A Different Kind of Leadership

It’s not that I’m opposed to leadership. Quite the opposite. It’s just that I think we sometimes look to the wrong places for leadership wisdom, and this has disastrous consequences within the church.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard that churches should run like businesses, and pastors should act as CEOs. No less a thinker than Jim Collins disagrees:

We must reject the idea— well-intentioned, but dead wrong— that the primary path to greatness in the social sectors is to become “more like a business.” We need to reject the naïve imposition of the “language of business” on the social sectors, and instead jointly embrace a language of greatness (Good To Great And The Social Sectors: A Monograph to Accompany Good to Great)

But we have to go even further. We have to ask ourselves why Scripture speaks of leaders so differently than we do. Joe Stowell nails it in his excellent book Redefining Leadership: Character-Driven Habits of Effective Leaders:

Because of our own inherent twistedness, the kingdom way will often seem counterintuitive, pragmatically unproductive, and upside down. Yet, if the leadership recommendations of Jesus seem upside down, think again.

Stowell’s book is a must-read. It contrasts outcome-driven leadership (our default) with what Stowell calls character-driven leadership. "Leaders who lead with moral authority elevate Jesus as the true and singular leader of the organization,” he writes.

I’ve been thinking of this again recently as I’ve looked at Paul’s approach to raising up leaders in fragile new churches throughout the Roman Empire. What kind of leadership does Paul look for? He looks for character; for people who exhibit the qualities of a disciple. He looks for people with Christlike character, a well-managed home, and an ability to teach and defend biblical truth (Titus 1). Jeramie Rinne summarizes Paul’s approach: "Better a godly elder with mediocre leadership gifts than a charismatic leader with glaring moral flaws" (Church Elders: How to Shepherd God's People Like Jesus).

As I’ve said: I’m not opposed to leadership. I’m certainly not opposed to learning more about leadership skills. It’s just that we may need to tip the balance the other way and talk a lot more about leadership character, about leaders whose primary qualification is that they are enamored with Jesus. This quote from a sermon by Tim Keller has reverberated in my mind ever since I heard it, and I believe every word:

My dear friends, most churches make the mistake of selecting as leaders the confident, the competent, and the successful. But what you most need in a leader is someone who has been broken by the knowledge of his or her sin, and even greater knowledge of Jesus' costly grace. The number one leaders in every church ought to be the people who repent the most fully without excuses, because you don't need any now; the most easily without bitterness; the most publicly and the most joyfully. They know their standing isn't based on their performance.

That’s the kind of leadership we need.

Saturday Links

Links for your weekend reading:

7 Words of Encouragement in Church Revitalization

The work of revitalization is similar to church planting. We are starting some things new. We are building momentum around a vision. We are constantly looking for new leaders. But, its also incredibly different. There are unique challenges in church revitalization. As I’m learning things, I’m trying to pass them along.

Five Reasons Why Millennials Do Not Want to Be Pastors or Staff in Established Churches

My plea to Millennials is not to abandon established churches. Not all of them are as bad as many think. Consider yourself to be a part of the solution.

Tim Keller’s New Lectures on Preaching

Tim Keller is currently writing a much anticipated book on preaching, planned for release sometime in 2015. Last week he offered a taste of what’s to come in four new lectures delivered at the 2014 John Reed Miller Lectures on Preaching at RTS Jackson (November 11–13).

Time Assets vs. Time Debts: A Different Way of Thinking About Productivity

Time Debts need to be paid. Be careful how you choose them. Time Assets pay you over and over again. Spend more time creating them.

Marryin' & Buryin': How Much Should I Pay the Pastor?

I'll try to answer some questions you might have about the odd strange world of "honorariums" and "love offerings".

Saying True Things in a True Way

I’ve noticed a trend. In many of our settings, we tend to say things that are true as far as they go, but the way we say them contradicts what’s being said.

  • We’re told that pastors shouldn’t measure themselves by the size of our churches, but we’re told this by megachurch pastors who have platforms because of the size of their church.
  • We’re told to plant small, authentic, missional, reproducing churches at a large, slick conferences in attractional churches.
  • We read books about overcoming the success syndrome in ministry written by pastors who appear to have been quite successful.
  • We read inspiring stories of pastors who suffered and discovered that Jesus is enough even when you lost it all, but they seem to be written by pastors who, in the end, didn’t lose it all.
  • We read that Jesus’ grace is enough to cover present sin, but we typically only hear how Jesus has helped someone deal with sin only in the past.

