In his book, Tribes, Seth Godin makes these two statements: (1) “Management is about manipulating resources to get a known job done” and (2) “Leadership, on the other hand, is about creating change that you believe in.”
As I examined these statements from the early pages of Tribes, I realized that throughout my ministry training – both formal and informal – I was taught to manage, not lead. Not only that, but I was instructed in anti-leadership. I was shaped to be adept at strategies of how NOT to change anything, how NOT to innovate, in essence, how NOT to lead.
An oft-quoted piece of advice in this anti-leadership world is that when you are entering a new ministry context, you should spend at least a year massaging the status quo, never changing anything, and challenging as few practices as possible. I understand the root and genesis of this kind of thinking, and there is some wisdom there, but as I have lived it in three different ministry contexts and as I’ve seen other ministers enter into new contexts, I have seen how this thinking has and is leading to the stagnation and decline in my denominational tribe.
What’s more, throughout my ministry training I was taught incredible and deeply troubling truths about God, scripture and the purpose of the church. Invariably, a student would passionately question why our churches weren’t talking about these things. In response, someone would tell us how we had to be patient and take it slow. It is no wonder then that so many churches never mature, develop or grow.
If management is manipulating resources to get known outcomes then the very best a management-trained minister can do is keep a 200-member church a 200-member church! None of the very best and most healthy churches in my non-denominational tribe have grown significantly in the last 10 years.
One reason is obvious; our systems are set against innovation, change and growth. For some reason, we have come to believe that our churches should operate as they did 10, 20 and even 50 years ago. This is partly because our very identity is rooted in restoring something that was (1st century church), rather than becoming something that is not yet (the coming kingdom of God). Clearly then, if your fundamental orientation is backward looking you never need leaders, only managers. You don’t need men and woman with vision, only exegetes. You wouldn’t want to consider new approaches for new generations; you simply need to force younger people to appreciate what older people appreciate and when they don’t call them faithless. Regardless of how much time we spend talking and praying about evangelism, mission, missional ecclesiology, growth, formation or discipleship, our systems are stacked against ever doing any of them at best and diametrically opposed at worst. I know. I have seen this dynamic up close and personal.
So this is a call to leadership, for myself and for the good men and woman in ministry I have known over the years who still remain within our churches. It is time for us to lead! To look forward and create new pathways and initiate change people can believe in. If we do not, then our brand of churches may be looking at dark days ahead.
POST-SCRIPT: (It’s important for me to say that I was taught scripture and ministry by extraordinarily faithful men and women, most of whom were taught – or trapped in – the same anti-leadership environs I was. I am eternally indebted to them for their teaching, ministries and gracious “A’s”.)