A week ago I blogged a bit about the failure of leadership at Willow Creek Church. I’ve taken some time to reflect on the reasons such failure happen, not just in churches like Willow Creek, but churches all over. You can add the PA Catholic Priest abuse cover up, but you can also add those “smaller” incidents in [fill in the blank] church where a pastor or church leadership betrayed the trust of the Christian community. Infidelity, embezzlement, abuse of all kinds (verbal, psychological, emotional), neglect, and the list could go on. Yet the question remains, why do these things happen? As a mentioned before, I think these are issues of character and how leaders’ relationship with power will distort one’s character.
Before I continue, let me say that leadership isn’t simply a “Christian” issue. I don’t believe in a “Christian” form of leadership, or set of rules and principles that are distinctly and solely “Christian.” In fact, much of my prior life experience outside of church ministry has informed and shaped my character as a leader. That said, I do believe there are certain leadership principles that are necessary to serve within a Christian context. Perhaps I’m just doing a little clever wordplay, but let me try to explain the distinction.
If we look to the object of our faith, Jesus, then we have to look at the very character of the one whom we profess to follow. That leads to one place: the cross. Jesus’ character leads him to the point of death. Yet, that death is not some act of self-serving martyrdom. It is death for the sake of….for the sake of the other. Jesus’ resurrection confesses that the only way new life, reconciliation, liberation, salvation, and a whole host of other things can come is through the act of dying for the sake of others.
Leadership within the Christian context is no different. Pastors and church leaders must adopt a character that puts one’s desires to death for the sake of others – the congregation, the community, the ministry, and God’s people. This character is the only one that will lead to anything healthy or hopeful. True leadership can only come out of such a death of the leader’s ego for the sake of others.
Now, that is not to say that pastor or leader can’t cast vision, or lead prophetically. Yet the minute the leader ignores their checks and balances against their ego, the instant a leader begins to buy into their own hype, the point at which a pastor believe that they actually have power – and that they are entitled to that power – they are no longer effective leaders within a Christian context. Their character at that point is twisted, no longer believing that effective leadership comes out of death of self for the sake of others. Instead, all effort goes into preserving the self – which leads to abuse, corruption, lies, and denial.
So how do we recapture a proper leadership character within a Christian context?
In the other contexts I serve, we often talk about “core values,” or specific traits that are necessary to hold a leader accountable, and to center them amid so many challenges and temptations that come with positions of leadership. Here’s my short list.
Humility: The ability to share and distribute power, to not buy into “the hype.” Will to be accountable to others.
Courage: the ability to be truthful with others…and with one’s self, especially in the toughest of times.
Resilience/Toughness: There’s a lot to unpack here, too much for this blog. But at the core of resilience and toughness is the character that is prepared, can endure, and can bounce back from the challenges and temptations of leadership.
Love: What is the object of your worship (or, what is at the center of your life)? The church? A denominational tradition? The Bible? All those are idols. For the leader, love of God and love of neighbor….this is the most essential thing.
Graciousness: with one’s self and with others. Mistakes/failures are not seen as character flaws…which we often try to cover up.
What would you add?