Leadership tensions

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:
  • 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.

  • 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.

But after all that - leadership is still important. Kind of.

Vastly different images of leadership

One of the reasons I liked Transforming Power (mentioned yesterday) is because it really makes you think about what leadership is. You have to, because the images and stories of leadership are so different.

Two examples. First, Paul Borden of Growing Healthy Churches takes no prisoners in his approach to leadership:

Congregations that have been on a plateau or in decline for more than three years are like old drunks. Intervention is needed to produce change...Leadership is essential. The pastor must be a leader or have the ability to exercise leadership behavior...

Pastors and denominations that do not want to disrupt comfortable congregations must understand they are abdicating their responsibilities as Christian leaders to serve God well. Enabling and helping congregations to continually exercise sinful dysfunctional behavior means that such pastors and denominational leaders are practicing carnal co-dependent relationships that work against God’s mission for His Church.

This approach to leadership is going to have very predictable characteristics and results.

Contrast this with the image of leadership presented by James Howell:

As much as churches try to learn from corporate leadership models, I suspect that, at the end of the day, the shape, the style, the mood of the ordained pastor can (and must!) differ in fundamental ways...All clergy near this zenith of leadership incandescence will (thankfully) always seem to be square pegs in the round holes of corporate leadership techniques...

No matter how a particular congregation is organized, no matter what the optimal strategy is in this place to unleash the workers out into the vineyards, no matter the posture of hands-on involvement or in-the-background enabling the leader suspects is the wisest course at this time, the leader maintains that docent feel, continually, and in every possible setting, to direct people’s attention to the treasures of the Church, to urge them to keep moving, to do whatever they do with their minds fixed on the stories, the creeds, the liturgy, the songs, the practices of the Church that dazzle, and give us every good chance of going somewhere meaningfully integrated into the dawning of the Kingdom of God.

You couldn't ask for two more different pictures of leadership. Which one is right? Do we go in with our hardhats and aggressively attack the dysfunction and lead toward measurable results, or do we pursue a spiritual, non-corporate type of leadership that trusts the Spirit and the Gospel to do its work? And these are only two of the models to choose from.

Hugh Ballou, the editor of this book, observed that these differences are probably a result of personality. I think he's right. Yet each personality has the tendency to baptize that approach as the only right way.

I'm going to post a little more about leadership models and tensions tomorrow. For now, I'd love to hear your thoughts on the two approaches to leadership I've just described.

Transforming Power


Today I have an interview with Hugh Ballou, a motivational speaker and former music minister. Hugh is the man behind the book Transforming Power. Here's a blurb about the book:

Leaders who have lead a transformation share the story of their experience. This information is invaluable for leaders who are undertaking a transformation of an organization. The information in this book can be advantageous for anyone who is in a situation where they need to make a transformation - no matter what the mission the organization or the type of transformation.

The key to transformation is different for each individual, group, or congregation. Hugh Ballou has brought together a collection of over 25 articles and stories from individuals who have experienced real-life transformations of themselves or their institution. The inspiration offered from the words will enlist a sense of hope and perseverance during difficult times of change. Discover inspiration and transformation through the struggles of other leaders ranging from children's ministry to being in prison, from making Hollywood movies to winning football games, to being leaders who truly lead.

I have mixed feelings about leadership. I struggle with what seems to be an overemphasis on leadership in some circles, as well as many of our leadership practices. However, I still believe that leadership of the right kind is important. Some of these tensions run through this book, so I thought it would be interesting to interview Hugh.


We have all kinds of books on leadership. What makes this one different?

Many books on leadership, including my other books, give the techniques, strategies, processes and the "How-To" facts for building leadership skills. This collection of stories from Transformational Leaders has been created to provide inspiration and encouragement for leaders by sharing stories of transformation. I currently teach leadership skills by sharing how I achieved results as a musical conductor over a 40-year career. Many of the skills are directly transferrable from conducting to corporate leadership and open up new paradigms for leaders to consider. For instance, a major drawback for strong leaders can be micromanaging competent team members. As an orchestra conductor, I would hire a good oboe player for an orchestra, but never attempted to tell that person how to play the oboe. I defined the tempo and shaped the final product as conductor and was ultimately in charge of the final product. The players wanted and needed specific targets for the final product and direction on how to come together to achieve that product. The leader in a corporate, non-profit, or church setting can learn from this model. Get the best people – give them a specific goal – direct the process, and give appropriate, timely feedback. This book contains leadership stories from many types of leaders including musical conductors. All the leadership principles contained in these stories are applicable in most, if not all situations. Good leadership is good leadership.

