, Tennessee
Nov. 4-5 Portland, Oregon
Nov. 11-12 Boston, Massachusetts
Dec. 2-3 Cleveland, Ohio

We’d love to have you come out and dive deeply into the uncontrolling love of God!

Natural Evil and Why Our Hope is Secure

by John Culp

Oord’s Uncontrolling Love’s treatment of natural evil points toward a more secure basis for hope in the defeat of natural evil and the role of humans in responding to evil of all types. Natural evil as experienced in earthquakes or lung cancer in someone who has never smoked or lived in an area with polluted air raises some of the most
culp-authordifficult challenges to understanding how God loves our world.

While human freedom causes much of the destruction in the world, it seems as though God’s love for the natural world would not be interfered with by human actions and would be effective in avoiding destruction in the natural world. And yet natural destruction such as earthquakes and cancer in children occurs and challenges claims that God’s love is present.

Oord helps us understand the occurrence of natural evil by pointing out the importance of regularity for moral responsibility. If we don’t know that sharp edges cut human flesh, we can’t be held responsible for hurting someone because we don’t know what will result from certain actions. The regularities of nature tell us that sharp knives cut people, but Oord recognizes randomness occurs in the natural world as well as regularity.

Furthermore, randomness opens up an opportunity for a world capable of developing in creative ways. However, accepting randomness as part of our reality appears to indicate God is not in control of at least some events. While God acting out of love may have created a world of regularity resulting in hurricanes, God creating a world in which random events occur appears to mean there are aspects God does not cause or control.

Oord’s acceptance of randomness is one reason why some people have criticized his emphasis upon God’s uncontrolling love as leading to a concept of God as limited. A limited God cannot overcome destruction that has no purpose, evil. If God is limited, God is unable to love the world adequately by removing evil from God’s world. Such a God is unworthy of worship because we cannot trust that God to save us from evil.

However, understanding God as characterized by uncontrolling love shifts the emphasis from God’s power to God’s love as the primary characteristic of God. God, out of love, creates a world with both regularity and randomness rather than a world completely determined by God’s specific actions.

Emphasizing God’s love rather than God’s omnipotence provides a better way of understanding God’s actions in the world. Stressing God’s love does not result in an unreliable God who cannot be worshipped. In fact, love offers a more adequate basis for God’s reliability than does power. We can trust God to care for us because love is who God is, but if God is first characterized by power, God’s power could be used to bring about destruction rather than love.

God’s love directing God’s power can be trusted to bring about good rather than destruction, and even to bring good out of destruction. Power alone might respond to destruction by destroying what has caused that evil. Instead, God’s love for God’s creation leads to God working with every aspect of creation in continuing creativity.

One of the implications of the priority of love in understanding God is God involving the creation in God’s activity. Humans, and all creation, share in creating. Our activity can contribute to God’s purposes. Our involvement in bringing about God’s purposes may even surprise and please God.

We too may be startled by how God enables us to respond to situations threatening to overwhelm us. The person who lifts a car off a person pinned under the car is astounded at what they were able to do. God working with us to bring good out of evil is more loving than God guaranteeing our safety by direct action without our action. Working with us demonstrates God values us and our contributions even though we frequently limit God’s care for the world by choosing against God’s love.

The priority of God’s uncontrolling love also has important implications for our understanding of humans as created in God’s image. If God’s uncontrolling love has priority over God’s power, then as creatures in God’s image, we also should demonstrate love rather than power. Our abilities to do and to create should be used for the care of others rather than for the control of others. Bringing aid to those who have suffered destruction from a hurricane is a way of caring for those who suffer rather than a way of demonstrating our superior abilities.

Sacrifice, as part of God’s love, then becomes important for us. Sacrifice values other created realities by working to bring good out of evil in cooperation with God as uncontrolling love. We respond in love to the victims of the hurricane in Haiti and to the person who never smoked and suffers from lung cancer. The priority of divine love over power leads to an understanding of natural evil which challenges human creativity and sacrifice, in imitation of God, creating hope by working to bring good out of evil.


