Friday, February 29, 2008

Leadership 2

There is a second point, consistently made in the current books on leadership geared toward Christian leaders. It can be worded in several ways, but essentially it is this. “Be single-minded in the sense of that you do not allow anyone to distract or divert attention into any direction other than the vision you have.”

Last night I was reviewing one of those books (a best seller). In it, the respected Christian leader told every member of his staff “If you cannot work your ministry with the same vision the church has adopted, you need to find a new job.” What was the vision that some staff members were not following? It was an emphasis on moving people into small groups for discipleship. Every ministry, from the meals for the homeless program to the nursery, had to organize itself around a process that promoted small groups.

My chief objection to this single minded focus is that it makes the “vision” a greater priority than the people. The point is often made that the word “church” does not mean a building, or a worship experience. We need to remember that it’s not a vision statement, either. The people that are the core of what “church” means are vastly more important than the building, the style of worship, or the vision statement.

I wouldn’t be making this point if the vision statement were an undeniable Biblical truth…. “Proclaim Christ!” (for example). The vision of promoting small groups is (in my opinion) a good one. But the vision is NOT more important than the people it is supposed to serve.

I’m afraid that I want to take my disagreement farther. To me, it seems arrogant to assume that the vision I believe is from God is more certain, more fixed, and more reliable than the people He brings to the church. I do not believe that the pastor and the elders have a more reliable access to God’s direction than others involved in the ministry. I believe God can and will speak to me and to the elders THROUGH the voices of the people in our ministry. The lady who brews coffee for the men’s breakfast may the one member of the body who has an important key insight to refine the vision. To believe anything less denies what Paul teaches about the body and its many members.

It’s a terrible misunderstanding of “church” if we have a greater steadfast commitment to the vision statement than to the people. The scriptures place a much greater emphasis on loving the people in the church than an unwavering commitment to the style of worship or an emphasis on seekers as opposed to an emphasis on discipleship, or nearly anything placed in many vision statements.

It may be helpful to call this error “the tyranny of the vision” just to contrast it with the opposite error, “the tyranny of individualism” (anarchy). It is foolish to fantasize that a leader can let every person have their own vision, agenda, and ideals. A team must always work in harmony or it will splinter into factions and become completely dysfunctional. In my leadership, I avoided the danger of “the tyranny of the vision,” but fell into the “opposite” error. Predictably, our group splintered into factions and fell apart. But this danger does not justify reducing the people to a level lower than the vision.

It’s much easier to commit one error or the other than to find the balance between them. I cannot claim to have walked the balanced line often, but I think I can describe something close to the right path.

Every person, regardless of the role they play in the body, must always have the freedom to dream and to express their dream as a possible refining of the vision we are pursuing. When there are contradictory visions at play the answer is not to “throw out the [immoral or disagreeing] brother.” The answer is to leave your [sacrifice or vision statement] at the altar and go immediately to your brother and reconcile. Talk, discuss, quarrel, and humbly esteem the brother until the contradiction is resolved. Do not make any dramatic changes in the practices of the church until the contradictory visions are reconciled or all parties agree to pursue one approach together.

Neither the tyranny of the vision nor the tyranny of individualism, are acceptable. The only way the middle ground can be found and walked is when the unity of the Spirit is valued and pursued, as an inviolate portion of the vision for the church.

“I, therefore, the prisoner for the Lord, urge you to live worthily of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”
Eph. 4:1-3

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Being a Leader

In our beginning, we fell apart. I read every leadership book I could find. I applied all the principles to the best of my ability, and I think that’s what went wrong.

The problem with leadership books is that they are written by people that have seen great results from their leadership efforts. All these authors are clearly excited about the vision that has and continues to motivate them. Their enthusiasm for the vision seeps from every word they write. They feel driven to bring about the vision they cast. Somehow the arrogance of that position never quite seemed to be the point I understood.

Christian leadership books often point to the story of Moses resisting God’s call to make the accurate point that a leader needs to be humble. Somehow in the text, however, the humility they propose is drowned out by the passionate, invariable, dedicated pursuit of the success evident in bringing about the vision.

But Moses was not merely humble; he was completely averse to taking a leadership position. He refused to obey God unless Aaron would take the role of official spokesperson. Jeremiah refused to lead. Jonah refused to lead. Gideon refused to lead. Barak refused to lead. Jesus refused to allow the crowd to coronate Him. None of the twelve asked to given the title of “apostle.” When they did seek a position of honor, Jesus rebuked them.

Allow me to go so far as to say that any person that seeks a leadership position will not be a good leader. A person that seeks a leadership position is invariably pursuing an agenda. When I started this church, I did so reluctantly. I stated plainly that I did not believe I had the right skill set to be a pastor. But when 40 or more people immediately followed me, it went to my head. I drew the false conclusion that using the skills I had, and learning from other leaders, I could be a leader in a great work. That became my goal. That’s when it all blew up. It blew up because so many strong personalities followed my lead and set up their own agenda.

In fact, every faction in our little group was led by one strong leader whose agenda was essentially the same as mine. “This church will be a place where I can prove my competence and value.” A painful implosion by conflict was the inevitable outcome. As we rebuild this church, my reluctance to lead needs to stay further entrenched. I am convinced that I do not have the skills necessary to build a church, with God’s help, I’ll never believe otherwise.