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.