John E. Culp’s studies at Greenville College, Asbury Theological Seminary, Butler University, and Claremont Graduate School prepared him to teach at Bethel College (IN), Olivet Nazarene College, and Azusa Pacific University. His work in philosophy of religion has been challenged and inspired by teachers he has had, students in classes, and numerous colleagues all of whom he is grateful to. Playing and coaching soccer led to being a Manchester United fan.

Death to Power-Good News for a Power Hungry World

by Michael Palmer

In our world, power is the currency for everything.

We are, daily, weekly, monthly and yearly, bombarded with this message: We are not safe; we should be afraid. We should be suspicious of one other. There is a darkness lurking, and we must sacrifice everything to defeat it.

Power, we’re told, is everything. Power, or the ability to take and protect what’s ours, is a lie as old as time. Fighting to gain this power, we find ourselves committing acts we never thought possible.

Safety through power, though, is ultimately a lie. In our desperate attempt to conquer, and in our never ending grasp for dominance, we find quickly the toll such paths take on our soul. Before we know it, power, and our attempts to attain and control it, leads us into a place we never believed we’d go. This realization prompted Lord Acton’s famous phrase, “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

Power Corrupts

Scripture is full of cautionary tales regarding power and the consequences of wielding our power over others.

In the Old Testament, we watched as King Saul descended into madness on the throne; jealous of those who threatened his rule. We watched King David murder in his fight for more, desperate to attain things he was sure were his for the taking. We watched the nation of Israel renounce their calling “to be a light,” and instead, pursue riches, military might, and prestige over God’s call to care for those among them.

Israel, even in the midst of being “religious” found themselves far from the God who called them. The story of Israel in the Old Testament is the story of a people who forgot their first love because of the siren song of glory and power.

Like Israel, we are tempted to pursue the shadow of power.

The shadow of power demands the removal of imago dei in others. Yet, you cannot destroy what is formed by God. You cannot make bleed what has been bled for.

It’s incredibly easy to maim the bodies when they pray to a different god, or revere a different city as holy. It’s easy to carelessly bomb schools or hospitals when it becomes a matter of “our kids or theirs.” The things we can justify in our search for power is endless.

“Kill them all,” we’re told. “Let God sort them out.”

“Hate,” we’re told, “those who look, talk and love differently than us.”

Hate that which is different. Cling to that which is familiar.

Friends, this “alternate reality” is a false idol, a dark narrative, and a shadow gospel.

It’s no wonder Jesus spent his entire ministry teaching people to give power away. From his very birth, Jesus demonstrated what it means to live a holy life. Holiness is the act of giving power away.

This is described by Paul in the beautiful Kenosis hymn (Phillipians 2:6-8),

[Jesus], being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!

We serve a God whose very nature places power secondary. We serve a God who chose to take on the form of man, descend into our pain, our hate, our anger, and instead of turning that wrath back upon us, our messiah chose to die at the hands of the his creation. We follow a God who voluntarily submitted to a gruesome death so we might find grace.

The Christian Church is a tribe which has watched the turmoil wrought by power and has chosen to voluntarily surrender their power. We are a Church who follows this backwards journey, this upside-down Kingdom, and we’re a church who is willing to take this counter-cultural belief all the way to our graves because we know in our graves, we don’t find death. No, in the laying down of our lives, in the deepest of graves our enemies attempt to bury us in, we experience not death, but resurrection.

Our world desperately needs to rediscover this good news, this resurrection. Our world needs a new imagination. Our world needs our example. May we defend those under the heel of the powerful. May we name the ways we’re sacrificing our humanity in order to get drunk on power, because we can only serve one master. We can only have one king. We can only pledge our heart to one Kingdom.

A Kingdom which serves an uncontrolling God.

A God who invites.

A God who woos.

A God who loves.


Michael R. Palmer is a husband, father, ordained elder, and writer who serves as pastor (along with his wife, Elizabeth) of Living Vine Church of the Nazarene in Napa, California. He is an avid Cardinals fan, lover of blues and jazz, conversational instigator, and deeply passionate about issues of justice and spiritual formation. You can follow him on Twitter at @michaelrpalmer and Facebook at @mryanpalmer85.

