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Friday, May 4, 2012

Some thoughts on leadership

            Leadership is different from governance because it doesn’t establish the lowest and least that is acceptable, but it inspires people to their highest and best.  …The outcome of leadership is people operating at their highest and best.
                        --John Ashcroft, quoted in George Barna’s “Master Leaders”, p. 12-13.

            When I lived in the Jacksonville, FL area, and also while I was still involved in institutional churches, I attended Celebration Church in Jacksonville. The pastor there, Stovall Weems, had in the past become friends with the leadership and Christian writer John C. Maxwell, and through that influence read many of Maxwell’s works and others on that subject.  While Maxwell on the surface concentrates on the business community, due to his background as a pastor, he is popular in Christian, specifically institutional church leadership circles.  I found his work interesting, and the subject interesting, although it never did me any good (at least so far) occupationally.  Maxwell is notable by his absence in the Barna book quoted above.  I have had the opportunity to hear Maxwell speak once, and I found it a skill he has mastered, but not exceptional.  It is Maxwell’s writing that is particularly notable. 
            That background has guided me to reading the above book.  My thoughts running on this subject run two routes.  The first is, as a follower of Jesus, Jesus is my top leader, but, as He is perfect, and I am not, and that He knows men’s hearts, I can only follow Him to a degree.  I once knew a man who was a Catholic priest, and ran a school in Jerusalem.  He told me and others that at the time, he somehow ran into conflict with the mayor, who was Communist, was arrested for something, and sentenced to death.  He said that one of his thoughts while in jail waiting to be taken to his death (instead, after a time, he was taken to the airport and deported), was that he wasn’t thinking about following Jesus in this aspect.  Most of us believers probably haven’t considered it also.  Dying for one’s following Jesus could be accepted.  The trivial point of geography (dying in Jerusalem) is unlikely, particularly if one is no where near that city or country.
            From that, I approach Ashcroft’s idea, above. Governance, and Barna points out near this quote that he believes he is using the word in a way similar to the way the word “management” is used in business, is a minimum, and leadership is directed to the maximum.  How does this fit simple churches?  Above, I mentioned being, to a slight degree, around Stovall Weems when I lived in northeast Florida.  I know him as a person who has that “it” factor of significant leadership ability.  From what I read from person’s who know many megachurches and their leaders (I am thinking particularly of Leonard Sweet’s book, Aquachurch), and common sense, an exceptional amount of natural leadership ability is a necessity for the head of such an organization.  How does that fit groups that are intentionally small and not, by a government’s standards, organized?  How do I work at my highest and best, to use Ashcroft’s phrase, when I am not in an organization in which there is a person to motivate me and many others to concentrate on certain programmic goals (and it is irrelevant what that goal is)?  We will not be able to have an exceptional leadership figure among every couple of dozen persons. 
            I believe the point is that what I do to honor God is not motivated by a person nearby me.  Someone can, and has, gotten me to do neighborhood evangelism by a certain plan in times past.  The point is how I live and speak to a watching world when only motivated by the Holy Spirit as opposed to being in a program.  Much of the weakness in what the world would call the church comes from persons who may truly want the Savior aspect of Jesus, that one someday goes to heaven and not hell, but only accepts the Lord aspect of Jesus according to the social pressures around them. 
            I am old enough to have seen great changes in American society.  Being from a small town in the Midwest, I cannot consciously remember knowing of where an unmarried man and woman living together lived until I went to college.  Over the last 40 years, the percentage of persons married has dropped and the above situation is more commonplace.  That doesn’t mean the amount of Christians is less; it is just that people feel, to a lesser degree, to fake this custom as 100 years ago here, or for that matter, an Islamic society today.
            I think of a phrase Larry Normal put in a recorded song in the early ‘70’s:  Jesus is the leader/We’re all followers, too/You may be ahead of some other persons in line/But you’re not a leader, you’re a follower.(a)  Norman, in typical prophetic manner, was making a point by going to extremes, and he wasn’t totally correct, but he was correct in an aspect that status quo Christianity didn’t readily speak about, which was all the reason needed for saying it.
            Now that it appears that I’ve dissed traditional leadership, I certainly believe God uses it through persons, but I might suggest that He is fully well capable to make it most powerful in a believer’s life through other believers who do not have an exceptional amount of leadership ability, or persons who, if they have that exceptional ability, are willing to lay that ability down at Jesus’s feet.  There is a brother in another part of the country who has that exceptional leadership ability.  I knew him when he was 19, and he showed that pastor-teacher gift long before he was headed towards getting someone to give him the title.  The last time I ran into him was when he was in the second year of seminary, and just subtly, via his actions, I could perceive that he was intentionally not using his ability to influence persons in a given direction.  That would be the difference between true leadership, and creating a cult of personality within a guise of Christianese.
            Most of us do not have that ability, we do not need such a person in one’s life, and such a person, therefore, can be either a help or a hindrance to those believers around him/her truly growing in following Jesus, with the temptation being following a “Jesus” communicated through that person’s personality and ability.
            A second aspect of a leader operating that people are at their highest and best is in the secular work organization.  In almost all cases I have personally seen, the “leaders” either do not have and possibly do not even care about having leadership ability.  You, the underling, work for the company, you get a paycheck, you wouldn’t be here without the paycheck, so the “leader” assigns work (possibly implicitly), fills out forms, and accepts responsibility for being the “goat” if something in their area goes wrong, provided that they may have the possibility to pass the “goat” tag to someone below them.  Because of this, there is a basic disconnect between the minority of persons who are excited or passionate about their work, and the many that are not.  In such organizations, “well done” has to do with meeting goals, some of them financial, which usually are, to a degree, based on decisions of others of which one has no control of.  I worked at Home Depot for six years, and they had a “success sharing” (profit sharing) plan based on sales every six months.  I worked hard and in that six years only worked with one person I would say was a “below average” employee (and that person was gone after 30 days, and unfortunately, I must say, deservedly so).  This was during the end of Home Depot’s exceptional growth period.  Still, in those 12 6 month periods, I was at a store that reached success sharing goals only once, and that was in north Florida during the year that the area was hit by three hurricanes in five weeks.  For persons who live in other areas of the country, a Home Depot, just before and after a hurricane, looks like a giant game of Supermarket Sweep (that’s an old game show in which contestants fill as many shopping carts as they can in a given time, with the person who filled carts with the highest dollar value the winner).
            Many unbelievers feel that is normal.  To actually be passionate about something (other than sex, music, and sports) is abnormal.  It’s a point that can be easily seen.  They see dictators, and equate it to believer’s running for political office.  They see passionate salespersons, they think con artists.  Some can see the raving coach, they see former professional athletes in wheel chairs from their injuries.  Some can see the musician sing about a cause, and then see him either dead on drugs or sold out to a new record company.  The great leadership talent can never begin to reach those people; the everyday believer, being a friend, being real, will reach a few.
            a)  Working off the top of my head, I believe that was recorded in a song titled “Sweet, Sweet Song of Salvation” (to the National Youth Workers Convention).

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