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Why Church Leaders Fail

Yesterday, I searched for general “leadership failure,” and the overwhelming results mentioned the failure of Christian leaders.

From affairs to power struggles to personal meltdowns, the Internet results suggested that Christian leaders have issues with time management, character, sin, relationships with colleagues, and communication. Are Christian leaders alone in the failure department?

I dug into general leadership failure trends, and I discovered from Psychology Today:

“In the past two decades, 30% of Fortune 500 CEOs have lasted less than 3 years. Top executive failure rates [are] as high as 75% and rarely less than 30%. Chief executives now are lasting 7.6 years on a global average, down from 9.5 years in 1995. According to the Harvard Business Review, 2 out of 5 new CEOs fail in their first 18 months on the job.”

Those are some pretty staggering numbers. The article goes on to suggest a number of reasons why leaders fail. These include hubris, resistance to change, and hostility toward colleagues.

It’s hard to say whether the existing conventional wisdom on leadership is inherently flawed or whether these washed up CEOs are simply failing to execute wise practices. Likewise, it’s hard to point to a cause behind the failure of Christian leaders. Do we expect too much from them? Are they just as sinful as the rest of us?

I’m honestly the last person to prescribe a path forward for Christian leaders, but I’ve seen what seminary students and pastors read when it comes to leadership. I know what church leaders talk about and where they look for their examples of excellent leadership.

Our church leaders look to the business world for lessons on leadership.

Can we learn something from good leaders? Sure. This is not a black and white matter.

The main point for consideration in my view is that we need to ask whether the high failure rate of CEOs in the business world tells us anything about the quality of the advice in our business books. Even if a small percentage of CEOs can rise to the top, overcome tremendous odds to succeed, and publish a book about “how they did it,” should we fawn over the advice they offer? What works for a small group of successful CEOs may not apply to other CEOs, let alone the pastors who read leadership books.

What’s more, if that Psychology Today article is right about CEOs failing because of pride, resistance to change, and failure to communicate, the solutions to these problems are not necessarily found in leadership books.

Do you struggle with pride? The cross has something to teach you about that.

Do you fight change? The Holy Spirit can change your mind.

Do you fail to communicate effectively? Love will help your relationships stay healthy.

The failure of a church leader is a tragedy, but today, it’s not surprising. In fact, church leaders are in good company, since the leadership models that many churches follow seem to produce high failure rates in the business world as well.

Christianity has something to say about leadership, failure, restoration, and rethinking a new way forward. A good place to begin is admitting that the CEO leadership model is not the healthiest way forward for our leaders and their churches.

The solutions to our problems may be right under our noses.

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Ed Cyzewski blogs at www.inamirrordimly.com where he shares imperfect and sometimes sarcastic thoughts about following Jesus. He is the co-author of Hazardous and the author of Coffeehouse Theology. Find him on twitter: @edcyzewski and on Facebook. Subscribe to his e-newsletter for previews of his upcoming books Unfollowers: The Dropouts, Detractors, and Doubters of Jesus and The Good News of Revelation.