Imagery of Regent people and campus

Dissertation Abstract

How Exemplary Christian Leaders Discern Their Higher Purpose

Gilbert A. Jacobs
September 2008

Although leadership literature has asserted the importance of purpose and vision in leadership, there has been a lack of empirical studies on how leaders discern their purpose that informs their vision. This empirical study is distinctive in its systematic examination of the factors that contribute to the discernment of a higher purpose by examining a diverse group of 10 exemplary Christian leaders. The microtheory suggested by this investigation evolved from data generated using Moustakas's (1994) phenomenological approach to study the leaders in this investigation and from the grounded theory procedures developed by Strauss and Corbin (1998). The central logic of the theoretical model from this study suggests that when there is dissonance in the environment (i.e., gaps between God's will as revealed in the Bible and the condition of the world), exemplary Christian leaders experienced cognitive dissonance (Festinger, 1957) due to their spiritual formation (Mulholland, 1993). This acts as a motivator for the leaders to reduce the dissonance. The influence of others through social modeling and verbal persuasion (Bandura, 1986) encourages exemplary Christian leaders to discern a higher purpose aimed at reducing the dissonance in their environment. Intervening conditions can challenge exemplary Christian leaders during the process of discerning their higher purpose. Strategies employed by exemplary Christian leaders to overcome these challenges and to discern their higher purpose include (a) the counsel of trusted people, (b) prayer, and (c) critical reflection. Similar to the behavioral model by Ajzen and Fishbein (1980), the evidence from this study suggests exemplary Christian leaders' belief in God and the encouragement of others overrides the leaders' attitude towards their personal limitations and opposing forces in the discernment of the leaders' higher purpose (intention) which informs the vision they communicate to others (behavior).