Civil Disobedience in the Image of God

by Dan Koch

In 1964, civil rights groups exerted nonviolent pressure on then-president Lyndon Johnson, persuading him to push the Civil Rights Act of 1964 through Congress.  This move was politically complicated and costly to both LBJ and the Democratic Party. It dan-jm-colorresulted in a major shift in both parties. Pro-segregation Southern Democrats began leaving the party en masse for the GOP, yet few today would question the moral rightness of this politically difficult move.  Martin Luther King, Jr. and associated civil rights groups and leaders exerted pressure on LBJ through televised speeches at the 1964 Democratic National Convention and organized marches, lunch counter sit-ins, and more.

This history is well-worn territory, but what exactly were those activists doing, and what are we doing today, theologically speaking, when we peacefully and nonviolently demonstrate or protest?  Are we using the most effective or the more loving means available to us as humans to fight against unjust laws, leaders, or practices?  Are we imitating God by acting the way He has chosen to act in the world?  Are we taking part with God in the only way God can act, given His nature?

There are at least three possibilities. Using the best means available to us, imitating God’s chosen way of love, or taking part in God’s essential nature, mapping onto different views of God’s sovereignty, character and action in the world.

1. The first is simply the traditional view of God as completely omnipotent and omniscient. He can do anything that is not logically impossible, and He knows everything that is knowable, including the future.

2. The second is the view put forward by John Sanders that God voluntarily self-limits His own power. Although He could act unilaterally and coercively against his creatures, in love He chooses, before creating the universe, to never do this.  (“Before” is used not necessarily in its temporal sense, but more accurately in the sense of logically prior.)

3. Essential Kenosis, the view of Thomas Jay Oord, contends that God cannot act coercively at all, even if “He wanted to,” because it is part of God’s unchanging, necessary, and essential nature to be self-limiting and self-emptying (kenosis). Selfless, loving persuasion is the only means available to God to act in the world because it is God’s essential and necessary nature to be kenotic.

Applying these three views of God to our scenario above, we find some differences, namely in what exactly we are doing when we act non-violently and persuasively toward some end:

1. In the traditional view, God knows everything and can do anything.  He could unilaterally act to bring an end to segregation by convincing LBJ supernaturally that he simply must get the Civil Rights Act passed.  Furthermore, God could convince enough Senators and Congresspeople supernaturally in their own minds to vote Yes on the bill.  But, for whatever reason, in God’s wisdom, He does not do this.  Rather, the mystery of human moral life is that it falls to us, His creatures, to act in a way in accordance with His loving will. Love is at least a major aspect of God’s character; on this view, God is also Just, Holy, Sovereign, perhaps, we could say, in equal measure or status. When King and others acted nonviolently, they were acting in a loving and moral way, according to God’s will.

2. In Sander’s view, before creating the world, God limited Himself to not know the future, to not coerce His creatures to do anything against their will.  From that point on (to imperfectly use temporal parlance again), God can only act in non-coercive, lovingly persuasive ways.  When the civil rights activists acted in a similar way, they were joined to God, co-workers with Him in this world He created, lovingly acting in the same way that God has chosen to act.  This is indeed a beautiful picture of cooperation between creator and creature.

3. In Oord’s view of essential kenosis, we can take this progression one step further.  It isn’t that God chose to be self-limiting and kenotic.  It is that God is necessarily kenotic, necessarily self-limiting or selfless. The only way God can act toward his creation is through non-coercive persuasion.  So, when we act nonviolently toward some end, it isn’t simply that we are acting in the only way God acts today. Rather, we are taking part in the divine nature itself. We are aligning ourselves with the defining characteristic of what it means to be God.

One way of delineating between options (2) and (3) would be to say that in Sanders’ view, God does the just and loving thing to limit Himself.  Therefore, when humans act in the same manner as God, they too are doing the just and loving thing.  In Oord’s view, God has no choice but to limit Himself; it flows from his essential nature.  And, therefore, when humans act in the same way God acts, yes, we are doing the just and loving thing, insofar as justice and love flow from God.  But, additionally, we are acting in the only way available to God.

