Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The Leadership Thing

The Rules of Awesomely Bold Leadership series at Letters from Kamp Krusty is one of the funniest things Brant runs over there, but as Homer Simpson would say, "It's funny because it's true."

Chris Blumhofer of wrote an interesting piece for CT's "Out of Ur" blog recently called Jesus is Not a CEO. Some excerpts:
Beware of any literature that starts with these words: “Jesus was the greatest leader of all time.” The sentiment behind those words may be true, but the point they make is irrelevant. It doesn’t matter if Jesus was the greatest leader of all time. Jesus is our leader (and, in a holy sense, we’re stuck with him).

The issue at hand is far from nit-picky. Evangelicals have long been accused of domesticating Jesus—making him one of “us” (often white, middle-class, socially respectable, and politically conservative). The glut of Jesus-as-leader books runs a tremendous risk as it attempts to introduce Jesus into the economy that surrounds 21st century leadership.

Jesus the leader endangers our view of Jesus the savior. Frankly, Jesus the leader is less threatening. He’s an organizational director that would fit in wearing business casual and sitting in a conference room. I believe wholeheartedly that Jesus wants to control how I behave, think, and lead in when I’m in the conference room, but I don’t have much confidence in Jesus as the teacher of strategic leadership lessons.

I want to stop right there, because I do think that, as Dallas Willard helpfully points out in The Divine Conspiracy (and as I attempt to point out in my book The Unvarnished Jesus, in the chapter "Jesus the Man"), Jesus was the smartest man who ever lived, and we actually do ourselves a disservice by designating certain areas outside his competence.

But I understand what Blumhofer is getting at here, which is that some segments of the Church have remade Jesus in the image of Steve Jobs or Sam Walton to legitimize the infiltration of business culture into the pastorate and our churches. (Piper's Brothers, We Are Not Professionals is extremely helpful here, as is Armstrong's Reforming Pastoral Ministry.)

More from Blumhofer:
The major problem with the books that get him wrong occurs in the area of interpretation. Take John 10:10, Jesus saying, “I came that they might have life and have it abundantly.” Let’s evaluate the reflection on that verse published in Jesus, CEO: Using Ancient Wisdom for Visionary Leadership:
"Many times leaders and managers expect their employees to leap through the flames for them but do not define what the purpose or reward will be. Then they wonder why nobody is leaping…. As Harry Pickens, a marketing seminar leader, said, “People are tuned in to one station: WIFM. And those letters stand for “What’s in it for me?”

Jesus clearly defined his staff’s work-related benefits."

No. Jesus was not demonstrating any principle about the year-end bonus, revenue sharing, or 401(k) matching. In the cosmic battle between God and Satan, John 10:10 sets up Jesus, the sacrificial Good Shepherd, against Satan, the thief. Jesus wasn’t talking about—and never meant to imply—anything about “work-related benefits.”

Reading the Gospels for leadership principles like team building, vision casting, or “seeing the potential in others” makes a mockery of authorial intent and historical-cultural backgrounds. Such readings appear to take the Bible seriously, but they don’t do it justice; they simply create anachronistic interpretations. Could Jesus-as-leader book be flirting with recreating Jesus as one of us (or one of who we hope to be)?

Blumhofer concludes that section, writing, "Jesus has much to say to leaders, but we (especially those of us who lead) can only hear him clearly when we remember that Jesus is not primarily a leader. He is God’s Anointed One, the Suffering Servant, the prophet greater than Moses."

Good stuff; go read the whole thing.

Thanks to Bill, I came across this related post at Dying Church this morning -- Good Followers:
Contrary to what we would guess by looking at row upon row of books on leadership at Borders and our neighborhood Christian bookstore, the New Testament speaks very little about being a good leader. There really is so little biblical evidence for the need for big visionary dreamers. The clarion call of the Gospels is all about becoming good followers. This is what Jesus asks of us: to be humble dreamers with enough sense to follow him. (David Horn)

That's a good word, especially for those who've held uncomfortable silence while they felt like their church was following the big vision of a man, "awesomely bold leadership" notwithstanding, while not particularly reflecting the concerns of the Man.

None of this is to say the Church doesn't need or require leaders. (I wouldn't imagine Chris Blumhofer would write for a site called if he didn't think so.) No, contrary to what some more radical critics would say, the Bible calls for leadership structure. We need elders, we need pastors, we need teachers. There is such a thing as authority and a required respect for it and submission to it.
But the leadership culture of the evangelical church is in desperate need of reform; we urgently need to reorder our values.

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
-- Matthew 5:5

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