Saturday, July 09, 2016

Seminary PL14: Leadership Pitfalls

Before I move to Church Management, I should fill in a gap in the "Leadership in General" section (see at the bottom): Leadership Pitfalls.

I've been doing a series called "Seminary in a Nutshell" for about seven months now. First I did a section on the Person and Calling of a Minister. Now this is the fourteenth post in a section on the Pastor as a Leader, including an eleven post stretch on strategic planning (see at the bottom).
A number of weaknesses can tank a leader, if a leader cannot manage or eliminate them. I've divided them into two categories: 1) moral problems and 2) personality weaknesses.

Moral Issues
1. Although some of what I am calling personality issues are also moral issues, I want to treat in this section questions of morality that might not necessarily come on the radar of a secular leader.

For example, having an affair is not necessarily considered a leadership failure in the secular world, but it clearly is a leadership failure in the church. Some balk at the idea that a pastor should be a moral example, but the apostle Paul didn't. In 1 Corinthians 11:1, Philippians 3:17, and 2 Thessalonians 3:7, Paul tells three different congregations to follow his example. 1 Timothy 4:12 tells Timothy to set an example for his church "in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity."

True, God expects all Christians to live up to these standards, but that is no excuse for the pastor to consider him or herself off the hook. The standard is the same for pastor and congregation, but the consequences of moral failure are multiplied when the pastor fails. And when the pastor succeeds at being a moral example, the positive impact is greater as well.

Can a pastor be "successful" in ministry and yet secretly be a moral failure? Certainly a pastor's ministry can seem to succeed outwardly for a time, perhaps even for a long time. What I mean is that many people can become believers, the number of people in the congregation can increase dramatically, peoples lives can be changed for the better. God's mission can multiply greatly even under a leader who secretly is morally bankrupt.
Usually there is a crash. It may not happen immediately. Perhaps there are some who have gone their whole ministry without it coming out. But usually the moral bankruptcy eventually leads to a crash, and what a great crash it often is.

2. But in God's eyes, the leader was always a failure. A person can get a lot of earthly credit and yet be a stranger to God. Fame means nothing to God. Worldly power means nothing to God. Money means nothing to God. The earthly markers of success mean nothing to God. A person can seem to be a great success from a human vantage point and yet be a complete failure in God's eyes. And a person can seem like a failure in human eyes and yet be greatly blessed in the kingdom of God.

As pastors, we must be moral successes for God's sake, regardless of earthly consequence. More than anything else, this means making God's mission the primary mission, not our own mission, not our own success. It means not treating people as a means to an end but treating every individual as Jesus Christ, as someone created in the image of God.

It means being careful in our marital and sexual relationships, being faithful in reality and giving no cause for gossip in perception either. Although it is not what the verse meant, we avoid the very "appearance of evil" (1 Thess. 5:22, KJV) by not creating situations where there might be doubt or misperception. We are faithful in our financial dealings and don't "steal" from the congregation. We are faithful in our truth-telling, for those who love others will be truthful to them.

3. In the Parable of the Soils, there is seed on the path that birds snatch immediately. Hopefully there are few pastors who are complete frauds, hucksters who go into ministry thinking they can make money or gather crowds to feed their egos. No doubt there have been and are some who are in it for the fame and fortune, but surely this is a very small number.

Some seed falls on rocky soil and is scorched because it doesn't have root. Again, there are probably some who wash out of ministry fairly quickly because they do not have the "root" to endure what is often a quite scorching heat of ministry.

But a major concern is the minister who is good seed in good enough soil, but the cares of life choke their ministry. Here I am especially thinking of the minister who is, for example, a "starving baker." He or she makes plenty of bread for the congregation, but they have no bread for themselves.

Time is a major issue here. A pastor needs a sabbath just like everyone else, and it can't be Sunday. Pastors need vacations just like everyone else. There is a certain pastoral personality that may think him or herself noble for overworking, the type A personality. They do not take vacation. They work every day of the week. This is not healthy and will almost certainly lead eventually to a break-down or a moral failure.

A pastor needs spiritual retreat. A pastor needs time with family. It is a far worse calamity for a family to fail than for a small stretch of a church's life to fail. Family is for life. Pastors come and go from churches. God may be first in our lives, but our family's long term health takes precedent over this week in a local church.

Personality Issues
4. Many personality issues are moral issues too, but here we get into characteristics that the secular leadership community would also recognize as potentially destructive to an organization.

In Good to Great, Jim Collins describes five levels of leadership. [1] Each level suggests a potential leadership pitfall in its contrary. The five levels are:
  • Highly capable individual - demonstrates capacity
  • Contributing team member - can work with others productively
  • Competent manager - can organize people and resources toward a goal
  • Effective leader - can inspire a vision and increase performance
  • Level 5 -- combination of professional will and personal humility
So we see leadership pitfalls at every step that can translate into ministry problems. There are no doubt some individuals in ministry who simply are not equipped to be a pastor. You sometimes find them placed in tiny, dying churches where there isn't much expectation and leaders are expecting eventual death anyway.

On the other hand, autocratic leaders who do not play well with others sometimes do manage to climb into leadership positions either because no one else is willing or no one else is strong enough to oppose them or they are competent in other skills needed. There is a time for an autocrat, perhaps especially in certain times of crisis.

