You probably know a leader like this: a man or woman who devours John Maxwell books by the pound, attends conferences devoted to training his or her inner alpha dog, and exercises a vocabulary packed with tech words like “bandwidth”, “capacity”, “strategic” and “leverage” to talk about the congregation.
When we have attended congregations helmed by this type of leader, we have been verbally herded toward action that often reflects the leader’s ambition. “We will be the most successful/blessed/envied/welcoming/awesome/worshipful/humble (just checking to see if you were still reading) church in town. We will set this city on fire. We will be known for our service, our evangelism, our sense of community.” The language of ambition creates a culture of competition. (An aside: If a church is going to set a city on fire, it might mean that the other congregations in the area are treated as kindling.)
Have you ever attended a church with a competitive culture during a time in your life where you’ve been a contemporary version of this guy? I have. In the midst of that culture, I’ve either shut down in order to survive – or I’ve played along badly in a futile attempt to find some genuine help and a place to heal. Neither is our Shepherd’s preferred option for a wounded sheep. I’ll grant that this culture can be a magnet for people because the friction created by a culture of political or spiritual competition can generate a lot of heat, and make it seem as though something really important is happening. I’ll even grant that in some congregations run by leaders, the lives of congregants are changing. But I believe it happens in spite of, not because of, Leader Culture-generated competition.
It may sound a little crazy to say that leaders shouldn’t lead a church. But really, shouldn’t these people (in some form) be guiding a congregation – yes, including serving and caring for their Leader Culture leaders so these leaders can be free to offer their gifts, skills and talents appropriately and for the good of all?