Why Christian Leadership Is Bogus

I find it interesting how many books and articles there are on becoming a good leader and how few there are on becoming a good follower. I believe the problem we have today is not a lack of good leaders, but a lack of those willing to learn how to be a good follower. Because to truly become a good leader, one must have experience as a good follower.

Think about what it means to be a good follower and you’ll see how applicable these skills are to being a good leader.

Humility. Leaders don’t need to be humble and many of them are not. However, one of the characteristics of what Jim Collins termed “Level 5 Leaders” in his book, Good to Great, is humility. The ultimate test of humility is your ability to help another person succeed without garnering any recognition for yourself. Look around corporate America and I doubt you’d find many people fitting this description. But when you do, you’ll find the makings of a great leader.

Loyalty. The idea of loyalty is one that has gone completely to the dogs these days (sorry, I could not resist). In the ancient times of the 20th century, companies rewarded loyal employees with practically guaranteed long term employment, but in the 80’s and 90’s the pendulum swung the other way. Employment today is based on the “what have you done for me lately?” mentality and being loyal is not on the list of good behaviors. It’s no surprise Corporate America is reaping the rotten harvest from sowing purely performance based reward systems. Backstabbing, hyper-competition between employees and company hopping for better pay are all common behaviors of the American white collar worker.

The idea of loyalty is standing behind your leader through good and bad times, of selfless sacrifice for the good someone else. Today, the idea of loyalty is mocked as archaic, stupid and career suicide. But if you can’t be trusted to be loyal to your leader, how can you be trusted to be loyal to those you are responsible for?

Patience. A good follower is able to bide his time, learning from the successes and mistakes of his leader. Of course, his loyalty demands he do whatever it takes for his leader to succeed, but when things don’t go well, he isn’t quick to try to seize the reigns or break away and do his own thing. The accelerated pace of the corporate world demands that we do things faster, even when faster isn’t necessarily better. The best beef brisket isn’t going to get better by smoking it in half the time. Building an airplane faster isn’t better if you’re going to skip tightening every other bolt.

A good follower knows it takes time to develop the skills to become a good leader. He also knows that becoming a good leader can happen under a good leader, a poor leader, or one in between. It simply requires the willingness to learn and learning takes time.

Here’s the kicker. The ministry is supposed to be a place to serve free from the methods and measurements the world uses to define success. Yet more and more, we see how these corporate ideas of leadership infiltrate the ministry, often in seemingly innocuous ways, teaching about “running ministry like a business” and proposing ludicrous ideas like “Jesus, CEO”.

I have a word for this kind of nonsense that can’t be written in a Christian blog, but it comes from a male bovine and smells real bad. It’s insane to even think of Jesus as a CEO since Jesus didn’t come to earth to maximize shareholder profit, but to give his life as a ransom for many. Any fool who would try to run his company based on what Jesus would have done is going to find himself out of a job quickly since Jesus would have sold the company and given all the profits to the poor. And Jesus never viewed himself as a leader because he wasn’t a leader, he was a Savior. His authority didn’t need to be earned; it was deserved because he was God.

I’m writing this because I know there are many in the ministry who are struggling or suffering because of this deception. Christians don’t need to learn to be good leaders, they need to learn to be God followers (see what I did there? Two in one blog posting!). The missions field is full of cowboys and lone wolves who have been deceived into thinking if something needs to be done, they need to do it themselves. Why try to partner with another ministry that probably has theological or philosophical differences from you when you can simply start your own thing, like a true entrepreneur? In a nation like Japan, where Christian workers are rarer than a late train on the Yamanote line, it’s not just a deception, it is a death sentence. Every day wasted by not working together to serve the Japanese is hundreds, thousands of opportunities lost forever to the cold, unrelenting hand of death.

God, let me learn to be a great follower, to check my ego at the immigration counter and simply learn to serve you with unswerving loyalty and infinite patience.

Is Unity In the Church Just Wishful Thinking?

Whenever I think of the greatest obstacles to evangelization, I always think of the lack of unity among Christians. For whatever reasons, Christians seem to enjoy drawing lines between their group and others that don’t naturally exist. We scrutinize the gospel down to the dots over the ‘i’s and rage against each other over the smallest differences. We find a minor flaw in an individual’s personality and we call it fatal. We get our feelings hurt inadvertently and vow to never forgive.

Call me naive, but I just don’t get it. Given the size of the task at hand and the fact that the harvest is plenty and the workers are few, doesn’t it make sense that we would all strive to work together for the spirit of the Great Commission? Wouldn’t we be wise to set aside the criticism of any differences that are not crucial to the gospel message and work together for the task the Lord has asked us to do? Could we be a little more graceful when dealing with the shortcomings of our brothers and sisters in Christ?

I have had the privilege of working with ministries where minor differences are set aside for the sake of the gospel and I have had the shame of participating on a mission where neither my group nor the group we were conflicted with could get past our differences and thus created a very uncomfortable experience for everyone involved. I have seen how hard feelings have grown out of simple misunderstandings and have a profoundly negative effect on the credibility of the gospel. If Christians can’t love one another with the love of Jesus, then how are we any different than the world?

And yet as I consider the simplicity of the problem, I realize the magnitude of the solution. We are all unique, and uniquely broken, individuals. Jesus doesn’t always fix what’s wrong with us; in many cases He just loves us for who we are and asks us to do the same for each other. The trouble is we rarely do this as well as the example He set for us.

I know when someone has a personality or a habit that annoys me, I can be very judgmental about them. Not in front of them, of course, but behind their backs, gossiping with other people who share my annoyance. But what we may view as innocent talk in secret often leads to hurt feelings, and hurt feelings lead to divisions between groups and divisions between groups create disunity in the church. And when we are responsible for creating disunity in the church, what we are really doing is tearing the body of Christ limb from limb. I’m sorry that isn’t a pleasant image, but it is what it is.

As I was skimming through Francis Chan’s blog recently, I found that he was considering the same issue of unity in the body of Christ. And I was surprised and slightly disheartened to learn that he had found no solution for the problem either. But what did give me a glimmer of hope was the Scripture that Francis found that convicted him this was not a problem we could simply dismiss:

14 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15 by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. 17 And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. -Ephesians 2:14-22

This passage makes it clear that Jesus died on the cross not just for the sake of our sins, but for the sake of unifying people of different nationalities, cultures, languages, and personalities as one body of Christ. Unity isn’t supposed to be pleasant side effect of Jesus’s sacrifice; it is a motivation for His sacrifice.

I believe if we understand the importance Christ placed on unity in the church in full, we would not be so flippant about the things we say about others behind their backs or so casual about rolling our eyes when someone makes a comment we don’t agree with. We would treat each other with much more grace and sincerity. And that would at least be a start, wouldn’t it? We may not conquer the problem of disunity in the body of Christ, but we can certainly stop contributing to it.