How many workshops, conferences, videos, and books have you experienced about “leadership?” Ten secrets of that, nine habits of those people, or seven principles about leadership that are sure to transform your ministry? Those who present or write those books seem so competent, so successful, so energized.
I want to tell them, “Chill out, won’t you? Stop with adrenaline already!”
I have long been disenchanted with the evangelical world’s obsession with leadership. Leaders have developed an entire (extra-biblical) leadership science. These secular principles are often “baptized” with Scriptural examples to give them an air of authority.
The emphasis on leadership means spotlighting particular leaders. Both the fundamentalist and evangelical communities are noted to gravitate toward the “personality cult,” a modern day version of, “I am of Paul, I am of Apollos.”
Some people are drawn to the mystery and otherworldliness of the great leader. They are looking for someone who is above the fray of normal human existence. It is easy to admire a well-known speaker and/or author who is verbally gifted, filled with unbounded energy, and motivational.
But you don’t know what his family is like, what he is like when he is out of the limelight or in a grouchy mood. Perhaps unlike your pastor who serves a small church and is ready to quit every Monday, the mystery celebrity pastor seems a model for what could be, a man who has mastered life.
But all is not well in Camelot. As we hear about one famous leader after another (in both the Kingdom and in secular society) apologizing for sexual harassment, propositions, affairs, scandals, control-freak behavior, or addictions — the light bulb over our heads is beginning to blink a little.
It is dawning upon our society that ethics matter, and that perhaps developed leaders (who have been first faithful in little) are preferable to born leaders (many of whom must lead because they are incapable of being content while following).
This article from Forbes magazine suggests that even secular society has had enough of the over-energized, decisive, arm-twisting born leaders. Rob Asghar writes:
Good, skilled followers are able to nurture good leadership, by invisibly helping keep a novice leader upright and on track. It’s a lost art in our narcissistic times. There is a conundrum in leadership: Most of the people who naturally gravitate toward leadership roles don’t have the humility or decency you’d want in a leader. And most of the humble and decent people that we might want to see in leadership roles quickly feel chewed up by the tensions, the criticisms, and the thanklessness of the job. They soon retreat to safety or they end up curled up in a ball in a corner office. And only their more ruthless counterparts are left to compete for supremacy. If we want to have any hope of changing this, we have to do a better job of building up the people who aren’t natural leaders but who have qualities that can serve our organizations and our communities. (forbes.com)
The Bible has many examples of leaders, and helps us to understand that strong leaders often carry with them strong weaknesses. Samson, for example, got the job done, but was not a model leader. Neither was Saul. As a matter of fact, David and Solomon were compromised to varying degree. None of these leaders would have been qualified to serve in church leadership, according to the criteria of 1 Timothy 3:1-7.
I am not saying that “born leaders” cannot be godly, mature, or ethical. I could name several that, in my view, meet all the important criteria. In Scripture, Peter was an example of a born leader who was godly, albeit sometimes undependable.
Results do not vindicate a man’s character or walk with God. The 3 B’s (bodies, bucks, and buildings) do not a successful servant make. It is still the criteria of 1 Timothy 3:1-7 that are God’s rubric, and qualities like faithfulness, godliness, balance, relational skills, and wisdom that reign. Marketing expertise, charisma, decisiveness, or “ability to inspire” are not in the mix.
In the past, when we heard of highly successful Christian leaders who later were proven unethical, we marveled in unbelief. Nowadays, we add them to the ever-growing list. Our “results-driven” house of cards is beginning to tumble.
One example of a developed (rather than “born”) leader is Timothy, introduced to us in Acts 16:1-5. Timothy was a developed leader; he came up through the ranks. He was a young man of character, faithful in his local church. Because he was faithful in little, he had potential to be faithful in much — a great young man for Paul to mentor.
The Forbes article referenced above also explained why developed leaders seem so few. Born leaders usually come with a tough hide and amazing resilience. Born leaders do not struggle as intently with their self-esteem or doubt their competency, but often struggle with pride. Godly born leaders become more mature by growing in humility; godly developed leaders often must grow in confidence and develop that tougher hide over time — if they survive.
The sad truth is that churches can become meat-grinders for developed leaders. Few pastors enjoy critical church members. But developed leaders take criticism and discontent harder. Since they are — by nature — more humble, they are also more vulnerable. Many of them are driven out of ministry by sharp tongues and constant complaints.
Interestingly, according to the Forbes article, the same dynamics are at work in the corporate world. Discontented underlings (much like church members) make the work of the developed executive unpleasant and unbearable.
Thus corporations and churches lose some of their best potential leaders and are left with a higher percentage of “born” leaders. Although some born leaders are certainly ethical, others are not.
To escape this vicious circle, we need to stop admiring Christian leaders we don’t know and start modeling ourselves after godly Christian leaders (closer to home) we do know. These leaders may not be “super-human,” but they are more likely to be genuine. If your house is on fire, it is a real fire fighter who will help you — not a fictional superhero.
Second, we need to nurture our leaders and treat them as human beings, not functionaries who merely exist to get the job done.
Just as many ignore the criteria of 1 Timothy 3:1-7, so we tend to forget the family-like approach we are admonished to take toward church life (1 Timothy 3:5, 3:15, 5:1-2). The church is a body, a family, and a kingdom of priests — among other things; it is not a corporation, factory, competitive business, or production line. Developed leaders are often best when it comes to a family-like approach, because, they are by nature, family oriented (1 Timothy 3:4).
As long as the church continues to value the qualities of the corporate world, it will have the same kind of leaders as the corporate world.
Ed Vasicek was raised as a Roman Catholic in Cicero, Illinois. During his senior year in high school (1974), Cicero Bible Church reached out to him, and he received Jesus Christ as his Savior by faith alone. Ed earned his BA at Moody Bible Institute. He has served as pastor of Highland Park Church since 1983. Ed and his wife, Marylu, have two adult children. Ed has written many weekly columns for the opinion page of the Kokomo Tribune, published articles in Pulpit Helps magazine, and posted many papers at his church website. Ed has also published the The Midrash Key and The Amazing Doctrines of Paul As Midrash: The Jewish Roots and Old Testament Sources for Paul’s Teachings.