What Christian leaders can learn from Star Trek

Christian leaders: are you willing to boldly go where no one has gone before? Turns out, whether you’re a Star Trek enthusiast or not, we have much to learn from Captain Kirk’s style of leadership.

The March 5 issue of Forbes Magazine included an article by Alex Knapp titled, “Five Leadership Lessons From James T. Kirk.” For the uninitiated, James Tiberius Kirk, Captain of the U.S.S. Enterprise, is the character played by William Shatner in the 1966-1969 television series Star Trek.

The article’s five leadership lessons were:

1) Never stop learning

2) Have advisors with different worldviews

3) Be part of the away team

4) Play poker, not chess

5) Blow up the Enterprise

It occurred to me that Christian leaders need those same takeaways, although perhaps more refined and pointed to what we do.

Never stop learning

Captain Kirk once combined some basic materials around him and put together a makeshift shotgun to defeat a big lizardy creature. He had no reason to know about the obsolete technology of gunpowder in his world of energy weapons, but still he knew about it and used what he knew when the time was right.

How many times have we known a Christian leader who did the M.Div. and then sat back pastoring their local church, but with little creativity? In church or in para-church ministry we have to remember this important rule: It's not the size of your ministry that's important, it's what you do with it. The more you learn about more things, the more creative you can be in your approach to ministry.

Have advisors with different worldviews

Captain Kirk had two close advisors: the logical, emotionless Vulcan, Mr. Spock, and the passionate surgeon, Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy. The two gave the captain competing and often conflicting perspectives. It was the captain’s job to listen to, but not necessarily implement, their advice.

As a Christian species, we tend to run in small circles. We read Christian books by Christian authors about Christian things and talk about them with our Christian friends at the Christian coffee house listening to Christian music. As Christian leaders, do we seek the perspectives of people and ideas from outside our insular communities? A Christian leader should be able to take that perspective and bring Biblical relevancy to it.

Be part of the away team

Captain Kirk was almost always the first one to go down to the unknown planet. He brought people with the right skills and talents, but he took the same risks as any of his crew. It's important for a Christian leader to delegate effectively, but it's just as important for one to get her or his hands dirty - and their boots on the ground. Another way to put this is: never ask your people to do what you're not willing to do yourself.

Play poker, not chess

Kirk seemed to be the only one who could beat Spock in 3-D chess, but when it really came down to command, he was a poker player at heart and took the calculated risk. If you've never played either of these, let me make it simple. Chess is about rules and staying inside pre-determined boxes. Poker is about influencing others and bringing people around to your way of thinking about what you might have in your hand. You don’t win at poker by playing it safe. In poker, you use the cards you've been dealt to make the most of the game. It's another risk-taking challenge to our ministries and churches, and it leads perfectly to the next lesson.

Blow up the Enterprise

Captain Kirk’s first love was the Enterprise. So many episodes included a line from the captain to get the ship out of danger. Finally, in the third movie, (spoiler alert) the captain made the agonizing decision to sacrifice the ship to defeat the Klingons and save his crew.

Have you ever been willing to take enough risk to chance a negative impact on yourself, the church, the ministry or whatever you've found yourself leading? We need reminders that God is the one in control of these things and not us. If all we do is protect our own seats in the chairs, be it the captain's chair or the pew, we cannot really move forward. It all comes down to one simple quote: “Risk is our business. That’s what this starship is all about. That’s why we’re aboard her.” - Captain James T. Kirk

What Do You Think?

  • What risks have you taken in a leadership role?
  • Are these good models for Christian leaders to follow?
  • What other models would you suggest?

 

Comments (2)

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I think we could also learn from another of Kirk's legendary life lessons: I don't believe in no-win situations.

In the final simulator exercise Spock developed for Federation Academy students, which he had specifically designed to test their mettle in command during a "no-win" situation where some sort of costly sacrifice would have to be made for the sake of survival, Kirk made himself a legend for reprogramming Spock's program prior to the exam in order to engineer a way out of a seemingly impossible situation--all for the sake of proving this point: "there are always options" (to quote his successor, Jean-Luc Picard, in Star Trek: The Next Generation).

In the Christian worldview, there are always options because God is always sovereign. We serve a God who is always on His throne, a God who never falls asleep on the job, a God who points the way through no-win situations and says, "With the world this is impossible, but with Me, all things are possible."

I don't know if James Kirk knew this God, but I'm sure glad I do.
Love me some Star Trek. I saw that Forbes article and enjoy the way you bring it through here. In the past couple weeks between reading these 2 pieces, I've decided to blow something up that I've developed for years. The time is right, and the Enterprise from Star Trek III is the perfect analogy.

 

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