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Fewer Leaders, Please

My wife and I have been producing a documentary on church leadership, which has developed into a multi-year project. One of the final interviews for the film was earlier in November with Chris Wright. (View the interview here) One of the questions my wife, Imbi, asked him was what he thought leadership training needed to look like in the 21st century. His response hit us both between the eyes.

“I wouldn’t start out with training leaders; I’d start out with making disciples.

Scot McKnight has also pointed his faithful readers in the same direction when he responded to the question, “What three books do you recommend on the subject of leadership development and why?” I loved his response. Here’s an excerpt:

“I want to put my idea on the line and see where it leads us: we have one leader, and his name is Jesus. I want to bang this home with a quotation from Jesus from Matthew 23, where he seems to be staring at the glow of leadership in the eyes of his disciples, and he does nothing short of deconstructing the glow:

‘But you are not to be called “Rabbi,” for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth “father,” for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one Instructor, the Messiah. The greatest among you will be your servant. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.’

“Instead of seeing myself as a leader, I see myself as a follower. Instead of plotting how to lead, I plot how to follow Jesus with others. Instead of seeing myself at the helm of some boat—and mine is small compared to many others—I see myself in the boat, with Jesus at the helm.”

Now at the beginning of Scot’s response, he identifies what, for me, appears to be cognitive dissonance on his part: “I have a confession to offer: I neither look forward to reading nor do I even like leadership books. I’ve read a few, like Seth Godin’s Tribes and Nancy Beach’s Gifted to Lead. And, yes, I’ve read a few others, but I don’t like them and don’t get much out of them, and I say this as one whose pastor, Bill Hybels, is a leadership guru.”

I would strongly suggest that Hybels is more than a leadership guru. He is probably one of the greatest proponents of CEO-style leadership in the Church. He influences thousands of churches around the world. His Global Leadership Summitexists to transform Christian Leaders around the world with an injection of vision, skill development, and inspiration for the sake of the local church.” The GLS homepage proudly points to the Fast Company article about the event. Fast Company says this about Willow Creek:

“Evangelical Christianity proudly has no pope, and given its predilection for splintering, it can hardly be considered a single church. But if evangelicalism does have a global power center, it would have to be Willow Creek, thanks largely to the summit. According to cable-TV pioneer and venture philanthropist Bob Buford, who played a key role in the Summit’s development, ‘Willow Creek is the most influential Protestant church in the world — one might even say the most influential church in the world save for the Vatican.'”

Fast Company describes the people who speak at the event: “The Summit taps speakers from a wide range of fields: experienced executives like Welch and W.L. Gore CEO Terri Kelly; management theorists such as Collins and Marcus Buckingham (First, Break All the Rules); politicians including Tony Blair and Jimmy Carter; cultural leaders turned do-gooders like Bono and Four Weddings and a Funeral screenwriter Richard Curtis; and sports figures such as Tennessee Lady Vols basketball coach Pat Summitt.”

A number of years ago, when I held the director of communications role in a megachurch, I was intimately involved in promoting and staging a simulcast of this event. I write this with a degree of understanding.

The Global Leadership Summit is not promoting leadership in the manner of that which Scot described in his answer to Slant 33. Willow Creek promotes a CEO-leadership style that I believe is actually antithetical to what Scot articulates from Scripture. The church is not a business. Nor do I believe that it should it be run as a one. It is not a top-down organization, yet that is actually what Willow Creek both models and promotes.

In my opinion, Scot nails it when he says,

“Leadership too often places the pastor or some person in the front and having others be guided (and following) that person, and that, I dare say, distorts the entire gospel. Jesus was willing to say that his followers didn’t have a rabbi of their own, didn’t have a human father in a position of ultimate authority, and they didn’t have an instructor who was their teacher. They had one rabbi and one instructor, and his name was Jesus, and he was Messiah. They had one father, and he was Creator of all. They were to see themselves as brothers, not leaders. That’s straight from the lips of Jesus.”

Which appears to put Scot at odds with his pastor, Bill Hybels. Or am I missing something? Let me finish by returning to Chris Wright when he says, “I wouldn’t start out with training leaders; I’d start out with making disciples.”

How did Jesus make disciples? He lived with them for three years, through thick and thin, through their thick headedness and their moments of great clarity, through their closeness and their rejection of him. He didn’t set up a training school for leaders or preach from an elevated pulpit or bring in Roman business and political leaders to advise his disciples how to lead.

Jesus lived in the midst of his disciples, and the impact of that still resonates. Globally.


EDITOR’S NOTE: What do you think the greatest need of the church is? Fewer leaders? More disciples? Is a ‘business model’ an acceptable model for church structure?

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A television editor, writer & director since 1978. A Christian since 1982, with many roles in the church in the following 3 decades, including worship leader, elder, mega church communications director and ordained pastor. He's written hundreds of posts at his blog, kinnon.tv on the missional conversation and on the critical importance of discipleship. Today, Bill is the Managing director of Medri Kinnon Productions — a company he began with his wife, Imbi Medri, in 1985.