When we hear the term ‘Christian leadership’, we automatically equate it to certain roles, such as pastors, missionaries, or evangelists. In my case, however, Christian leadership takes the form of a military leader. Military leaders are unique due to the fact that they often serve in a variety of leadership roles, which includes being a pastor to Soldiers with spiritual needs or a missionary to a foreign national who has never heard the Gospel.
From my Pentecostal childhood to my current position as a Lieutenant Colonel in the United States Army, my Christian formation continues to be an ongoing process. Many events in my life impacted the dimensions of my human development, particularly my intellectual development, and its application to my role as a Christian military leader.
My intellectual development as a Christian leader has the most impact on my current leadership role. Jean Piaget’s theory on the stages of intellectual development best explains this process. The first stage, reflexive thinking, involves the senses. Things that are seen, heard, or felt form the basis of ideas, and drive the development of knowledge.
Growing up as a Pentecostal, I witnessed many aspects of spirituality at an early age. I saw people ‘slain in the spirit’, possessed by demons, and visibly healed. I also heard people speaking in tongues and prophesying, and I felt the overwhelming power of the Holy Spirit. This information gathered through my senses formed my ideas and knowledge of the spiritual side of Christianity.
The second stage, intuitive thinking, describes the intuitive perception of knowledge and its transference to a set of symbols through the use of both sensible and intellective intuition. This stage involves the process of transferring knowledge from the physical realm to the psychological realm, and involves the use of symbols or a set of beliefs. The actions taken during this stage form the basis of a person’s belief system.
For me, the knowledge gained through my senses formed my set of beliefs, especially my belief in the spiritual realm of Christianity. Through my young eyes, everything revolved around the external acts of the Holy Spirit, and the act of ‘speaking in tongues’ eventually became a symbol of a person’s salvation to me. In turn, this fostered the incorrect idea that Christians or churches that failed to perform these acts were not true Christians at all.
The third stage, concrete thinking, involves critical reasoning and the application of logic. During this stage, a person begins to apply critical reasoning to their preconceived beliefs due to being exposed to conflicting perceptions of the same idea. This usually begins with an encounter with a different set of beliefs that conflict with those formed in the second stage of intellectual development.
This stage began for me during my college years at West Point. The only Christian organization on campus was the Officer’s Christian Fellowship, which consisted of people from all denominations of Christianity. Even though there were many different ideas on Christianity within this group, I came to see that, in the end, we were all Christians that believed in Jesus Christ. At this point, I began to apply critical reasoning and logic to my beliefs by comparing them more closely to Scripture.
During my early days as an Army officer, as well as during my combat deployments, I came to realize that most Christians have the same basic set of beliefs. The only major difference lies in their customs, rituals, and forms of worship, even though these differences have significantly increased in the last ten years. However, at the time, these shared basic set of beliefs became especially evident to me during my deployments, where I attended a Protestant church service on Sundays. Even though this group consisted of Baptists, Pentecostals, Methodists, etc., we were all worshiping the same God and praying for His hand of protection for ourselves and our families at home. We were truly brothers and sisters in Christ who knew that we could meet Him at any moment. This unity in Christ further solidified my modified system of beliefs.
The final stage, abstract thinking, involves the application of critical thinking to solve problems and generate theories or hypotheses. People in this stage of development utilize all three parts of critical reasoning—abstract, inductive, and deductive. This process involves the processing of conceptual theories, generating hypotheses based on observations and evaluations, and formulating solutions based on multiple proposals.
During this phase of my intellectual development, I further developed what I learned during the previous three stages into theories and hypotheses. After applying Scriptural evidence to these theories and hypotheses, I was able to form viable solutions to them. Essentially, I used Scripture as the baseline of evaluation for many of my preconceived ideas and beliefs, as well as the foundation of my solutions.
A good example of this is the evaluation of my beliefs founded on the external acts of the Holy Spirit, such as the use of tongues for worship. Through what I saw and felt during my formative years, I knew that the use of tongues was a real and valid form of worship enabled through the Holy Spirit. However, during the stage of concrete thinking, I began to question some of these beliefs, especially those developed from what I heard from various Pentecostal pastors and evangelists. Upon exposure to other Christian viewpoints and further examination of Scripture, I discarded the incorrect belief mentioned above that all Christians must ‘speak in tongues’.
In yet another byproduct of abstract thinking, I began to apply Scripture to various theories and hypotheses in an attempt to explain this key difference between the various denominations of Christianity. I desired a genuine explanation as to why some denominations fail to utilize this gift for worship, since I knew that it was a reality of the Holy Spirit based on my established beliefs from my childhood. How can denominations of the same religion based on the same Scripture have different views concerning the use of spiritual gifts, especially the gift of tongues?
Through the use of critical reasoning and close examination of Scripture, I was able to form my own hypothesis to explain this phenomenon. When most people think of spiritual gifts, they will agree that they are designed to benefit the church, and most Christians equate this church to a physical structure or congregation.
However, in Paul’s letter to the Romans, he describes the body of Christ as being comprised of all Christians, with each member of the body having their own purpose, or “office”. Also, in his letter to the Colossians, he asserts that Christ is the head of the body, and the body is the church. By applying these two verses to his instructions on the use of spiritual gifts for the benefit of the church, I concluded that he may mean the universal church, or the body of Christ, in which the term ‘members’ could be applied to denominations. To me, this is one explanation of the differing views on the use of certain spiritual gifts among various denominations.
This process shows how my intellectual development influences my role as a Christian leader. By considering other viewpoints on theological issues and applying critical reasoning to these viewpoints, I can now develop my own hypotheses and solutions. In other words, I can critically analyze differing views on theology, compare them with my own established beliefs, and determine which of the two is biblically sound.
In conclusion, my intellectual development as part of my Christian formation affects my role as a Christian leader in many ways. In my current leadership role as a military officer, I am able to observe many different viewpoints on theology. In turn, my current level of intellectual development allows me to apply critical reasoning to determine if these viewpoints are complementary to my established beliefs. It also allows me to find common ground with fellow Christians, which allows me to establish a connection with my subordinates and peers. To me, my intellectual development is absolutely critical to being an effective leader in a multi-cultural and multi-denominational organization that is the United States Army.
*Disclaimer: The views and opinions provided in this article do not necessarily reflect those of the United States Army.
 James R. Estep and Jonathan H. Kim, Christian Formation: Integrating Theology and Human Development, (Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2010), 70.
 Ibid., 70.
 Ibid., 71.
 Romans 12:4-5 (KJV).
 Colossians 1:18 (KJV).