Both views (2) and (3) provide a more robust grounding of nonviolent action than does view (1). It is worth exploring in greater detail the consequences of how we might view human non-coercive action in light of essential kenosis.

Dan Koch earned his Bachelor’s in Philosophy from the University of Washington, and is the host of the political Depolarize! Podcast. He is also co-host of the theological Reconstruct podcast, and lives with his wife in Seattle, WA.

The Uncontrolling Love of God: A Minority Report

by Omar Reyes

Man is born free and everywhere he is in chains. – Jean Jacques Rousseau

What does it mean to be free? This is a question that both philosophers and theologians have been asking for thousands of years. Unfortunately, the answer has been in the hands of those who have power. More unfortunately, especially if you belong to a minority group, the question of freedom has, until recently, never been in your hands.

Compounding the problem is how the church, especially in America, has shaped a vision of God from a loving, caring creator to a tyrant whose only will is to please himself. author-picFortunately, theologians like Dr. Thomas Oord have striven to recover the Bible’s original view of God by reintroducing us to the concept of the uncontrolling love of God. But before we examine this concept and how it helps the minority community, let’s look at how this image of God has been distorted and why this has been especially destructive to the minority community in America.

It is important to realize the Church has not always viewed God as all-controlling. In fact here is a quote from one early church father:
St. Clement of Alexandria (c 150-215 CE):

“We have heard from the Scriptures that self-determining choice and refusal have been given by the Lord to men. Therefore, we rest in the infallible criterion of faith, manifesting a willing spirit, since we have chosen life.”

This is how the Early Church viewed the relationship between God and Man: freedom. Freedom to be everything God wants us to be, but also freedom to go against our better natures. The church fathers saw in the biblical witness every man and woman freed by God-given decree, so something like slavery went against the very nature of God’s created order. Then came St Augustine.

Augustine believed in the supremacy of God over all things, which differed from many church theologians before him who believed humanity had freedom in cooperating with God and God’s plan of redemption. This relationship was called synergism.
Augustine had a monergistic view with God as the only active agent, relegating humans, collectively and individually, as only tools and instruments of Gods’ grace or wrath.

It’s this change in how theologians viewed God’s relationship with man that eventually led to the Reformation and laid the foundations for the defense of both slavery and segregation within our own country. Consider this quote defending segregation:

Now, what is the matter? There is an effort today to disturb the established order. Wait a minute. Listen, I am talking straight to you. White folks and colored folks, you listen to me. You cannot run over God’s plan and God’s established order without having trouble. God never meant to have one race. It was not His purpose at all. God has a purpose for each race. God Almighty may have overruled and permitted the slaves to come over to America so that the colored people could be the great missionaries to the Africans. They could have been. The white people in America would have helped pay their way over there. But the hundred and hundred they could have gone back to Africa and got the Africans converted after the slavery days were over.
Is Segregation Scriptural?, sermon by Bob Jones Sr, 1960

Now consider this quote in light of how most reformed theology views the providence of God. If God is truly and totally in control, how can you avoid saying both slavery and segregation are not part of Gods’ manifest plan? And even if you grant, as Dr. Oord pointed out when explaining Dr John Sanders’ view of open and relational theology,

“God cannot be blamed for the actual evil of the creatures, since God did not intend it.”

It’s a bypass that leads us to the exact same highway: God could have stopped evil , but chose not to . When I read this , it stands in stark opposition to not only the nature of God, but the narrative of Scripture. Consider how God demands Justice from his people
In the book of Amos 5: 14-15:

“Seek good, and not evil, that you may live;
and so the LORD,  the God of hosts, will be with you,
as you have said. Hate evil, and love good,
and establish justice in the gate; it may be that the LORD, the God of hosts, will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph.”

