The Only Thing Worse Than Bad Leaders

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A good friend of mine and mentor once said, “I’m not a big fan of my peer group.”

It was a wild comment.

My friend is in his 60s, has been a pastor for some 30-plus years and is a mentor to many younger pastors—yet, he is one of the biggest critics of his peer group: pastors or Christian leaders.

I often feel the same way. 

I lead a lot of people who are disillusioned with pastors and Christian leadership; and, as hard as I want to tell them they’re wrong, I think I might be just as or more disillusioned than them.

It’s easy today when the news of moral failings and ethically questionable tactics in running or growing big churches are commonplace.

My friend and I differ, however, with the typical Christian response to poor or disappointing leadership. We believe in the pastoral call and the need for good leaders, whereas the common cultural phenomenon seems to be to dismiss church and Christian leadership altogether as the proper reaction to the presence of poor leadership in the church.

But does rejecting Christian leadership really get at the issue?

I believe the only thing as bad as poor leadership is no leadership at all—just as the only thing as bad as an unhealthy family is no family at all.

Just because some or many families can be abusive, we don’t take the position that orphans should remain alone. Rather, we focus all the more on finding healthy—not perfect—families to adopt or take guardianship of orphans.

Likewise, the corrective to our contemporary frustration with leadership isn’t to do away with leaders, but to focus more intently on finding and promoting healthy leadership.

The Bible has a lot to say about bad leaders, warnings and woes against them, but it also has a lot to say about working hard to select and promote good leaders.

Here are three things to look for in healthy Christian leaders:

1. Leaders who follow.

One of the most powerful things about Psalm 23, the wonderful hallmark song declaring “The LORD is my shepherd,” is that David was himself anointed King or chief shepherd of Israel. 

In short, David was a shepherd who saw himself first and foremost as a sheep.

In contemporary leadership, we need to celebrate this type of posture more than we celebrate celebrities.

Peer into someone’s prayer life with God. Find ways of seeing what he or she really thinks of themselves before a holy God. Is God infinitely big and they small, or are they distracted with the illusions of their own bigness or the grandeur of their visions for church buildings and successful programs?

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Ken Wytsma
Ken Wytsma is the author of Pursuing Justice: The Call to Live and Die for Bigger Things, President of Kilns College and the Founder of The Justice Conference

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