Over the last few decades, there has been an emphasis on church leadership, with no shortage of books, websites, and conferences devoted to effective leadership. Bible colleges and seminaries are no longer only offering theological and pastoral training, but catching up with the need to equip students with higher leadership and management skills. But as the pendulum swings toward that arc, you can be guaranteed it will eventually swing the other way.
Addressing the anti-leadership Backlash
On the interwebs I’ve noticed an anti-“leadership” backlash, as in: “Enough with the leadership books and materials—the Church is feeling too corporate!” There’s a reactionary desire for a more organic, less top-down approach. And the rash of mega and large church senior pastor failures has certainly fueled the fire.
I think that’s understandable, but let’s tread carefully and thoughtfully here. Regardless of the different leadership structures possible, leadership is critical. Let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water. What’s more, the Bible actually has a lot to say about leadership and leaders…and is replete with good, bad, and downright ugly pictures of leaders.
I was recently reading Matthew’s account of Jesus when a simple verse seemed highlighted to me. Jesus had just encountered a group of religious leaders who were making their umpteenth attempt to trap him in a theological gotcha. It didn’t go well for them. But later as his followers asked him if he realized he had cheesed them off, he sidestepped the question and gave some very blunt instructions:
“Stay away from the Pharisees; they are blind leaders. And if a blind person leads a blind person, both will fall into a ditch.” MATTHEW 15:14
Ouch. Jesus was pinpointing leadership hypocrisy in a stunning indictment of a lack of integrity…and actually warned them to avoid bad leaders. Leaders are necessary, and he wasn’t telling them to not follow leaders. Just don’t follow bad ones.
Integrous leadership is essential.
Non-integrous leaders are self-unaware; they don’t see themselves as they really are and are blind to their own shortcomings, incompetencies, and flaws. Those who follow them are not being led well and will eventually find themselves in the same self-deceptions and counter-productiveness. In other words, this specific group of leaders was not producing anything of real substance and, as a result, their followers were likewise unfruitful. Even worse, they were obstructing real Kingdom-work.
In John’s gospel, Jesus metaphorically compared those who were unproductive in real Kingdom output to dead branches on a tree, pruned off so that the tree may be kept healthy and produce fruit again.
Effective leadership in the Church is crucial. And jealously guarded by God.