The twin pillars of God’s universe are Love and Justice; these pillars uphold God’s greatest creation, humanity. Far from existing solely for God’s good pleasure, Scripture shows us we are involved in a passionate and uncontrolling love affair with our creator. This love affair can only be real if there is true freedom. Evil cannot be wished on the loved one, or allowed if it is within our power to prevent. This is why the idea of the Essential Kenosis is so much closer to the Bible’s picture of God. Essential Kenosis…

“affirms God’s pervasive influence but denies that God can control others. Because God providentially gives freedom to creatures complex enough to express it, God gives freedom that creatures use for good or evil (or morally neutral) activities. God acts as a necessary, though partial, cause for all creaturely activity.”

To a person of color, this is a God whom we always knew existed. God walks with us, talks with us, and suffers with us. God sees when we can’t breathe and mourns when our loved ones are gunned down senselessly. Most importantly, God is not responsible for the evil befalling our communities, wanting instead to work with us to bring true peace and healing through Christ, true sabbath rest. By introducing us to this uncontrolling Love, Dr Oord has shown the minority community they were right all along. God is not the God of the slave owners and slave traders. He is not the God of the segregationist or the white nationalist. God does not have a secret plan to make unimaginable suffering better. God is right here with us, wanting us to use our salvation to bring wholeness to an often broken world. The church is no mere Ark of Safety; it’s a diving board launching us into a world needing God so desperately.

So while many of my friends see this theology and lament how small it makes God, I retort. Rather than making God small, it makes God’s infinite nature immanently accessible: God with us.


The Rev Omar Reyes was Born in Brooklyn New York to immigrants from the Dominican Republic. He came to faith in Christ while in High School and graduated in 1984. After enlisting in the US Army and then working on Wall Street he enrolled in Columbia International University and graduated in 1996 with a degree in Psychology and Bible. After years of working with various churches in Boston and South Carolina, Omar fulfilled his dreams of ministry by graduating from Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary and being ordained in the Anglican Church of Canada and is currently serving 6 parishes in Flowers Cove Newfoundland . He is married to the lovely Jennifer Reyes and has three sons: Azriel who is 15, Tennyson , who is 10 and Vadim who is 7. He loves reading horror stories, especially the one where Donald Trump is elected president and is praying the the series Firefly will come back to network TV. He can be reached at his email address at

The Uncontrolling Love of God: A Mormon Approach

by James McLachlan

Let me say immediately this is a Mormon view of the Uncontrolling Love of God. It is not the Mormon view. Although I think most Mormons would view God’s love as uncontrolling, I expect that many Mormons would find my view of God’s uncontrolling love unacceptable. Unlike many of our Christian brothers and sisters Mormons have no creed. This goes back to early statements of Joseph Smith who repeatedly repudiated the idea of creeds. For example:

“I cannot believe in any of the creeds of the different denominations, because they all have some things in them I cannot subscribe to, though all of them have some truth. I want to come up into the presence of God, and learn all things; but the creeds set up stakes, and say, ‘Hitherto shalt thou come, and no further;’ which I cannot subscribe to.”

In the 19th century Mormons did talk about something they called the “Mormon Creed” which was simply “mind your own business.” Yet Mormons have been tried for heresy, and there is a certain uniformity in doctrine. However, on the whole, Mormonism favors orthopraxis over orthodoxy. I say all this merely to emphasize that there is a certain mclachlan-authorfluidity to Mormon theology that creedal Christians find odd. So although the position I’m putting forth here is Mormon, it shouldn’t be taken as orthodox.

In the 1960s Mormon philosopher Sterling McMurrin claimed that Mormonism was “in principle basically non-absolutistic.” This did not mean that in their everyday discourse Mormons didn’t talk about God using the same absolutist terms as other Christians only that their idea of God would not let them do so consistently. From the pulpit Western Religions love to talk about the eternal, infinite, omniscient, and omnipotent Deity. It’s language of praise for the ultimate. People often don’t seem to want to take their problems to a God who has problems of His/Her own. McMurrin said Mormonism was guilty of “lusting for the linguistic fleshpots of orthodoxy and is turning its back on its own best insights.”

