The Church has a love affair with leadership. It seems that it is something we are obsessed with and that the best leadership practices will lead us into a bright future. From my observation, the church seems very focused on learning the best practices of leadership from the business world. It’s not to say that we can’t learn from the business world, but is that really where we should look for the foundation of our pastoral and church ministry?
I often look and search for continuing ed opportunities to see ways that I can continue to learn and grow while serving in full time ministry. The vast majority I always find are based on leadership. There are leadership institutes, certificate programs, cohorts and everything else designed to grow you as a leader. I have found it very difficult to find programs, that aren’t apart of getting a new degree, that help pastors continue their deeper study into the Old and New Testaments or that can help a church focus on spiritual formation. I don’t believe leadership is a bad thing, but I’m curious why we have become so obsessed with it as a church. We want great leaders, whatever that means. As the church we don’t seem to talk about wanting people who are contemplatives, or prophets, or great pastoral care givers, etc…We want people who are great at leading and managing a church to become a mega church.
It seems that Jesus didn’t really care that much about leadership. His only leadership advice seemed to be that if you desire to be great, known, a leader, then you should be one who serves. And be careful not to exalt yourself, which is often a strong temptation in leadership; if you do exalt yourself, watch out because humility is coming at you, and it won’t be fun. As a leader you have some form of power and authority over others and as we so often see and hear, in business and in the church, that power can often be abused. Jesus also seemed more concerned that we would be followers instead of leaders. Followers of The Way, and not leaders of our own way.
What if the church spent as much time as we focus on the newest leadership ideas (i.e. 7 practices of the best church leaders) and turned that focus towards discipleship and focusing our lives on the patterns of Jesus? Perhaps there was a reason Jesus didn’t give us the top 5 habits of highly effective leaders. I remember years ago hearing a pastor say that the church of the future would be more effective for the times, and the direction that we are going, to have pastors have MBA’s than an MDIV. I hope and pray this is not the place our church comes to. An MDIV is not perfect. But I would much rather have a pastor who spent years studying theology and ministry than to have their foundation be in business practices only. What does that say about our ecclesiology? It means we do not have a strong one.
I have seen church staffs spend time reading articles and books about how to be a great leader, but very seldom, if ever, see church staff read and reflect over thinking theologically, how to be a more faithful practitioner of the faith, or anything related to Christian ministry that is not tied to being a great leader.
Being a leader is not inherently a bad thing, but there is so much more to focus on as the church, and I pray that we stop caring so much about being great leaders, as we would about being great prophets, great at cultivating space for people to encounter God through the practice of our means of grace, great at fostering authentic and life-sharing community, great at being engaged in the missional work of our neighborhoods, and great at being life-long students of the Bible, of spiritual practices, of the faith.