(Don’t) take me to your leader

What is it like to be led by a spiritual leader who has immersed himself/herself in Leader Culture?

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.

A memorable series and a recent blog post got me thinking about this question. Leadership is a spiritual gift. But I would like to suggest that a Leader Culture leader should not be running a church.

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?

Your thoughts?




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2 thoughts on “(Don’t) take me to your leader”

  1. For a long time now, I have been uncomfortable with the idea that there should necessarily be a leader in a church. Of course, I remember Paul’s discussion of various spiritual gifts amidst the common life of the church. But I think we too easily segue from these gifts to something as nebulous as “leader”, a word that sounds somewhat foreign to me, in the context of church life. And discipleship is often a delicate thing, you know. Better than leaders, I would like to see advisers (even directors sounds too heavy-handed) become a paradigm for church life. And I would like to see much more room made for silence and prayer. I consider that I have only one Leader; “none other is so good and kind”.

  2. Michelle, I get a little concerned with so much talk among God’s children about being a leader. I think the better conversation is on being a servant. Thinking on this–hope to write on it soon. Thanks for this post.

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