In conjunction with today’s post, I encourage you to read the following article by Mark Galli as a complement to what I have to say here. As usual, Mark is spot on.
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The Leadership Cult
Why are we fascinated with the very thing Jesus warned us against?
by Mark Galli, 11/13/2008, Christianity Today
Not a week goes by before another leadership book or three crosses my desk. In a pile of recent church books sitting in front of me sits The Soul of a Leader, The Leadership Dynamic, and Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership.
A Google search reveals a plethora of leadership groups, organizations, and institutes of every conceivable name. Want to give a kick-start to your nonprofit? Put leadership and institute in the title, and you have automatic prestige. How’s this? “The Galli Institute for Leadership Development.” No university or major institution, desperate for new sources of income, can forgo having its own leadership seminars/classes/degrees. Even Disney has gotten into the act with the Disney Institute — “Highlighting the vision and ideals of Walt Disney, Disney Institute is a recognized leader in experiential training, leadership development. …”
In our culture, leadership has become a “cult” — in the sense of an obsessive or faddish devotion. And Christians have been initiated into it. Besides the books that sit before me, there are many others authored by big-name pastors — or former pastors, since some pastors have managed to parlay their leadership insights into whole careers. Christian colleges are all about “developing future leaders.” And there’s the famous Leadership Network. And Leadership journal. And on it goes.
When Leadership came on to the scene in 1980, not many Christians thought about what it meant to lead an organization. Managing was more the rage. And few people saw the pastor as a leader. Today, it is the rare pastor who does not think of himself first and foremost as a leader who must employ leadership skills to lead his people. Gone are the days when pastors thought of themselves as, well, ministers – those who “attend to the wants and needs of others” (American Heritage Dictionary).
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Here is a brief overview of a few things I understand about leadership. You who are MBA’s, feel free to correct me or clarify this.
Start with what it is: “Leadership is a process whereby an individual influences a group of individuals to achieve a common goal” (Northouse). This rather generic contemporary definition sets our understanding of leadership clearly in a corporate context. Leadership as we commonly use it today is a business concept.
- Leadership is about an individual who is influential.
- Leadership is about how that individual influences a group of other individuals.
- Leadership is about bringing about the achievement of common goals.
So then, the goal (or the mission) is the important thing. The group exists for the purpose of carrying out the mission. And it is the leader’s task to influence them so that the mission will be achieved.
- Visionary leadership defines the mission, clarifies it, and makes it “real.”
- Vision-casting leadership promotes the mission and gives direction to it in a way that enthuses and enlists others to participate.
- Leadership that equips gives people the tools and methods to achieve tasks.
Good leadership involves:
- Exercising command (speaking and acting authoritatively on behalf of the mission),
- Strategy (designing and overseeing the plan for implementing the mission),
- Control (overseeing the implementation of the mission in such a way that risks are reduced),
- Management (overseeing the proper allocation of resources to achieve the mission),
- Coaching (guiding and motivating people to do their best in fulfilling the mission),
- And accountability (holding people responsible and rewarding people for their work on behalf of the mission).
Christians like to talk about “servant” leadership, and that’s well and fine, but our concepts of this are often naive. For leadership in the corporate model may indeed serve others by trying to help them grow and learn and do their best. However, that cannot be divorced from the aspects of authority inherent in commanding, controlling, managing, and holding people accountable. A cynic might say that “Christian” leadership is just the same old “ruling over others,” albeit with a gentler touch and a smile.
Back to our subject. Let me say this clearly: in the context of a business or an organization that is defined by a mission, these are appropriate and salutary principles. Fulfilling the mission (selling the product, providing the service, etc.) is all-important to a business. Leaders in such an organization are responsible to lead, that is, influence others in the organization to fulfill the mission with the utmost effectiveness and efficiency. For the mission itself serves a larger goal — the bottom line. In business that means profits. In non-profit organizations it involves some aspect of bettering the community.
Fine for business, but it is at this very point that we run into a problem when we talk about the church. Why? Because the church is not defined by her mission. Now it is right to say that the church has a mission, that the church is missional, that mission is a central component of what she does. It is not right, however, to define the church as a mission and subsume one’s entire ecclesiology under that rubric.