But in general, leaders who cannot play well with others are not good leaders. They will inevitably lack the trust of their "team," will face passive resistance and or secret conspiring. When the opportunity comes, the extent of dissatisfaction will become clear and they may be "deposed."

5. Competent management skill must be part of a growing church. Otherwise, it will peak and decline. In this day of large churches especially, management becomes more and more important. One of the most common ways to push through a phase of management crisis brought on by growth is to have a leadership team that consists of someone who is more of a leader (vision caster) and someone who is more of a manager. The "executive pastor" handles the administrative and managerial aspects of the church, freeing up the leader to create enthusiasm and movement toward goals, as well as to communicate the word in powerful ways.

But Collins' fifth level of leadership suggests that "humility" is often a characteristic of leaders who take a good institution and make them great. For one thing, people often have a negative reaction to arrogant leaders. As one Japanese proverb puts it, "The nail that stands above the rest is the first to get hit." Collins suggests that Level 5 leaders have a "compelling modesty" (27).

One possible reason modesty is a strength is because it suggests a perspective that is looking out for the organization as a whole rather than a leader who is just out for their own agenda and ambition. It suggests a leader who is counting on others to reach the goal with him or her, not just a leader who thinks he or she can reach the goal alone.

A second personality strength Collins mentions in this book is institutional will. "When the going gets tough, the tough get going." There are leaders who have the will to plow through a difficult spot. They work extra, they invest extra. This is no guarantee of success. You can plow into a wall. There is again the leadership pitfall of the one who plows where no one--including their bosses--don't want them to plow. Will is not enough.

But will is a lot. There is a leadership pitfall that doesn't have the will. Where there is no will, there is no way.

6. In Collins' other books, he hints at ways in which leaders can fail under specific types of circumstances. In How the Mighty Fall, he looks at companies that were once great but then disintegrated moving forward Again, he describes five stages in their decline:
  • Hubris born of success
  • Undisciplined pursuit of more
  • Denial of risk and peril
  • Grasping for salvation
  • Capitulation to irrelevance or death
Although these are institutional pitfalls and go beyond personality issues to blindspots, there is much overlap with personality issues. So over-confidence is a personality issue, as is arrogance. Institutions can become overconfident and arrogant too. Beware when you as a church or organization have experienced some success. There is no "divine right" or 'manifest destiny" when it comes to church health and thriving. You cannot rest on your past laurels.

External success can lead a church or organization to think it can do no wrong, that people will always give or want to come, that no new venture can possibly fail. The truth is rather that a "successful" church or organization may be tempted to over-reach, to over-stretch itself. Then when the winds shift, it may find itself so stretched that it plummets.

Denial is a persistent human problem. We do not like critique or push-back. We find the data that tells us what we want to hear. We assume that because our values are good, our human organization doesn't need to pay attention to material or on-the-ground realities.

7. In Great by Choice, Jim Collins and Morten Hansen look at companies that survive in chaotic and uncertain times. They give three key characteristics: a) fanatic discipline, b) productive paranoia, and c) empirical creativity, driven by what they call "Level 5 Ambition."

Level 5 ambition relates to Collins' Level 5 leadership in that it reflects a leader who is more interested in the success of the church or organization than he or she is in their own advancement. But Collins mentions the sheer strength of passion and will when it comes to getting through troubled and unexpected times. This will accompanied by fanatic discipline gets the church or organization through a tough spell.

By "empirical creativity" they mean someone who is innovative and willing to take risks, but with the data on his or her side. So it is not wild risk taking in a time of chaos, but risk-taking with more than blind intuition behind it. Indeed, it is a paranoid risk-taking. It doesn't assume everything will turn out right but is constantly looking for dangers while moving forward. It's not debilitating paranoia but "productive" paranoia.

Many of these business principles may seem foreign to the church. "Leave room for the Holy Spirit," not while dancing, but when planning. God can do more than our plans or our weaknesses.

8. I leave this section with twenty bad habits in leadership. These are personality pitfalls that will hinder your ministries and personal interrelationships. These are taken from What Got You Here Won't Get You There by Marshall Goldsmith.
  • having to win at all costs
  • always having to get your two cents worth in
  • always rating others
  • unending sarcasm and cutting remarks
  • overuse of "but," "however," and "no"
  • telling people how smart you are
  • speaking when you're angry 
  • unending negativity
  • withholding information as a power move
  • failing to give proper recognition
  • taking credit you don't deserve
  • making excuses
  • blaming the past
  • playing favorites
  • not taking responsibility for your actions
  • not listening
  • failing to express gratitude
  • punishing the messenger
  • passing the buck
  • that's just who I am
Come to think of it, these are problems for husbands, wives, children, friends... for all relationships, including our relationship with God.

Next Week: Pastor as Leader 15: Managing the Church

[1] His list is different from John Maxwell's, Five Levels of Leadership. Maxwell is not thinking in terms of leadership outcome (i.e., how well a company performs) but in terms of value (i.e., what virtuous leadership looks like). Maxwell's Level 5, for example, is a leader that mentors other leaders.

Leadership in General
Strategic Planning

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