I appreciated many of the stories about transformational leaders. Were there any that took you by surprise?

I was pleasantly surprised by the story from William Willimon, author, keynote speaker, minister and bishop of a large United Methodist Conference in North Alabama. He is in the process of transformation. The system he inherited needed to be changed. There were and still are many obstacles to change including resistance to change itself. The challenge in this instance is very stressful on a leader. This can also create some doubt about the reason for and feasibility of the change. Many leaders find themselves doubting their own vision when the going gets tough. Willimon's story is titled, "What If I Am Wrong!" It takes a lot of courage to share this, however, he was well aware that the story would be helpful to leaders in similar places with struggles or doubts of their own.

We saw all kinds of leaders in this book, including denominational leaders, pastors, music leaders, and ladies in a prayer group. Would you say that everyone can rise to be a leader, or is transformational leadership reserved for a certain type of person?

Transformational Leadership sees no limitations on who can use its methodology and strategy. It's only in our own shortsightedness, that we fail to see opportunities within our grasp. Common shortcomings include, but are not limited to the following:

  • Not clarifying a vision,
  • Lack of self confidence,
  • Failure to plan,
  • Lack of trust in team strategies, and
  • Not being willing to step up to a challenge.

The Transformational Leader is able to envision possibilities and is willing to nurture and support others. This will undoubtedly lead to success. The willingness to fail and learn from that failure is a fundamental leadership skill. Someone once noted that success is defined as getting up one more time than failing.

I noticed some tensions in the stories. Some argued for more of an aggressive, corporate kind of leadership. Some argued that Christian leadership should be different from the corporate model, and that we need patience while God works. What can we learn from these stories about the tension between these models of leadership?

Leadership skills must be consistent with the personality of the leader. A leader must find a method and process that is faithful to his or her personality. Corporate leaders have more consistently adopted a leadership model called "Servant Leadership" than church leaders. This is interesting since Servant Leadership comes from Biblical principles. The Servant Leader is similar to the Transformational Leader in several ways. Both styles of leaders are able to:

  • Influence others with personal integrity not power of position,
  • Train and empower others,
  • Work through others,
  • Assists others in successful task completion and,
  • Get out of the way.

The Transformational Leader adds the dimension of being the cheerleader, charismatic influence, coach, and role model. Neither corporate leaders nor church leaders are excluded from either style of leadership. This is also true of the Autocratic Leader and Charismatic Leader. The church leader has a much more difficult job especially in working with volunteers. Accountability is a challenge in that setting. Working in a community of faith God gives us the vision. This points the motivation and the glory away from the leader – this is consistent with Transformation Leadership, which is about the vision and not the leader. God works in our midst as we permit. This applies to Christians transforming the workplace as well as those transforming the church. It applies to spiritual goals as well as life goals. The work of the leader springs from his or her core values.

What do you hope that this book accomplishes?

My hope is for leaders, potential leaders and team members to be inspired by possibilities. I also hope that they will be able to develop a vision for transforming organizations and people's lives.

For More Information

You can get more information about Hugh at his website. You can read more about his book at Amazon. Hugh is offering some free bonuses if you buy his book at Amazon and then go to the book website.

I'll have a few thoughts on this book, and on leadership, tomorrow.

There was a time when the church was very powerful

Good to hear Tim Keller at Redeemer again after his summer break. Keller quoted from Martin Luther King Jr.'s Letter from a Birmingham Jail in last Sunday's sermon. Definitely worth reading.

There was a time when the church was very powerful--in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society. Whenever the early Christians entered a town, the people in power became disturbed and immediately sought to convict the Christians for being "disturbers of the peace" and "outside agitators."' But the Christians pressed on, in the conviction that they were "a colony of heaven," called to obey God rather than man. Small in number, they were big in commitment. They were too God-intoxicated to be "astronomically intimidated." By their effort and example they brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide and gladiatorial contests. Things are different now.

So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an archdefender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church's silent--and often even vocal--sanction of things as they are.

But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If today's church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century. Every day I meet young people whose disappointment with the church has turned into outright disgust.