I share much with Tom Oord’s view of the uncontrolling love of God. As a young man I was deeply disturbed by the pulpit claims in my church of God’s all controlling power. It seemed to me that people were more likely to worship power than goodness. These claims seemed coupled with the claim that whenever horrible event happened, it was all a part of God’s plan and this plan would sooner or later be forced on the inhabitants of the world through a powerful apocalyptic event. Later I read the Russian Orthodox theologian Nicolas Berdyaev who dubbed this kind of thinking “the moral source of atheism.” By the time I was 19 and thinking about serving a Mormon mission I had pretty well given up belief in God. Voltaire, Mark Twain and Ivan Karamazov made much more sense to me than what I thought was my tradition. I became a Mormon missionary at age 19 not because of any profound belief in God and Mormonism; I just loved my parents.

As a missionary I repeatedly read Joseph Smith’s 1844 “King Follet Discourse.” Smith explicitly rejected creation ex nihilo and affirmed creation from chaos contending that God “organized the world from chaotic matter as a human being might “organize materials and build a ship.” “Hence, we infer that God had materials to organize the world out of chaos, chaotic matter. . .” In traditional forms of theism Creation ex nihilo protects the power, knowledge, and transcendence of God. In giving up Creation Ex Nihilo Mormons essentially give up the absolutism of God. They also give up God’s utter transcendence of space and time and place God within the struggle with chaos and suffering. God calls humanity to help create a just and loving world.

In Joseph Smith, Jesus and Satanic Opposition: Atonement, Evil and the Mormon Vision, Douglas Davies claims, “It is this presence that poses Mormonism’s strategic yet apologetic dilemma of ‘otherness,’ of wanting to be accepted as Christian by the wider Christian world while not accepting that world’s definition of Christianity. . .” Mormon theologies, even in their most conservative versions, don’t see God as completely ontologically distinct from human beings. God is involved in the same struggle. Still Mormons often want to keep some of the traditional attributes of God. But they end up redefining them. Omnipotence for example has been used in Mormon writings to mean almighty or all the power that a being can possess given they exist alongside other self existing free beings that logically limit omnipotence. Like Process Theologians Mormons can claim that just as most creedal Christians and traditional theists place limits on omnipotence when they define it as doing what is logically possible this means that God is limited by the activity of other free beings. The thought seems to be if omnipotence is limited by logic by traditional theists why not also claim that is just as inconsistent to say that God could force beings to act against their freedom as to say that God could create a square circle. The first statement is to misunderstand freedom as the second is to misunderstand geometry. Thus God is understood as having all the power any being could have and is thus in religious terms “Almighty.”

Coupled with this is an idea that love can and will triumph over Evil. Moral evil has its source in human egoism; the desire to control others. Jean-Paul Sartre characterized the basic human project as “the desire to be God.” This is the desire to control the freedom of others, and thus “Hell is other people.” A good deal of religious zeal has been spent imposing our worldview on others. This results in chaos and destruction. Ekaputra Tupamahu in his essay for this collection “The Decolonial Love of God” captures the problem. If we worship power and authority we seek to see that power imposed on the world. In Sartre’s terms we create Hell. If instead we worship love and caring we might help God create a world fit for all Her/His children.

A Vision for Uncontrolling Leadership

by Joshua Reichard

I am not, by nature, a transformational leader. By virtue of my temperament, I tend to default to a transactional style of leadership: casting vision, establishing and monitoring goals, driving organizational mission, enacting changing, disrupting the status quo, and often, meticulously reichard-authorcontrolling projects to completion. While Western culture would generally regard these as the bedrock of American entrepreneurial-industrial leadership, my experience has taught me otherwise. I’ve learned that if I have any hope of becoming a transformational leader, I must learn to model God’s uncontrolling love toward anyone I hope to lead.

I presently serve as a vice president and superintendent of a network of urban, multicultural, nonpublic Christian schools in a city with one of the highest concentrations of children living in poverty per-capita in the United States, with the worst-ranked public school district in the state. The vast majority of the students we serve meet federal poverty guidelines and about 90% of them are funded with publicly-funded vouchers. About 80% of our students are racial minorities. Nearly 20% of our students have special needs.

