Stowaways on the Leadership

Because the internet watches our every move, over time I start to see ads that are supposed to be tailored to my interests. As a theology geek, that means I see a lot of ads relating to church. “How to Grow Your Church,” “Why Your Church Isn’t Reaching Millennials” (they should know better than to get me started on that again), and so forth. Now, I’m not in church leadership, and if I was, I probably wouldn’t stake the future of my church on a social media ad. But this is what the dark lords of the Internet have decided I’m interested in.

One category of church-targeted advertising that I see disproportionately centers around leadership. There’s always some new book, blog, or seminar about church leadership that’s just the bee’s knees.

One of my favorite such ads that I recently saw was for a seminar featuring a couple of megachurch pastors (one of whom has recently made some audacious claims about the inerrancy of scripture) and some names I didn’t recognize called “How to Lead When You’re Not In Charge”.

Now, I didn’t attend the seminar, because I’m not about that life, but the title of it struck me. The title is what is going to draw people in. What is the appeal in “leading when you’re not in charge”?

This isn’t just an Internet advertising phenomenon. If you walk through a Christian bookstore, you’ll see books on leadership. You’ll read about it in Christian magazines. It seems that leadership is held up as one of the highest virtues of the American church.

I suppose the intent is noble. The church needs leaders, and they need to lead well. But not everyone in the church is gifted or called to lead. The church is a body. Some get to be the head or the heart. Some get to be spleens and big toes. Now, that might sound trivial, but it will make sense to you if your spleen or big toe stops doing its job. Furthermore, a body that is nothing more than brain or heart won’t work the way it’s supposed to.

So why this emphasis on leadership? I can’t help but wonder if this is a sign of wordliness creeping in where it doesn’t belong. In the world, people want to climb the ladder to get the boss job, and the corner office and big paycheck that goes with it. I did my undergraduate degree in business, so I studied a lot of secular management and leadership theory. There seems to be a lot of overlap between what they teach in business school and what is marketed to Christians on how to achieve and succeed in leadership in the church. Now, don’t get me wrong, there are leadership principles that are good and useful no matter where they are applied, but how much overlap should exist between men in pulpits and those seeking a C_O gig? I’ve heard of famous churches that have ditched the traditional  (and biblical) offices of elder and deacon for CEO/board models reminiscent of large corporations. I’m not sure shepherding the flock and maximizing shareholder value require overlapping skill sets.

If leadership is held so central that everyone begins to believe that they can and should lead, there will be problems. People trying to lead who were never called or gifted will fail and not understand why. An unhealthy culture of rivalry, competition, and one-upsmanship can form when there’s more aspiring leaders than leadership positions. And, worst of all, no one will want to do the non-leading tasks that, while not glamorous, are vital to the church’s mission.

Humble service to the body is very valuable and very noble. The brain can’t work without the spleen. The heart needs the big toe. Maybe instead of teaching members to “lead when they’re not in charge,” we should teach them to celebrate service. Maybe instead of treating the church like a ladder to climb, we should learn better how to give of ourselves and grow where we’re planted. Maybe we should be like Jesus, who, while his disciples liked to quarrel about who was the greatest (Luke 9:46-48, 22:24-27), chose to wash their feet (John 13:3-5). ♦

2 thoughts on “Stowaways on the Leadership”

  1. But not everyone in the church is gifted or called to lead.
    Depends on the church. Some believe that leadership is a quality inherit in all people, it is a skill that must be taught and trained. As such, the even let women lead. That way the men that aren’t born leaders aren’t forced into a role they weren’t meant for – and the women who are born leaders get to be what they’re called to do.


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