Today I’ll be gathering with about 100 of our church leaders to reveal some news about the mission & future of Southpoint! I plan to do that very soon with the whole church. But I’d like our leaders to be aware first because leaders are important to the mission of the church. Let me rephrase that — good, godly leaders are important to the mission. I’m trying to move us away from a “leadership” culture. For too long now I believe the American Church has placed too much emphasis on leadership. When I was first starting in ministry, there wasn’t much emphasis on it or resources about it. But that began to change (with all other kinds of shifts in the 1990’s).
Better leadership was needed in many ways because churches are often weak when it comes to good leadership. So conferences were scheduled; multiple books were written; & audio teachings were offered to train for better leadership. But what I think happened is that too much emphasis & undue burden was placed on ministers to be world-class leaders. Ministers had tended to focus on what they were trained for & passionate about — preaching, teaching, shepherding, & evangelizing. So we were grateful for those resources that improved our leadership.
The guru of the Church world was John Maxwell. I remember a couple of years into leading a new church, driving to his conference in Anderson, Indiana. I took copious notes. His most famous saying became: “Everything rises & falls on leadership.” Well, that’s not exactly true when it comes to the Church. By the way, Maxwell eventually switched from training church leaders to training corporate leaders.
So for a few years now, I’ve felt uneasy about how we talk about leadership. I’ve even drug my feet on implementing some leadership ideas. It just wasn’t sitting well with me. Granted, the Church isn’t a business, but it does operate like one in some ways by necessity. The worlds of business, government, the military & sports all offer some valuable insight, lessons, & methods that can help church leaders. But we’re also different. There’s nothing else like leading in the “Church world.” You may think it’s easier, but anyone who has led in both the business & Church worlds will tell you that church leadership requires a different style without the leverage of carrots & sticks that business leaders hold. But we do have one advantage in the Church (a big one!) — God! People (at least some) WANT to do God’s work.
Too many ministers & other church leaders have buckled & been bent by the unrealistic demands to be like megachurch superstar leaders. I don’t know how many have felt the pressure to “lead” their churches to growth & success through pragmatic CEO-style leadership principles. I don’t know how many megachurch leaders I’ve heard about that succumbed to the dark side of leadership demands by being unethical, unreasonably demanding, & bullying.
For a few years, the largest church leadership conference in the world was hosted by Willow Creek Church in the Chicago area — “The Global Leadership Summit.” They would bring in famous church, business, political & entertainment figures to speak to leaders. It was simulcast in churches all over the world. Our church even hosted it one year. I’m sure it did some good — after all, we can learn from all kinds of people. But its focus seemed to be in the wrong place. It was expensive too. I walked away with very little that was practical for leading a church. We didn’t host it again, & I never attended one again. I continued to see it shift from having speakers who were mostly church leaders to only about half who were. Why would I go listen to Bono or Melinda Gates or Colin Powell teach me about church leadership? The famous founder & teaching minister of Willow Creek became embroiled in accusations of his leadership style & marital infidelities, & was forced to resign. Other such leaders (not all of them) ended up being poor role models as well.
As you search the Scriptures, you don’t really find much being taught about how to be a good leader — other than to be a person of godly character who leads by example & knowledge of God’s Word. The Apostle wrote: “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1). If “everything rises & falls on leadership,” why didn’t Jesus teach more about it? He seems to talk more about being His follower, & a servant. Jesus talked about worldly leaders who “lord it over” people, but it’s not to be that way among us — to be great means to be a servant as He was (Mark 10:42-44).
The idea of a super leader in charge of a congregation (or a denomination) is foreign to the New Testament. There were no hierarchies, lofty titles, & privileges. In fact, leadership is through service. Many desire to be leaders; few desire to be servants. Maybe we need more training on how to be better servants.
If the New Testament doesn’t focus on leadership, why should we? Isn’t leadership the fruit or byproduct of godly people aspiring to be an example of servanthood? Doesn’t leadership just “happen” when people want to follow because of the model being set through service & the sharing of God’s Word? Hebrews 13:7 says: “Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.” A more fitting quote from John Maxwell is: “He that thinketh he leadeth, and hath no one following him is only taking a walk.” What do you think?