We liken our school to the Parable of the Great Banquet in Luke 14. All of the important and powerful people, those who would typically pay private school tuition out-of-pocket, rejected the invitation to the Great Banquet. Instead, the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind were offered a privileged place at the table. In fact, Jesus’ own interpretation of the parable is that there are some people we explicitly should not invite to dine with us – the rich, the powerful, and the privileged (v. 12). Instead, we are called to invite those whom the world would see as the least and the lowly, those with the greatest needs (v. 13). Consequently, we have doubled the enrollment of our school system by operating on this biblical principle: elevate those with the greatest needs to the place of greatest honor.

Leading teachers to meet such needs is just as challenging as meeting the needs of the students themselves. Like most private Christian schools, our teachers are underpaid and overworked. Of the more than 75 instructional staff in our system, most have been called by God to teach at our schools and have committed themselves to our mission at some measure of personal cost. Conventional methods of transactional leadership simply don’t work to motivate people in the context. Instead, a transformational approach to leadership, grounded in a relational process of self-giving, is a far more effective. But it isn’t easy.

Leadership can be reduced to an exercise of power – over others, over an organization, over resources, etc. We equate power with the control. The more control we have, the more power we have. Often, the only way to ensure such control is to wield power in controlling, but destructive ways: fire those who disagree, mandate particular actions, enforce strict rules and consequences, and trust no one. Schools can be among the most brutal battlegrounds for power and control. But such power-plays do not reflect God’s priorities.

I believe that God favors the kind of power that God has and condemns the kind of power the world craves. If Tom Oord’s theory of essential kenosis is accurate, then God’s nature necessitates uncontrolling, others-empowering love – and leaders who profess to lead as agents called by God should strive to lead in ways that honor God’s own power. Obviously, this is easier said than done. But Paul’s admonition in Philippians 2, by which Oord grounds his essential kenosis theory, explicitly calls us to “do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit” and to “value others above ourselves” (v. 3). It is impossible to fulfill such a call by leading with controlling power.

Leading those who are not primarily motivated by pay raises, prestige, or authority, such as the teachers whom I have had the privilege to lead, has taught me to curb my own leadership tendencies. Instead of control, I must strive for collaboration and cooperation. Instead, consistent influence and persuasion are far more potent because they lead to heart changes grounded in authentic relationships. More than that, when I lead others in an uncontrolling way, I am transformed in the process and I’ve taken one more step toward becoming a transformational leader myself.

I strive to see my own leadership as contingent and temporary. I am stewarding people and resources for a season. I’m learning to give power away. To lead consistent with God’s love, I must learn to be others-oriented: I must learn to empower others and to relinquish whatever controlling power I still have. This highly relational process elevates the “interests of others” above our own (Philippians 2:4). “Selfish ambition and vain conceit” have no place in uncontrolling leadership (Philippians 2:3).

Now, I am not just leading teachers, but leading other leaders. I can do less and less directly. Most of my influence is indirect. I must persuade others to action. Although I think most Americans probably value a “take charge” style transactional leader, the painful yet rewarding experience of others-empowering transformational leadership is far more personally taxing; it takes grit, tenacity, commitment, consistency, and yes, love. In my experience, it’s much more difficult to be an uncontrolling leader than to be a controlling one!

As our school system continues to grow and we continue to serve more children and hire more personnel, I know that my leadership challenging will be to exercise less control, not more. As I grow as a leader, I know that I am called to empower others and look to their interests more than my own. To become transformational, I will need to continually check my own exercise of power against God’s nature of self-giving, others-empowering, uncontrolling love.

Joshua D. Reichard, PhD, EdS is the Vice President for Academic Affairs at Valley Christian Schools, an urban, multicultural, PreK-12 network of nonpublic schools in the Youngstown, Ohio region. Joshua serves on the faculty of the American College of Education, Ashford University’s Forbes School of Business, Oxford Graduate School (American Center for Religion and Society Studies), among others. His scholarly interests include Process-Relational theology in conversation with Pentecostalism, Wesleyan theologies, and the intersections of race, religion,  and school choice. His website is