Earlier this year I sat in a room with Ed Stetzer and a group of pastors. We had Ed for the day, and we could ask him about pretty much anything. When my turn came, I asked him about revitalizing existing churches. What he said surprised me.
When Stetzer began research on his book Comeback Churches, he wanted to discover some of the key factors in seeing churches come alive again after slowly dying.
Ed said that the research told him exactly what he didn't want to hear. We are so sick of corporate style leadership in the church, and all the pro-leadership propaganda, that many of us - including me - have reacted against the concept of leadership. But contrary to what he wanted to discover, Stetzer found, "Comeback leaders agreed that having a clear and compelling vision was foundational in the transformation of their churches."
In New York, Ed said that the pendulum has swung too far the other way against vision. Don't tear everything down, Ed said, because you didn't invent it. He advised us to go back and learn from some of the older stuff written about leadership and vision, even if we had to sort through it and hold our noses at times.
So here are some tensions I'm holding right now:
- Leadership is more important than many of the younger leaders say, but less important than many of the boomer leaders say.
- Leadership can learn from Jim Collins and Tom Peters, but it has more to learn from the failed leadership of Saul, or pretty much any other king in the Old Testament.
- Leadership is about strength. But God shows up a lot in our weaknesses. Leading with a Limp helps us a lot here.
- The most important qualification of a Christian leadership is the knowledge that one is not qualified. As Tim Keller said:
- Leadership is important as far as what people can do, but what the church needs more than this is to see what only God can do. Some boast in conferences and some in leaders. But we trust in the name of the LORD our God.
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.
But after all that - leadership is still important. Kind of.