I wrote about one aspect of this a couple of years ago in a piece called, “Is It a Church?” There I argued that an entire generation of people who had been evangelized and discipled in parachurch groups came into the church through the front door of the “church growth” movement and began rearranging the received wisdom and practices of ecclesiology. They came from organizations that had clear, focused missions and leadership that exercised command, control, management, and accountability over the people who worked in the organization so that the mission would be fulfilled. Some of these ministries were formed in the wake of World War II and took an almost military approach to the mission. Others were formed in post-war times when business was booming in the corporate world and great advances were being made in understanding corporate organizational business principles.
As parachurch ministry and the church growth movement matured and morphed into the seeker movement, the church planting movement, and the missional movements of today, one theme has been constant: To be the church means to be about the mission. In that context, what is the greatest need in the church? That’s right, leadership. Because if the church is defined by the Great Commission, then what we need more than anything is leaders who can influence us to fulfill the task.
Those leaders then need to make some decisions about how the church can be most effective and efficient in fulfilling the mission. For many, that means focusing on the “A” people in the church. This is what Steve Jobs did at Apple when the Macintosh was being developed. He summarized the main leadership lessons he learned from that experience in these terms: “You have to be ruthless if you want to build a team of A players. It’s too easy, as a team grows, to put up with a few B players, and they then attract a few more B players, and soon you will even have some C players. The Macintosh experience taught me that A players like to work only with other A players, which means you can’t indulge B players” (Isaacson, p. 181)
You can see the influence of this thinking in someone like Mark Driscoll, who wrote a series of leadership lessons from baseball that he thinks should inform our practice in the church. One of those was called, “Cut Underperforming, Overpaid Veterans.” Here is Driscoll’s counsel:
Every team has older veterans whom the fans love but who can no longer catch or hit a ball. The General Manager has a tough call to make. Do they cut them and let new talent take the field, even though they will lose money and their fans will be unhappy, or do they let them take the field, thereby taking away an opportunity from another player and causing the team to lose? If there were a solely Christian MLB team run by a church, it would have highly paid, broken old veterans and lose every game; but, it would have a small and devoted fan base, along with a well developed theology of suffering to make it all seem spiritual. Teams, organizations, and churches have to cut the underperforming, overpaid veterans who are hurting the team. Even if they remain leaders, they have to be given another position without a salary and go find another job to pay the bills.
This is where “leadership” principles that conform to the corporate model inevitably lead us — to the exact opposite kinds of perspectives and decisions we ought to be making in our congregations.
In contrast, the New Testament (building upon the ancient wisdom of Israel) exhorts us to choose elders who are able, by deep experience with God and life and people, to provide wise counsel, direction, and care to the church. That word “elder” is chosen carefully. It points specifically to those who are older and wiser, not to those who are younger, more energetic, stronger, and more able to “perform.”
But in our culture we value energy and we discount wisdom.
It used to be the task of the wise trainer to tame the wild horse so that it might be guided along prudent paths. In our day we hitch the wild horse to the wagon and hope for an exciting ride.
What if the church is not defined by the mission?
What if it’s about more than that?
What if it’s about God and people first?
What if it’s about Jesus?
What if it’s about love?
What if it’s about planting seeds, and cultivating plants, and watering, and tending, and waiting for the harvest?
What if it’s about worship and prayer and spiritual formation?
What if it’s not just about the mission but about a thousand different vocations that show God’s love to the world through our daily lives and routine work?
What if it’s about building a community of love and service that welcomes and pays most attention to the least of these, the poor, and the outcasts?
What if, instead of Leadership Institutes, God is calling us to offer training in and examples of what Mark Galli calls, “Institute[s] for Sacrificial and Inconspicuous Service?”
If it’s about all that, and more, then our greatest need is not “leadership.” Then our need will be for pastors and congregations immersed in the grace and mercy of God, filled with the Spirit whose fruit is love, marked by the Cross of him who laid down his life for us.
If the mission defines you, by all means put the rookie phenom in the lineup.
I’ll be happy to take tips from the seasoned veteran.