Kenotic Leadership: A Model for Clergy

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Leadership in the church today must be able to adapt to rapidly changing circumstances and availability of resources in order to allow for the thriving of congregations. In order to serve as Christ served, church leaders must be able to empty themselves of old patterns and behaviors that keep them stuck and unable to guide their congregations into deeper relationship with God and active engagement within the community. Leaders must continually let go of what they once knew about the work of leadership, and be willing to embrace change that comes rapidly and challenges them, at times, to change course completely. This is how Jesus led. Jesus emptied himself of the things that were old models of leadership: tyranny, fear, power, and dictatorship and embraced the qualities of adaptability, authenticity, and flexibility which allowed him to minister and lead well in a variety of settings. This is, broadly, how I will define what I call, “kenotic leadership.”

This thesis looks at the concept of kenosis, found in Philippians 2, as a model of values-based leadership that seeks to adapt to a changing world and a changing church through self-examination and release of those characteristics within the leader that stand in the way of authentic presence. Jesus, in choosing a kenosis, or emptying of self, demonstrates the essence of an adaptive form of leadership, leaving behind that which does not serve the present context. I will argue that Christ did not give up any part of his divinity because that divinity is essential to his identity and is his very essence. Using the work of Rowan Williams, I will demonstrate that Christ’s divinity could not have been thrown off but remains an essential part of the human Jesus.

Finally, I will include a course in leadership that I have designed and taught to seminary students based upon the work of this thesis and my DMin program. Through the narrative sections following each week’s lesson plan, I will demonstrate that seminary students respond well to an understanding of leadership that is based in humility and self-awareness and that their preparation for leadership in the church is currently insufficient.





Nyland, Amy (2021). Kenotic Leadership: A Model for Clergy. Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from


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