Pastors and Deep Change

According to Robert Quinn, self-change is crucial to leadership. The organization — for instance, the church — will not change unless the leader (the pastors) experience deep change. Leadership is not so much a set of skills as much as about choosing deep change rather than slow death.

There are so many gospel implications I could make from this one key insight. We tend to overemphasize leadership skills and underemphasize what happens when pastors experience deep change.

One way to foster deep change? Fire yourself every Friday. Quinn quotes Andrea Jung, CEO of Avon. “Reinvent yourself first before you reinvent your company,” Jung said in an interview a few years back. While I wouldn’t express it exactly this way, I think she still has a point. Pastors: why reinvent a new church when you are in need of being reinvented by the gospel? Start there. She continues:

Fire yourself on a Friday night and come in on Monday morning as if a search firm put you there as a turn-around leader. Can you be objective and make the bold change? If you can't, then you haven't reinvented yourself. If you can, then you can have a decade of tenure that is like having different jobs.

Just two thoughts:

  • Before a church can be changed, I must be changed. Too often I focus on the work that I want to see God do out there rather than realizing he wants to do a work in me first. It's about being the chief repenter, the one most enamored with the gospel that never gets old.
  • I never want to coast as a pastor. May we never lose the freshness of the gospel and the immense privilege and responsibility of serving God through his church. Deep change — possible through the gospel — is always preferable to slow death, even if it means firing ourselves every Friday.

Leadership and Management

I'm finding John Kotter's book What Leaders Really Do to be very helpful. Kotter tackles a number of important topics: the one implied by the title, as well as the differences between leadership and management, and why transformation efforts fail.

Leadership is a murky topic, especially in the church. Some overemphasize leadership. Others dismiss it completely. I always find it ironic that the anti-leadership movement often seems to be to be very well led. Irony abounds.

Here are some notes I took from a section of the book that I found particularly helpful:

  • Leadership is not about charisma or exotic personality traits, nor does it belong to a select few.
  • Most organizations are over-managed and under-led.
  • Leadership and management are complementary. Both are needed. Contrary to popular opinion, you can manage and lead at the same time.
  • Management is about coping with complexity. Leadership is about coping with change.
  • Management is more deductive, and designed to produce orderly results. Leadership is more inductive, and creates visions and strategies, not plans.
  • Visions and strategies don't need to be brilliantly innovative. The best are not.

Leadership isn't everything, nor is it nothing. I find books like this one helpful as I continue to wrestle with the nature of leadership, particularly within the church.

Imagine There's No Leader

On the anniversary of John Lennon's death, on the day that Celine Dion appeared on CNN to sing Imagine (yikes!), Bill Kinnon came out with a provocative post More Disciples, Fewer Leaders Please. The whole post is worth reading.

Bill quotes Chris Wright. This is a brilliant quote and it deserves a lot of attention and thought:

I wouldn't start out with training leaders, I'd start out with making disciples.

I don't know what I can say to this except "Amen." It's brilliant and I think it's exactly right.

Bill also quotes Scot McKnight, who says:

...leadership too often places the pastor or some person in the front and having others be guided (and following) that person, and that, I dare say, distorts the entire gospel. Jesus was willing to say that his followers didn’t have a rabbi of their own, didn’t have a human father in a position of ultimate authority, and they didn’t have an instructor who was their teacher. They had one rabbi and one instructor, and his name was Jesus, and he was Messiah. They had one father, and he was Creator of all. They were to see themselves as brothers, not leaders. That’s straight from the lips of Jesus.

Again, a lot of truth here. And yet...

There's no doubt we're a little too fascinated with leadership. Leadership is important, as I'm about to argue, but it's not everything. I think Bill and the others are right to argue that we need a greater focus on discipleship than we do on leadership in our churches.

But one of the commenters gets it right:

I think sound leadership is crucial and always present in healthy churches. It’s sometimes hard to notice leadership until you find yourself somewhere where it’s very bad, or where there is none. I’ve seen churches that are dominated by a charismatic leader who holds the key to everything in the church. But I’ve also seen churches so eager to “democratize” all their practices, that no one is willing to make a decision or take responsibility for it.

I think much of our modern-day distaste for the word “authority” colors our perception of the role of leadership in the church. But I think the Bible explicitly and implicitly acknowledges how crucial leadership is.

All through Scripture we see leaders. One of the primary themes is that of shepherd, which is a rich leadership metaphor we need to take seriously. The question is not whether or not we need leaders. The question is what type of leader we need.

I'm all for reacting against leadership fads. But let's not imagine that there are no leaders. Let's instead begin to explore what a biblical leader is to do - and most of all to be.

Friedman Made Simple

I mentioned a book by Edwin Friedman on leadership a couple of months ago. It's been a big help to me.

I wouldn't say that Friedman is the best way or the only way to understand leadership. I also wouldn't argue that it's the most biblical. I would say that it covers an important area of leadership that's missed in most of the technique-driven material out there. It's worth thinking through the issues he raises and thinking about them from a biblical framework.

You could say that he helps us understand sinful and dysfunctional systems, and pushes us to understand our God-given role in these systems with nothing to prove, because we already have God's approval. That's my gospel riff on his theory.

This video gives you an quick introduction to some of Friedman's teaching in just under seven minutes.

If you want to learn more, check out A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix

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Putting Leadership in its Place

I often struggle as I think about leadership. On one hand, I know it's important. On the other hand, I sometimes choke on all the conflicting leadership theories, and I wonder if we have made leadership a panacea.

I find this quote from The One Thing You Need to Know to be helpful. It recognizes the importance of leadership, but acknowledges that leadership isn't the only thing that matters.

In general, my experience conforms with that of Warren Bennis, perhaps the preeminent leadership expert, when he says, "Leadership accounts for, at the very best, 15 percent of the importance of any organization."

This helps me as I think about the importance of leadership: 15 percent is a lot. But it also helps me realize that we need to resist the temptation to think that leadership is everything. It's important, but it's not everything.