Please understand: I’m not saying that any of the above is wrong in itself. I’m glad for the megachurch pastors I’ve heard who have reminded me that our identity isn't baed on our church's size. I’m glad for many of the large church conferences I’ve attended that tell me how to plant a small church. I’m grateful for the helpful books I’ve read about not needing to be successful, even if they’re written by successful pastors. And I’m thrilled that Jesus’ grace is enough for the sins of the past.

But I wonder if we can add to the above list without subtracting from it?

  • I want to hear from the pastors who have lots to teach us, even if they don’t have a large platform or a huge follower count.
  • I want to attend a conference one day about being small, authentic, and missional at a church that is small, authentic, and missional.
  • I want to read a book about overcoming the success syndrome written by a pastor who, in the eyes of the world, looks like a failure.
  • I want to hear from the pastor whose story didn’t have a happy ending, and yet who still clings to the fact that Jesus is enough.
  • I want to hear from the struggler who is finding that Jesus is enough not just for past sin, but for present struggle.

In his book Samson and the Pirate Monks, Nate Larkin speaks of his experience attending a church where the pastor spoke of present grace for present sins:

Barely four months later I would be listening to the gospel in a church where it was safe to admit brokenness, where the pastor talked about his own sin in the present tense and celebrated the mercy of God every Sunday. Here I would hear about the covenant of grace and the steadfast love of our heavenly Father. I would be reminded week after week that I am an adopted son of God, no longer an orphan, and that my Father never disowns his own. Finally—and this was the greatest miracle—it was in this church where I would meet many of my future comrades, the men whose friendship God would use to radically rearrange my life.

It’s just one example of the five things I talked about: a pastor speaking about sin and grace in the present tense instead of the past. And it made all the difference in the world, at least in Nate Larkin’s life.

I’ve been wrestling through these issues. I somehow want to say and hear true things in a way that’s congruent with the truth, even if it means listening to people we tend to overlook, and speaking truth’s we’d rather keep to ourselves.

Saving Grace: Daily Devotions from Jack Miller

I read a lot of books, but there are only a handful that have changed me as much as The Heart of a Servant Leader by C. John Miller. I bought this book in early 2008. By this time I’d been listening to Tim Keller sermons for a couple of years, and I’d attended my first T4G conference. I’d been wrestling with the ideas of gospel centrality and was in the early stages of working through all the implications for my life and ministry.

The Heart of a Servant Leader accelerated all that. It was written by C. John (Jack) Miller, a pastor and seminary professor from Pennsylvania who had once quit the ministry in discouragement. In the months following his resignation, God transformed Miller, and he returned to his church and seminary a different man. I’ve met people who knew Miller, and they say that the difference was a marked one. When he returned to the pulpit, his son Paul Miller thought, “God is going do something with my father. You can’t be that excited about Jesus and something not happen.”

Miller went on to have the most effective years of his ministry, and that change continues to ripple through the lives that he influenced. The Heart of a Servant Leader is a collection of letters written by Miller, and it’s about as close as I could get to the man now that he’s with the Lord. The letters drip with the gospel, and could only be written by a man who had encountered God’s grace in a radical way.

That’s why I’m excited by a new book called Saving Grace: Daily Devotions from Jack Miller. Whereas The Heart of a Servant Leader was a collection of his letters, Saving Grace is a collection of meditations from his sermons. (His sermons, by the way, are also available for purchase.) It covers topics like forgiveness, relationships, temptation, prayer, joy, and perseverance. I haven’t read the whole year, but what I’ve read so far lives up to my hopes. Paul Miller puts it well:

A devotional is a particularly good way to hear Dad’s preaching. By taking it in small doses, you’ll be able to absorb it better. You’ll pick up a cadence in Dad’s preaching on grace as he woos you and then warns you. As he prods you away from yourself, the love of God will warm your heart.

I’m very excited by this book, and I’ve ordered a bunch to give out to people at our church this Christmas (don't tell). New Growth Press has the book for 40% off right now, and they also have a sample of one week’s reflections.

It’s not that Jack Miller was perfect. Quite the opposite. It’s that God’s grace got ahold of an imperfect man and completely changed him. The gospel joy that’s present in his writings is contagious. I’m looking forward to spending the year working through this devotional, working that joy into my own soul.