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You’re Doing Leadership Wrong. There, Jesus Fixed It.

I have always been fascinated with leadership. I read leadership blogs, buy leadership books and watch leadership videos. I love the leadership concepts the church has leveraged over the past 30 years for Kingdom effectiveness.

Lately, however, I have been struggling with the disconnect I see between some of the leadership models in the church and the leadership model Jesus presented. This struggle was brought to the forefront by Simon Sinak’s latest TED Talk. (I highly recommend watching the 12-minute talk here).

What struck me was that Sinak seems to better define biblical leadership than many pastors, including myself. To quote Jesus’ brother James out of context, “These things ought not be.”

In response to a disagreement among his followers over who should be on his executive team, Jesus sums the model of leadership Sinek proposes this way:

But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Matthew 20:25-28 ESV (emphasis mine)

Every pastor preaches this model of servant leadership, but I fear several marketplace strategies we’ve adopted undermine the core of Jesus’ model.

Here are four ways the church is getting leadership wrong:

1. Allowing the urgency of the mission to dictate leadership culture.

This one sounds something like this:

We can’t let the needs of individual leaders override the importance of the mission; rescuing people from the gates of hell. We are in a war and every war has casualties.”

I have a friend who pastors a church that is reaching large numbers of unchurched young adults. He is extremely focused on the mission and he refuses to let anything or anyone stand in the way. A mutual friend recently witnessed this pastor come apart on a couple of leaders who did not follow the prescribed protocol in their area of ministry. If these leaders don’t bring their performance up to standard they will be fired. In the pastor’s mind, the urgency of the mission overrides the needs of the individual.

I can’t argue with my friend’s results (more on that in the number 2 below), but I’m not sure his leadership style lines up with Jesus’ model. No one has ever had a mission as important as Jesus’, but even when his disciples messed up Jesus valued the individual over the urgency of the mission. Jesus didn’t even fire Judas.

2. Using growth as justification for culture.

We’ve become so enamored with results in the church world that success can trump everything else. I’ve heard myself say, “Their church is growing so fast they must be doing something right.”

The reality is unhealthy leadership exists as much in growing churches as it does in flatlined churches, but sometimes growth masks underlying mistakes. Jesus never promised his model of leadership would grow a local church. Attendance shouldn’t mean we get a pass on sacrificial love for our staff and volunteers.