If Lee Kuan Yew Were A Pastor: Reflections on Lee's Relevance for Christian Leaders

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Pastors, especially senior pastors of churches with larger congregations and staff

teams, have to provide leadership, not only in the typical pastoral sense of

preaching/teaching and counseling/caring, but also in terms of direction and management.

Yet pastors tend to receive inadequate equipping in this third area, and sometimes

flounder when faced with the complexities of their role.

Lee Kuan Yew was an extraordinary political leader and manager, leading the

severely disadvantaged fledgling nation of Singapore from Third World status to First

World in a few decades. Underlying the question of what pastors can learn from Lee,

given that he never professed Christian faith himself, is the principle of discernment

anchored in humility and healthy skepticism: humility to realize non-Christians may be

wiser than Christians in the way they manage their institutional affairs, and skepticism to

know that not everything that “works” in the world is going to likewise succeed in God’s


The first step in discerning what aspects of Lee’s leadership have relevance for

pastors was to construct a biblical/ theological grid by which to evaluate Lee’s leadership.

Shaped by the data available on Lee, this grid had four components - formation,

shepherding, excellence and power – and a broad theological understanding of each of

these themes was outlined so as to serve as a set of criteria in evaluating the applicability

of key aspects of Lee’s leadership.

Lee’s life was examined both in terms of his pre-leadership years and his time in

leadership. The formative experiences of Lee’s life from childhood through to early

adulthood evoke reflections on how one’s own personal history has a shaping influence

on one’s leadership, and where there might be strengths yet to be harnessed, or shadows

yet to be confronted. Lee’s positive leadership traits - as described by himself and others

– are worthy of thoughtful appropriation insofar as they are deemed compatible with

Christian values as identified in the biblical grid. Some features of Lee’s leadership,

which were heavily critiqued by many and are at odds with the principles in the biblical

grid are also identified for reflection.

To deepen and personalize the above leadership reflections, several interviews

with Christians who held significant leadership roles and knew Lee first-hand were cited.

A fictional narrative of an interview with Lee was also incorporated in the final chapter,

which offered the space for imaginatively extending Lee’s leadership in a more

theological vein. In summary, Lee’s complex legacy provides rich material for leadership

reflections by pastors, and the overlap zone between Christian and secular leadership

merits further study and exploration.





Sudharman, Joshua Shaam (2020). If Lee Kuan Yew Were A Pastor: Reflections on Lee's Relevance for Christian Leaders. Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10161/20641.


Dukes student scholarship is made available to the public using a Creative Commons Attribution / Non-commercial / No derivative (CC-BY-NC-ND) license.